42.2 Kilometres. 26.2 Miles. That’s big, and probably why only 0.5% of the population have ever ran a marathon in their lifetime. But for those that have laced up and put one down, there’s not a single person that wouldn’t tell you it’s a life changer.
There’s just something about crossing the finish line in a layer of salt with a relentless battle conquered that changes you. The hours and hours of training, missing toenails and chaffed thighs are minor details once you proudly don the finishers medal and take your place amongst the brave minority.
You’re not only transformed physically in the process but mentally, which is perhaps the biggest reason you’re never the same afterward. You learn a lot about yourself and find new limits and tenacity that transcends into all aspects of your life, well beyond when you unlace your runners.
Ok, so now that you’re inspired (I feel like there should have been some really sappy music playing over the last couple paragraphs) what will it really take to get a marathon finish on your life’s resume?
I’m going to skip the common sense stuff that you probably already know. Yes, you have to run a LOT, get your diet locked in, and work your ass off, but these are table stakes, the price of admission.
Below are the 2 keys that I’ve found to be essential as a marathoner.
1. A Team
When it comes to the demands of training for a marathon it takes a team to get yourself to the starting line in one piece.
One of my favorite quotes is: “If you want to go somewhere fast, go alone. If you want to go somewhere far, take a team”.
You, my friend, need to go far, so having the right team around you can make all of the difference.
Here are the people that you need to have on your list:
Family - Running can be at times a selfish sport, especially if you’re the only runner in the house. You’ll spend hours out on the roads, and as the long runs get longer, you’ll take a good chunk out of your weekends, putting down the critical miles needed to go the distance.
And let’s be honest, running a race is awesome, but watching a race is not what I would consider an action packed day. Your family will sacrifice hours waiting for you to flop over the finish line looking for a sweaty celebratory hug. Gross.
But in all seriousness, your partner/family can really help you stay motivated and on track with your training. It’s important to share your goals with your family so they can understand what you’re up against, and hold you accountable if you start to slip.
For me, I get up at 5:30 AM during the week to run so I don’t cut into my family time more than I have to. My wife is a key partner in my training and I try my best to keep her in the loop with what is going on in my head and my body. When I get edgy my wife can often spot the issue and will kindly say something like “You need to go for a run”.
Massage Therapist - As a marathoner, monthly massages are a must.
It’s way easier to stay loose and ahead of your body, versus treating a problem or injury. This means that you need to find a good therapist that understands runners and the unique physical demands we’re up against. You can scrap any delusions of gentle spa music and cucumbers on your eyes as you get a relaxing Swedish massage. Your hour on the table is 99% focused on promoting recovery, deep tissue work, and treating any existing or looming injuries.
Your massage therapist needs to be in sync with your training plan, in order to truly be a partner that keeps moving you towards your goals, versus taking an emergency response role. Part of their focus should be treating your body’s current state, and part should be focused on preventative care.
Chiropractor - Similar to a massage therapist, your Chiropractor plays a key role in keeping you moving down the road, and able to work through the demands of marathon training. For me, I look for a Chiropractor that specializes in sports performance and understands first hand the physical demands of running. They can take an injury prevention role and will often be your first person to call if and when an injury does occur.
Look for someone that is an expert in ART (Active Release Treatment) and Graston (The Graston Technique is a form of manual therapy known as soft-tissue instrument-assisted mobilization) as these treatments can be highly effective for common running injuries.
It's important for your Chiropractor to have a good understanding of your training program so he or she can play a consultative role in modifying your plan when necessary. Sometimes it means an injury requires strict time off, but when an alteration can be made to your training, a good Chiropractor can take an active role in your program.
Running Coach - What does a running coach actually do?
I get asked this a lot at dinner parties, and the answer is yes, we do more than stand on the side of the road and yell at you to run faster. A running coach is perhaps one of the biggest ways to improve your running and go to the next level, thanks to the scope of what we do. Rather than ramble on about it, here's a list of all of the ways I personally help my runners:
- Build customized running plans specific to each individual athlete.
- Create targeted pace ranges and effort guides to ensure every workout is maximized.
- Build an annual training strategy to ensure proper training cycles are mapped out.
- Provide nutritional support and guidance specific to training and racing.
- Create race strategies specific to each athlete and course.
- Support injury recovery programs.
- Create a strong sense of accountability and hold athletes to their plan.
- Analyze run data, and use to optimize training plans.
- 1 on 1 coaching (Stride effectiveness, tips, advice)
- Video Stride Analysis
- Building mental toughness and training discipline.
- Kicking your butt when you need it.
This is not an all-inclusive list, but this covers a lot of what I'm working on daily with my athletes. It's important to find a coach that is a good match for you so you can get the most benefit out of the relationship. I guarantee you that this is one investment that almost always pays off. You may think you can find a good plan online and "run" with it, and you can, but a running coach offers so much more than just a plan and a slap on the back.
Training Partner - Get yourself a good plus one! A training partner is a great way to stay motivated and hold yourself accountable to put in the work. You need to find someone that has a great attitude and can not only give you some tough love from time to time but also be a positive influence.
Getting through some of the tough workouts can be less painful when you've got a committed training partner by your side. Misery loves company right? Long runs don't feel so long when you've got someone to run with, and intense speed workouts can be manageable by having someone there to push you.
Look for someone that you know shares the same mindset as you, and bonus if you can hook up with a runner that is just a bit faster than you are. It will be great motivation for you to keep up!
Here's where the mental toughness part comes in. Being a marathoner is a process and one that can be a rocky ride. You will have ups and downs in your training and it's vital that you have a long-term view of your journey. You can expect your body to get beat up on a regular basis, and it's not easy to find the motivation day after day to put yourself in the hurt locker, especially as the volume and intensity of the workouts elevate.
Injuries can be minimized and even eliminated with a good training plan, but there is a good chance that even minor issues will pop up at some point and knock you back a step. Your ability to adapt, adjust and keep moving forward takes tenacity, and at times it's not easy to pick yourself back up and press the reset button....but it's critical you do.
You will spend a large portion of your running in isolation and that in itself is what will separate the resilient warriors from the wanna-be's who ultimately give up on the dream. You have to be ready to put in a ton of work that will go unnoticed, and hours of time spent grinding through countless miles all on your own. Reality is, that you are putting yourself into an elite group of the population, that is able and willing to endure the mental and physical demands that come with taking on a marathon.
So here's the takeaway. Registering for a marathon is easy, but very quickly after the high of taking on this monster challenge subsides, the reality of the work ahead of you is sobering. Get it in your head now that you've signed up for a physical and mental battle. Commit to staying with it no matter what and be willing to roll with the punches, then let the process change you forever.
How's your marathon training going? Are you well on your way or need some help? Tell me where you are on your running journey by leaving a comment below.