3 Ways to Prepare for your Next Marathon (and Beyond)
It’s about that time. You’ve run the miles, done the core work, eaten like a champion, and given up late nights. You’ve sunk a huge amount of mental, physical and emotional energy into your race. Now, just a week or two away from your big day, and you may be losing your grip. In my experience, this is the time during marathon training when it’s easy to lose focus
While training for my third marathon, for some strange reason, I fell off my wagon of tremendous self discipline. I decided to experiment with a vegan diet, started building a fence in my backyard, and began binging on the first two seasons of Breaking Bad.My daily runs weren’t as long, so I could just sleep in and relax, right?
My race didn’t go horribly, but I missed my time goal by 10 minutes. I attribute part of this to losing focus and neglecting simple things that could have made the difference (though of course, we’ll never know). After the race, I felt lost and didn’t know what to do next. I never considered what I would do after those 26.2 long miles. It took over two years before I had the courage to run another marathon.
Below are a few simple things you can do to prepare yourself for both the race and the race result (be it good or bad). The last two suggestions will help you prepare for what’s to come after you cross the finish line. No matter what happens, you’ll still put your shoes on, one at a time, in the days following the race.
Staying smart in the final week or two before a marathon is hard. For me, I struggle with the extra time not spent running during the taper. When you’re running less than you have been for months, it’s easy for your mind to wander back to the “good old days” of staying up late and eating whatever you want.
Write these four things on Post-It notes and plaster them in easily visible spots (such as the fridge, bathroom mirror, or car dash):
Sleep. Force yourself to get in bed by 9:00 p.m. every night. Sleep as much as you possibly can! Set your alarm for 5 or 6 a.m. in anticipation of an early wakeup call on race day. Extra sleep will help you feel rested and ready to approach the starting line full of new life.
Diet. I try to give up sugar and alcohol during marathon training. This is REALLY hard for me, and after a few months, it gets even harder. Stick to a diet of healthy, nutrient-dense foods, and adjust accordingly to account for running less during the taper. This will help you to stay healthy and feel faster on race day.
Relaxation. This is probably the hardest thing to do. Watch movies, read, get a coloring book, or just relax with the family. Don’t start house projects, try new sports, or put up a new fence. Try not to think too much about (not) running.
Visualize. This may sound contrary to my previous point, but with some of your spare time, try to visualize yourself having a good race. Think about the points during the race when you may get tired, or mentally fatigued. Think about what you’ll say to yourself when things get hard, and how you’ll overcome them. Remember, there is power in positivity!
Plan Your “Next Thing”
No matter how good or bad your race goes, you’ll want to have a plan (or at least an idea) for what you’re going to do after the marathon is over. You’ve just spent the past four (or more) months with a singular focus on this one, really big goal: to run a marathon. Regardless of the result, you will inevitably feel a sense of loss when it’s over and done. This isn’t unique to running, and is often the case with most big things in life.
Choose a new goal or a new focus. Try running shorter distances, or not running at all. Find the joy in gardening, rekindle friendships, or finally get around to watching Stranger Things. Whatever your “next thing” is, embrace the change and move on. After my last marathon, my “next thing” was my family. My twin daughters were born six weeks after my race, and I knew they would more than make up for any perceived hole that the marathon had left. It’s been four months, and I barely miss training for a marathon!
Be careful not to confuse your “next thing” as a way to remove yourself from the present moment. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Instead, stay focused and present in the moment, but keep in mind that once the moment (or marathon) is over, you’ll need your energy to focus on the “next thing” – after a break of course!
Marathoners tend to have an over-inflated sense of self, myself included. Sometimes, we put way too much of our identity into our race performance. If we run well, we incorrectly assume we’re the best at everything, perhaps neglecting the fact that we’re rude to the barista, impatient with our family or [your thing here]. If it doesn’t go well, we beat ourselves up, retreating into our own minds, transferring this sense of failure onto our whole identity.
No matter what happens on race day, it’s just a race, and it doesn’t change the smart, caring, beautiful person you are, or the hard work that you put into training. Sometimes we use races as a way to validate ourselves, and yet it almost always comes up short.
So, how do you gain perspective? Something I’ve been trying to realize more lately is that running is an incredible gift. Paying race fees, buying fancy watches and state of the art shoes, and pinning on bibs is such a unique privilege; we should feel grateful for the opportunity to be healthy and run hard. You can also gain perspective by stepping outside of yourself and realizing that we live in a country where stuff like this doesn’t happen. At the end of the day, how you respond and react to the positive and negative things in life, says way more about who you are than your actual achievements. (Though to be clear, I enjoy my race hardware as much as the next guy!)
Since May 2, 2016, I’ve been running just for the sake of running. I sneak in a run more often than I don’t each week, leaving time for low stress mornings before the day really begins. I’ve squeezed in a few “just-for-fun” races, which have been a blast, free of the responsibility and expectations of a “real” race. It’ll be awhile before I get back to 70 mile weeks, but when I do, I’ll be refreshed and ready to give Boston another shot.
What have you found to be especially helpful as you prepare to tackle your marathon? Share below and if you’re racing soon, good luck!