For novice runners, training for a marathon can seem daunting; but outfitted with good information and equipment -- plus a heavy dose of grit -- their 26.2-mile road can be paved with success.
Nicole Walker, coordinator of new student programs at Baylor, had been running for only a few months when she decided to tackle her first marathon in November 2001. Two years and two marathons later, Walker says she's still no expert, but she does have some advice for other hopeful marathoners:
Read The Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer. The book, written by University of Northern Iowa professors David A. Whitsett, Forrest A. Dolgener and Tanjala Mabon Kole, focuses specifically on the psychological aspect of marathon training and is geared toward people with "real lives" outside of running -- jobs, families and obligations. "This is the only training plan I followed for my first marathon, and I finished successfully," Walker says.
Run shorter races first. Participate in local races and mini-marathons. "By running in community or charity-sponsored races, I built distance for my marathon training schedule but also gained a sense of accomplishment of finishing another race," she says.
Get good shoes from a specialist. Visit stores in your area that specialize in helping people train for marathons. Knowledgeable salespeople watch customers run before recommending a shoe, ensuring each runner receives the best possible fit.
Tell friends and family about your goal. "One of my biggest motivations was telling other people I was running a marathon," Walker says. "Everyone kept asking how training was going and held me accountable for running. It really encouraged me to not give up." Discussing marathon training also creates contacts for forming training groups.
Stay focused while running. Listening to music or wearing headphones blocks noise, creating potential hazards for runners. Walker recommends singing or playing mental games to stay focused. "After running two hours, you're kind of done thinking," she says. "I visualize myself successfully finishing the race. It's like watching a mental video clip."
Research courses and time limits before committing to a race. Not all marathons are created equal. Good beginners' races are those that offer water stations every mile, instead of every two or three, thereby limiting distraction or boredom. Runners should compare courses before registering for a marathon -- those with downhill or flat terrain are easier for beginners to complete on time.
For Walker, running a marathon is simply about setting a goal and achieving it. "It is very hard to duplicate the feelings you get when you work for four or more months training for an event and then you complete it," she says. "It's just you and your body. Aside from your running shoes, there isn't really any equipment you need to run. ... Finishing this distance was solely up to me."