For many, the idea of running a marathon is as polarizing as the New England Patriots. You’re either fully in support of Tom Brady’s excellence, or you never want to see Bill Belichick and his hoodie ever again. A lot of people I know have running a marathon on their bucket list, somewhere next to “go to the Super Bowl” and “win my fantasy league.”
That’s especially true this time of year, when three of the biggest world marathons—Berlin, Chicago, and New York—happen within a 36-day period. We checked in with five first-time marathon men who decided to take the leap of sweaty faith and check off this big life to-do in 2019. Here are their biggest training cycle takeaways.
1. Cameron Ahouse
Customer Support and Fitness Instructor at EveryBody Fights & TB12 Sports
New York City Marathon
Cameron Ahouse wasn’t particularly committed to running a marathon this fall. His girlfriend, on the other hand, definitely was: Every Saturday, the two would head out on her long run together. “Once we got up to 16 miles, I knew I was in this for the long haul,” he said, adding that he’ll be running for the Muscular Dystrophy Association come race day (this Sunday).
His goal? To finish, for sure, but also to maintain. While the personal trainer is excited for the run, he’s got other goals on his mind. “I had signed up for the Spartan Beast in Central Florida before NYC,” he says. “I look at this whole journey and the pieces that make it up (each long run, each meal, each session in the gym or in a class) as a competition against myself—to keep my weight the same, get stronger and be able to run a marathon.”
The biggest lesson: “Break it up into little doables,” he says. “In running, it’s important to focus on each mile and not allow yourself to get consumed by all of the miles that you have to run that day. The same thing goes for life. Just focus on the task at hand, and then move onto the next. It’s more manageable that way.”
2. Gerald Flores
Newark, New Jersey
Editor-in-Chief, Sole Collector
Spoiler alert: Gerald Flores didn’t have the marathon he was hoping for in Chicago. A long-time running fanatic, tendonosis in his ankle and foot struck about a month into his training cycle. There was one long run where he questioned if he’d be able to show up on race day at all.
Still, come October 13, Flores turned up in Chicago, put on his Nikes, did the thing, and did it well. Motivated by all the spectator signs along the way, he finished the race with a mix of walking and running. “It’s so different when you’re doing fitness on the treadmill and you don’t have an audience,” he said. “The crowds helped me smile through when I knew that it was gonna be tough.”
The biggest lesson: “Run your own race,” he says. “I definitely let my pride get the best of me with this one. If I wasn’t so worried about making up for lost time post-injury, maybe I would’ve been better for race day. Make your own plan, and stick to it. Be cool with what you have going on. I’ll definitely be back for redemption.”
3. Sam Schube
New York, NY
Senior Editor, GQ
It had been 10 years since Sam Schube did any considerable amount of distance running. But when the former cross country athlete was having some back pain earlier this year, he decided to lace up and get moving to try to build some essential strength back.
And the essential strength came, for sure (also, a 20-pound weight-loss). Schube drew the most enjoyment from the speed work that came hand-in-hand with training. “It was fun to push my body hard and watch it respond well,” he says, “With the faster running, you break up the monotony and use different muscles. By seeing what I was capable of on the track, it made me wonder if I could’ve been more aggressive during the actual race.”
The biggest lesson: “There’s some real value in doing this whole thing without music or podcasts or anything,” he says. “You have to spend some time being bored and patient with yourself. It was a nice ‘no content’ part of my day, since I’m usually spending all of my time listening, watching and reading. The blank space made me focus on me.”
4. Jordan Andino, 31
Chef and founder, Flip Sigi
New York, New York
New York City Marathon
When chef Jordan Andino thinks of things that bring him joy, he thinks of rooftop parties with friends and crafting new recipes for his New York City filipinio taqueria Flip Sigi. Added to the list recently: running. “I always ran a little, but never more than a mile at a time,” says the former high school track athlete, who raced events like the 100 and 200 meters. “When I finally tried to string four together at once earlier this year in February, it was the hardest thing I’d ever done at the time. I strained my IT band, was out for six weeks, but knew immediately that I’d be back.”
Fast forward eight months: he’s preparing to toe the line in Staten Island without any excuses holding him back. “Through this training, I had to make time,” he says. “It taught me that when people give an excuse, it’s because they don’t want to do it. If you want to do something, you’ll do it regardless of how busy you are, or financial constraints. Now, I can filter the bullshit.”
The biggest lesson: “Learning how to breathe has dramatically changed my life for the better,” he says. “It’s translated into every other area in life. When I’m stressed out and going hard in the kitchen or when I have a large event, I go back to my breath and it calms me down.”
5. Jose Bolaños, 27
San Francisco, California
New York City Marathon
Originally from Costa Rica, Bolanos grew up extremely active, even playing competitive tennis. After college, he moved to New York City and soon found himself working 100-hour weeks, capped off with excessive caffeine, lack of sleep, and weekend partying. “It just didn’t feel right without exercise,” he says. “I didn’t feel like myself.”
The biggest lesson: Encouraged by his running team, Umbali Running (based in Costa Rica), Bolaños’s biggest takeaway from this training cycle is: surround yourself with people who share your passion. “Running with a group helps a lot for pacing and team motivation, just like in the rest of life. There’s a sense of responsibility because others depend on you, especially when it comes to pace. Support means that you have a teammate going through the same effort, pain, and glory with you. That’s pretty special.”
Originally Appeared on GQ