Like many things in life, you get better at something by doing more of it. Want to be a better cook? Cook more; Want to get better at public speaking (without having to imagine the audience in their underwear)? Speak in front of people more; Want to get better at writing? Write more; Want to get better at running? Wait for it… yeah, you guessed it, run more.
There are no shortcuts in running. Building up your distance quite literally means running more. Now, a 10km-type runner who wants to tackle their first marathon shouldn’t go and try to bang out a marathon right away. That would really hurt in more ways than one. Distance running takes a lot of patience, and if you want to see improvements you’ve got to be in it for the long run… yeah, I went there.
This past summer/fall, I built up for my first marathon, with my sights set on the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon (STWM). Even at the elite level in the sport, I learned so much during this time. I found that much of what people tell you about moving to the marathon can only truly be learned by experience. Nobody can prepare you for how tired you’ll get, how hungry you’ll be, and just how difficult it can be to consume 4000+ calories a day. But I will share with you some tidbits as to what I found to be helpful when times do get tough.
It's Better Together
Running and training with others makes the whole process easier and more fun. Having someone or a group to share the struggle with can make a world of difference. Training with others can help hold you accountable for getting out for those rainy 4° runs and are great for sharing a laugh or two along your journey. Having a coach to share my doubts and uncertainties with along this journey to unknown territory proved to be very valuable to me. It helped relieve some stress knowing that everything was going to plan, even when at times it didn’t feel that way.
The first increases into unknown territory, be it a 40k run you’ve never done before or even stringing together your first 5k run can be daunting. There’s no hiding that any significant increase in training volume or single run can be intimidating. You can’t control the absolute increase in distance, but you can control your mindset towards it. During my build towards STWM, I found it helpful to break my long efforts into 5k chunks, tackling and focusing on one chunk of the run at a time. I made a mistake in my first long workout (22 miles total) of thinking that it was going to be really long, and quite frankly that it was going to suck. How did that go? It sucked. It’s ok to prepare yourself for something to hurt, but you don’t want that negativity to take you over. We are so fortunate to be in good health, and able to run like we do. Instead of having the mindset of “I have to do this”, think more, “I get to do this.”
Don't make the jump all at once
Each distance, from the mile to the marathon, is vastly different as well as the training that goes along with them. As we move up in distance, we’ll probably be running more mileage. Jumping from 5k/10k training to marathon training is a big change, and using a stepping-stone approach will keep you motivated when times get tough, because they will get tough, and that’s ok.
Don’t think about your training, and long run distances as a straight linear progression from where you’re at now to fabled 42.2k. Instead, we should aim to reach certain milestones in our training, whether that be a longer long run, more overall running volume, or something else altogether. Dividing your ultimate goal into small tiers/goals is a great way to keep your motivation high and check your progress.
But we should also be prepared for to hit some plateaus in training, when you reach a new level (or distance) and then maintain your training there to give your body and mind time to adapt. At some point your body will be ready for a new stimulus and you can step-up the long run distance or general training to a new level. The point at which you’re ready to make that jump from one goal to the next is not the same for everyone, and is rarely a smooth road, but having the goals to reach a new level can keep you motivated throughout the process.
The above can also be written as the following:
Set a goal, do work and build mileage / training volume necessary to achieve goal, run more, body gets fatigued, body adjusts to new level of fatigue (you get stronger), goal is achieved, set new goal, do work and build mileage necessary to achieve goal, run more, body gets fatigued, body adjusts to new level of fatigue (you get stronger again – crazy right!?!?) , goal is achieved, sight new goal… Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Remember, there really is no food, clothing, or shoes that will do the work for you. There are no shortcuts. But this is why we love this sport right? You put in the work, you go through the highs and the lows, you adjust to new levels of fatigue you never thought you’d be able to handle, you run more, get stronger, and improve.
Keeping a Training Log
I’ve been keeping a written, yeah millennials, written… ANCIENT… journal of my running since I was twelve (I’m twenty-seven now and have never missed a day). I found this to be extremely useful during this first move-up in training for the marathon. During times of doubt, I’d flip the pages of my past running journals and look at just how far I’d come. This gave me motivation to keep pushing onwards and helped through any times of questioning. I highly recommend doing the same — it’s pretty cool when you can use your past self to inspire your present self.
If you do decide to move up in distance, know that it won’t be easy. Know you’ll be sore. Know you’ll have periods where you’ll lack motivation. Know it’ll be harder to get out of bed in the morning. But also know this; the harder the struggle, and the more you can overcome, the stronger you’ll be from it. Everything difficult is worth working for, I can promise you that.