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How to Run a Marathon

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One minute, I was drinking martinis at Ryan’s Pub in Manayunk. The next, I was agreeing to run the Philadelphia Marathon. This coming November, I hope to be among the 24,000 participants.

Have I run a marathon before? No. Have I run any sort of race? No. Am I a gym buff? Absolutely not.

I am, however, notoriously stubborn. Hopefully, I’m stubborn enough to get through 26.2 miles.

Actually, I’m guessing that good planning will get me through it. I’m a journalist, so the love of research is in my DNA. Over the next 10 months, I’ll interview a variety of experts on everything from running gear to yoga to psychology. I’ll bring their advice to this column as I share the blood, sweat and tears—and sense of accomplish, I hope—that comes with running my first marathon.

My first interview is with Bryn Mawr running coach and pediatrician Dr. Michelle Quirk, who notes that it can take the body 12 weeks to adapt to the stress. She advises me to run three times a week at a pace where I can still hold a conversation. Then, after 12-16 weeks, I can begin a more intensive 26-week training cycle. Total training time is anywhere from 38 to 42 weeks.

Using a generic training guide, I first jogged while taking walk breaks, feeling pretty vulnerable as I slogging through my outdoor workouts. Physically, the initial workouts weren’t challenging. The real work was learning to be my own biggest motivator and cheerleader, roles I’ve historically struggled with.


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Out of pride, I wanted to go faster. But Chester Springs-based running coach Nate Robinson explains that new runners often train too hard and too early, then face harsh consequences.“You’re not only more susceptible to injury, but also to overtraining, which equals burnout,” he says.

At first, the running was tedious, and it obviously got more difficult as I cut out the walking. Slowly, I gained confidence. For the first time in my adult life, I’m getting comfortable being alone with myself. Runners often tout this benefit, but I’d always dismissed it as an overrated cardio-junkie maxim.

Still, completing a marathon will still require some serious mental training. By mile 20, most marathoners experience a mental fog, so it’s imperative they train their brains to default to positivity and tenacity. “It’s not one of those things you can fake your way through,” says Quirk. “It really comes down to how hard you’re willing to work.”

The first step, according to Robinson, is to figure out why you want to run. “Find something that motivates you that has depth and meaning to keep you going through this,” he says. “It’s a long, long process. You need to be intrinsically motivated.”

In the past, when I’ve accomplished something, I assumed it was due to some systematic error. My intrinsic motivation is to shatter that self-imposed imposter syndrome. Nobody can tackle a marathon without laser focus and intense commitment. Everyone who crosses the finish line has earned it.

I want to be one of them.        

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