Rounding the track, I choked back the tears. My body threatened rebellion-- legs were trembling, toes were blistering, feet were aching. I glanced at my watch. 26.1 miles, barely a tenth of a mile to go. The finish line now finally in sight, my throat began to clamp and my eyes started to swell. I knew this was it. In a moment, I’d be crossing the finish line.
For the next few seconds, I closed my eyes, ignored the pain and then suddenly, felt overcome by a wave of gratefulness. My mind focused on God and silently, I thanked Him for giving me strength. For giving me hope. And for getting me through the longest race of my life.
On February 17, I finished the Okinawa City Marathon, checking off yet another goal on the infamous “baby bucket list.” What began as a lofty intention turned out to be one of my proudest accomplishments to date. Four months of training culminated in four hours and sixteen minutes of racing. At first, 26.2 miles seemed daunting, but through weeks of preparing my mind, body and spirit, on race day, I was ready and there was no looking back. I knew I would finish, whether I had to run, walk, or crawl. And so, it was with this attitude, I crushed every doubt and pounded away 42 kilometers of pavement.
Since the race, various friends have approached me, wanting to know how I did it… how I prepared, how I trained and how I managed to finish. While I could easily elaborate for hours, I’ll keep it simple. The first step is logging off Facebook, lacing up your kicks and simply lugging one foot in front of the other. Then obviously, getting serious by learning as much as you can. Here are five strategies that worked for me.
Five tips on running your first marathon.
1) Train smart.
“Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.” –Alan Armstrong
Perhaps the most important aspect of racing is in the training itself. In order to build strength, endurance and speed, you must train accordingly. For me, it was running hills one day, intervals the next (alternating between sprinting and walking), while also including a tempo run (a shorter run where you focus on the pace you’d like to maintain during the race), and a long run (your longest distance of the week). Combining these workouts with various cross training helped me get faster, stronger, and much more prepared than I would have been only running on a treadmill.
2) Eat healthy… And enough.
It seems like a no-brainer, but eating healthy is vital to your performance as a runner. If you eat junk, your running will reflect your diet. Moreover, eating enough is just as important. If you think cutting carbs is going to help you run faster, think again. If there was ever a time to eat your spaghetti, this is it. Your muscles need as much glycogen as possible for quick energy, especially during your long runs. Whenever I knew I’d be running 13 miles or longer, I always brought GU gel packets with me to eat every 45 minutes. During the marathon, I consumed six gel packets, as well as plenty of water. This ensured that I would never run out of energy and hit the proverbial ‘wall.’
3) Listen to music.
Maybe it’s just me, but if there is one thing that motivates me to exercise it is MUSIC. The night before each race, I have a ritual where I listen to hundreds of songs, download my favorites and compile the perfect playlist. I’ve recently acquired a taste for house and club music because it tends to be upbeat and prompts me to run faster. On the other hand, I also like country and 90s alternative. I just don’t listen to it if I’m intending on sprinting… or winning. ;)
4) Find a running buddy.
“The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other... but to be with each other.”-Christopher McDougall
Holding yourself accountable during training can be difficult. Life gets busy, other obligations spring up, and sometimes you just don’t feel like running. I can’t tell you how many times I scheduled a 5:30am run and then later secretly wanted to call it off for the sake of more sleep. But knowing I had a friend who was depending on me to meet her forced me to suck it up and go! Thankfully, I had Laurie and Tamara relying on me.
Another reason to find a running buddy is for the friendship, camaraderie and conversation that develop during these runs. Sometimes, a 14 mile run would become a two-hour venting session, but at the end of it, our minds would be cleared and we’d be ready to tackle the day.
During the marathon, Tamara ran every step of the race with me. Of course, we didn’t chat the full 26 miles, but we did check on each other and it was comforting to know she was there if I needed anything. When we finished, it was an emotional moment. With tears welling up in our eyes, we gave each other the biggest hug and congratulated each other for succeeding. We both knew how many hours we had dedicated towards this achievement and there were no words needed to express how proud we were for each other.
5) Have faith.
“Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.” -Mark Victor Hansen
In order to run a race of this magnitude, you’ve got to have faith.
“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.” –Norman Vincent Peale
But for me, faith extended beyond myself and towards a higher power.
“I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as the mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” -Matthew 17:20
I believed that God would calm my fears.
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” -Isaiah 41:10
I trusted that He would give me strength.
“Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31
And I had faith I would finish.
“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” -Hebrews 11:1
In the end, I accomplished what I aspired to do, but not on my own.
“It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God.” -2 Corinthians 3:5
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”-Kathrine Switzer
“I run because long after my footprints fade away, maybe I will have inspired a few to reject the easy path, hit the trails, put one foot in front of the other, and come to the same conclusion I did: I run because it always takes me where I want to go.” -Dean Karnazes