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Training for 26point2

If there is one thing more daunting than racing 26.2 miles, it might be training to race 26.2 miles. If done right, preparing for a marathon will require discipline over several months, meaning your training will span several seasons. You might start a training cycle in the heat of the summer, enjoying long miles with the sun on your face, and finish a cycle logging more miles on your run than degrees outside. Towards the end of your training cycle a long run may take several hours to complete, requiring you to set aside an entire weekend day to run and recover. You might have to shelve plans with friends in favor of an early bed time, stock your desk at work with snacks to fuel your many miles, or devise a way to stick to a strict training regimen while traveling to see family for the holidays. If this all sounds like a lot, it is. But there aren't really any short cuts when marathon training, and this is what makes completing such a race an incredible accomplishment!

Most of us do not have the luxury of being full-time athletes. Although running can consume a large chunk of our free time, and require numerous sacrifices, we don't get paid to spend hour after hour pounding the pavement. For us, the time spent is purely in pursuit of a personal goal, whether that goal is completing the race, or smashing a personal best. My goal in the next year is to qualify for the Olympic Trials in the marathon. To do so, I will need to shave 5 minutes off of my current personal best. At most I have two more shots at this goal, and as life gets busier and busier, I am conscious of the fact that I need to capitalize on every day. I know the next few months will be filled with challenges and obstacles, but committing to a goal means figuring out how to get it done even--and especially--when getting it done doesn't seem easy. After all, nothing makes you want something more than having to fight for it!

Meghan Curran mid-race at the 2017 Marine Corp Marathon

Here are my tips for tackling a marathon training cycle:

1) Prioritize your training

If you want to set a goal and follow through with it, it goes without saying that you need to make it a priority. Of course this doesn't mean that to train for a race you must turn into a recluse and abandon all your social obligations. It simply means that sometimes you will have to make sacrifices. For example, if you have late night plans with friends, followed by an easy recovery day, you can probably make both work. On the other hand, if you have a key workout or a long run the next day, you might chose to skip your plans and rest up so that you can perform your best! Prioritizing your training is about balance. Your time might be consumed with family, friends, work, and other hobbies that are all vying for your attention, and you have to decide how to make it all work. It might seem overwhelming at times, but it is possible to satisfy all your obligations if you plan ahead and prioritize your time. Personally, I have found that when I get up in the morning and get my run in, I feel more optimistic about taking on the day, and tackling competing priorities. Although I would not consider myself a morning person, establishing a habit of working out in the mornings allows me face my commute and a long work day without having to worry about when I'm going to squeeze my run in. Find a time to set aside for yourself (even if its not your preferred time) and get it done!

2) Goal set

Goal setting is essential at the outset of any training cycle. But just as important (if not more important) than the big ticket goal, are the smaller sub-goals that feed into the big goal. These are the 'little things' that you can do every day, your road map towards your ultimate goal. For example, my goal is to run an Olympic Trials Qualifier over the next year. To realize this goal, I am committed to doing all the small things right in order to put myself in the best position possible. My sub goals include 1) Establishing a more consistent strength routine 2) Establishing a more consistent stretching and mobility regimen 3) Establishing a better sleeping pattern, including a strict bed time so I can make sure I get my morning runs in 4) Planning ahead so I can eat healthy and make sure I am fueling right as I get deeper into my training cycle

3) Plan ahead

Planning ahead is imperative as you tackle a marathon training cycle. Due to the length of the cycle, its important that you recognize early on when your key training weeks/workouts will be, and that you do your best to eliminate other priorities during this time. Of course, sometimes other commitments are unavoidable. Maybe you will be on a big work trip during your peak training, or skip a few days during a heavy mileage week due to a sick kid. These things happen, and you can only plan so much, but try and think in the long-term. If you are working with a coach be honest about your other commitments, and how these might impact key workouts. Putting a plan in place for how to get the job done despite competing priorities will help you eliminate stress even if you aren't able to complete a workout exactly as planned, and allow you to feel confident as you approach race day.

4) Create a support system

Training for a marathon takes a village. Regardless of your goal, you need to surround yourself with people that understand and appreciate the commitment you have made. Your support system may not include a single runner, but it should include people who build you up when you are in the trenches of training, and understand if you need to cancel weekend plans to chill on the coach after a 20-miler. If you're lucky like me, this support system will include like-minded people who are similarly dedicated to achieving a lofty goal. Maybe no one in your life understands running, and why you would willingly spend hours in solitude on a winter day throwing your body at the pavement. That's fine. They don't need to get it, they just need to respect the fact that its important to you.

5) Learn to look at the big picture

At the conclusion of months of training and hundreds of miles logged, a race comes down to a few hours with you and the clock. The idea of this can be simultaneously exciting and a bit daunting. Runners can be a particularly self-deprecating bunch, especially when the time on the clock does not match months of dedicated running leading up to a race. Although its difficult to do, realize that one race doesn't define you, or necessarily reflect all the hard work you have done. If you are able to expand your aperture a bit, you may be able to recognize that a sub-par result is simply a stepping stone to a better long-term result. Take what you have learned from this training cycle and apply it to the next! After all, they call this race a marathon for a reason!

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