On Sunday, Nov. 2, I checked an item off my bucket list that will probably be my greatest physical accomplishment ever: I ran 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City and officially became a marathoner.
While I enjoy a nice jog to clear my head and love staying in shape, I was never someone obsessed with competitive running. In high school I dreaded field hockey practices where I had to run 2 miles (which back them seemed like an unbearable distance), and I thought the cross-country team was insane. But in recent years, the challenge of a marathon started to appear more attainable, and I’m the type of person who creates a goal and becomes consumed by it until I reach it.
This year, that dream came true when I was accepted into the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon via the lottery. Because the NYC Marathon is one of the biggest and most popular in the world (with over 50,000 finishers), getting accepted from the lottery requires a tremendous amount of luck, and I was fortunate enough to get in on the first try (I’m told this is pretty rare). Alternatively, runners can be accepted by running nine qualifying races in the previous year (and volunteering for one additional); fundraising for charity; or for more competitive runners, qualifying via a previous race with a super fast time (yeah, definitely not me).
I’m just an average 26-year-old with a resolution to push myself beyond my physical limits and run a marathon. If I can do it, anyone can do it, and I want to share my story and some advice for those that are on the edge or are thinking of becoming a marathoner in the future. Take it from a newbie: It can happen sooner — and easier — than you think.
My inspiration to run a marathon came from my best friend who ran NYC last year. By watching her complete it, I thought “I could do that” and with her support and guidance this year, I went through all of the motions. The training is truly time-consuming — giving up weekends to rest and commit to hours of running — so you must really have the self-discipline and motivation. Additionally, I wanted to add some meaning to my miles. If I had not been accepted via the lottery, I would have committed to fundraising for a charity. For this reason, I didn’t want my good intentions to go to waste, and I decided to fundraise for my favorite non-profit anyway. Not only did it feel good to be working toward another goal simultaneously, but it also helped spread the word about a good cause while also building support from all of the donors who were then cheering me on come race day.
You’ll hear a lot of runners say it’s 90% mental, and I truly believe this. While the physical training is important, it’s your own willpower — and the support of others — that gets you over the finish line. As the message of my marathon plans spread, I got plenty of support online from friends and family. On race day, which presented a true test of my nerves, I knew that I had friends and family who were waiting for me on the sidelines at Mile 18. Knowing that they were there for me ended up being so much more emotional than I thought, and my mind and body were so determined to get there to see them. After that, I had a burst of energy that I didn’t think possible, and I was so thankful when I crossed that finish line.
This is the biggest question for first-time runners: How do you prepare your body for something it is probably not designed to do? (Yes, it’s true that the first person to run a marathon actually died — but that’s before we learned how to train.) My best advice is to follow a schedule. Most marathons offer training plans, but usually they come at a cost. I used a free program from HalHigdon.com, which has plans to fit the need of every style runner — novice, intermediate or advanced. I chose a “novice” program that fit my schedule and made some adjustments. For example, I signed up for half marathons as part of my training, and was able to move around the “long runs” to work around those events. The maximum recommended mileage prior to the big day (at least for a novice) is to only run 20 miles — after that you allow your muscles time to rest and prepare to push yourself to 26 on race day. Sticking to a training plan will not only prepare your body, but also give you the confidence to know you can make it the full distance on marathon day.
This is a tricky task and there is tons of advice out there. Some people recommend gels, powders, juices, pills, gummies and every variation of sustenance for before, during and after a run. But ultimately, you have to know your own body. Although I don’t recommend it for others, I never eat before I work out — it’s just part of my routine. I prefer to go hard and then eat afterwards. When I started training harder, I recognized that I needed fuel to run 18 miles. I started eating bananas because that’s what my body was comfortable with as fuel. On longer runs, I took Gatorade chews and Power Gel to give me a boost. Figure out whatever works for you during training (whether it’s eating a full breakfast, or loading up on PowerBars, or any of the above), and most importantly, on race day you should replicate that. Never try anything new — or even a different brand of supplements — on the day of a race. Your body can end up having a horrible reaction. Just stay in your comfort zone.