When I was preparing to run my first marathon, I did all the training on my own. Looking back on it, I can’t believe I even finished that race. It was a struggle, but somehow I managed to hold it together and I finished under 4 hours. I made a slew of the mistakes of a first-time marathoner:
- I did all my training runs at the same speed – whether it was a short mid-week run or a weekend long run – I ran them all at the same speed and intensity level.
- I did no speed work and no hill workouts.
- My longest run prior to the race was only 16 miles.
- I did not taper properly leading up to the race.
- On race day I started out way too fast and ended up bonking around mile 18.
- I did not practice taking in nutrition during my training runs and took nothing during the race (except for Gatorade). This most likely contributed to my bonking at 18.
- I had no support.
Finishing that first marathon was a huge accomplishment for me. The feeling I had when I crossed that finish line is difficult to articulate; it was simply amazing. I wanted more of that.
I decided to run another marathon and signed up with a training group through our local running store. Some of the benefits of the training group:
- The workout schedule is taken care of. Times and locations are pre-determined, routes are planned, water/fuel stops are setup ahead of runners. All I have to do is show up and run!
- Speed and hill workouts are scheduled throughout the training. We’ve done interval training, track workouts, fartleks, pickups, hilly runs, hill repeats, goal-paced runs, and more. Variety is the key here, working different muscle groups to improve overall strength and efficiency.
- The key to any marathon training program is the long run. It is recommended that we do our long runs one minute or so slower than our marathon goal pace. We also do one or two “up” weeks in a row (increasing our mileage by 10% or so each week), followed by a down week (decreasing our mileage by 10-20%). This allows our legs to recover from the longer runs.
- Our longest run is 20-22 miles. This not only provides a strong training base, but mentally prepares us for those last (and toughest) miles.
- Our coaches show us how to pace ourselves so we don’t head out too fast and burn out before the finish.
- We are given a wealth of information on nutrition and hydration. We also can experiment with different nutrition options during our long runs to see what works and what doesn’t. Our water stops are stocked with water, Gatorade, Nuun, gels, blocks, beans, electrolyte tabs, even salty snacks like pretzels and trail mix. You don’t want to try gels for the first time during a marathon only to find out they make you sick to your stomach.
- The amount of support we get is phenomenal! There are coaches for every pace of runner, and they are very accessible, always sharing their race experiences and training tips with the group.
By far the biggest benefit of training for a marathon with a running group is the group itself! I no longer have to run alone. I get positive support and encouragement from my fellow runners, this is often necessary to get me through the latter part of a tough 20-miler. I have made lifelong friends in the group and I look forward to seeing their smiling, happy faces on those freezing cold Saturday mornings. If it wasn’t for the group, my motivation would constantly wane and I’d probably just sleep in on those early winter mornings. Instead, I’m out there running in the bitter cold surrounded by a throng of good friends, and quite often during those runs I’ll take a moment to reflect on how grateful I am to have all this.
Now when I toe the line at the start of a marathon I’m well-prepared and confident in my training, and when I cross the finish line I’ll have a host of friends waiting for me, and we’ll celebrate our victories together, as a group.