how to run a marathon

An 8-step guide to fulfilling your dream of running 26.2.

Step one: Be curious and get inspired.

Do you have any friends who have run marathons? If you do, you’ll know. One of the lesser-known rules about marathoning is that you have to tell at least ten people that you did one immediately upon finishing. Ask your runner friends about their marathons and you will glean all sorts of information. Though “nipple tape” and “chafing” aren’t terms you’re familiar with now, talking to other runners will help you learn the lingo. You’ll be caught up in no time!

If you don’t know anyone who has run a marathon, join your local running club. Most running stores host a weekly run, ostensibly to ensure the survival of the species by facilitating a breeding ground for marathoners. Key identifiers of the breed are the tendency to wear more than one watch, own a disproportionate number of old neon race shirts, and lack self-consciousness when entering public spaces post-run. If talking to Joey while he uses his t-shirt to dry his armpits makes you uncomfortable, remember that stripping in public is a privilege afforded all runners upon the successful completion of any road race. The prevailing theory is that if you’re masochistic enough to sign up for a road race, society might at least allow you the comfort of a cool breeze on your skin without judgement.

Step two: Once you’ve been talked into doing a marathon, go ahead and sign up!

Remember to set aside around $140 for your entry fee, $300 for the multiple pairs of shoes you’ll need to train for the race, and some money for the energy gels you’ll consume while training (you’ll have learned to throw the words “gu” and “chews” into conversation during step one). It might be a good idea to increase your grocery bill while you’re at it, because you will be eating more. Additionally, if you’re traveling for a race, remember to book your hotel and flights! Usually this is only an additional few hundred dollars. You’ll also likely need to take some time off work.

As you watch the funds in your bank account dwindle, remember that running is an accessible sport. Imagine how much money you’re saving by running instead of joining a gym!

Step three: Decide to sign up for a gym membership so you can supplement your running with strength training.

You’ve heard it’s good for your knees. Also, as every non-runner is likely to tell you that running will ruin your knees, you now have a responsibility to prove them wrong.

Step four: Get and follow a training plan.

For your first marathon, you don’t need a coach. Any training plan will do, but Hal Higdon training plans are regarded as among the best. That, or the one your new marathoner buddy drew up on a napkin for you. These are equally decent options. Start running as far as the plan tells you to, without any regard for that pain in your knee that pops up sometimes. It’s probably supposed to feel like that.

Step five: By now you should be a few months into training, and mildly regretting ever getting involved in this stupid mother****ing business.

Your knee still hurts sometimes and you’re tired and hangry. That’s okay- this is normal! Remember, the marathon is a journey. Take a few days off. Remind yourself what it feels like to sleep in. Because you’re now an avid Strava user, lay on your phone and scroll through your friends’ Strava posts to guilt yourself into going for a run..

Begrudgingly resume your training plan. Realize you feel much better having rested up a bit, and continue training.

Step six: It’s time to taper!

Proceed to forget any lesson you have learned about rest being beneficial and spend the two weeks of reduced mileage panicking, obsessing over training minutia and carb-loading, and generally annoying everyone in your social circle. Personally, I’ve found it’s best to wear a t-shirt that reads “caution: tapering marathoner” across the front, just in case anyone has missed your complaints about how hard it is to not get up at 5am and run every day.

Step seven: Race day!

This is what you’ve trained for, talked about for months, spent so much money invested so much in. It’s time to enjoy the experience!

But only for the first 10-13 miles. After that everything starts hurting and only gets worse through the finish, after which you’ll be unable to walk. But that’s all part of the journey! You’ll come out of this race changed. Remember that when the finish line seems farther than ever, and all you want is a port-a-john and a sandwich.

Step eight: You’ve finished!

You’re a marathoner now! You know what to do: buy that $50 race pic and post it on Instagram, Facebook and Strava. Wear the race shirt to every social event you can and limp around talking about how sore you are for a week. Slap that 26.2 bumper sticker on your car… and your water bottle… and your bike… This means you’re a real runner. Congrats!

Bonus step: Take a month off to forget the experience.

Before you know it, the craving to sign up for another marathon will be back, and like any addict, you will struggle to resist. You’re a marathoner now. This is what we do.

Disclaimer: the author is a 9 time marathoner currently training for her 10th.

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