If you’re reading this, you probably are preparing to watch a friend (or a bunch of strangers) cross the finish line at the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon or you’re setting some bucket list goals and running 26.2 miles for fun might be one of them. Either way, you came to the right place for some insight on what it takes to toe the line (and finish) at one of the biggest races running has to offer.
Last year, I was in your shoes when a coworker asked if I was interested in applying to run the New York City Marathon on the New York Road Runners’ media team.
I have a few half-marathons under my belt, but I always had a hundred excuses for why I couldn’t run a full marathon. Something about living through a global pandemic kicked me in the ass and said, “Ma’am, why don’t you try?” On a sweaty keyboard, I applied, was approved, paid my race fee, and submitted my registration. Then I ate some bread.
A few things we should clear up before we get into all the fine print: First, a marathon is 26.2 miles long. The .2 is very important and not to be rounded down. Second, if you have any doubts about whether your body can handle running a marathon, talk to your doctor before you sign up because the training can be quite intense, especially if you’re not used to running long distances. If you are medically cleared but feel unsure, maybe try a half-marathon first and then decide if running is still fun.
Medical needs aside, your eligibility to run a specific marathon depends on the race you’re interested in running. For example, runners can try to get into the New York City Marathon in a number of ways. There’s the lottery drawing, which opens between October and February the year before the race you want to enter; there are charity teams you can raise money for; or you can complete the 9+1 program. For races like the Boston Marathon, you have to time-qualify if you aren’t running with charity. Local marathons are much easier to enter and the race fees are usually less $$$.
Speaking of money, marathons can be expensive. The 2022 New York City Marathon entry fee, for folks in the United States, was between $255 and $295. International runners can expect to pay a little more. The other major marathons (Chicago, Tokyo, London, etc.) cost about the same. Unfortunately, this is just the start of your costs. You’ll need running shoes, gear for all kinds of weather, possible physical therapy sessions and massages if you encounter an injury or sprain, and perhaps nipple guards. More on that later.
You’re still down? Here’s your starter pack.
Your gear and fuel are going to be your best friends for a few months. Make sure you find what works best for you and your body. A few quick tips on the above:
If you’ve never purchased running shoes for a long training cycle, go to a local running store and get fitted for a pair. Cheap or ill-fitting shoes can leave you injured. It’s wise to size up by a half size for your long-run shoes—you need room, for your feet will swell (cute).
Research the mileage on the shoes you buy—you usually have to swap them out after 300 to 500 miles. Apps like Strava make it easy to keep track of how many miles you have left in your wear cycle.
Fuel is highly personal. HIGHLY. PERSONAL. The gels that work for your friend might make you poop yourself. Keep a log of what makes your stomach happy so you can dial in on what you’ll need for race day.
If you’re running alone, run without headphones when it’s light out or on populated paths. GPS watches, like the Garmin listed above, can send an alert and your location to your emergency contacts or to emergency response teams instantly in the event of an incident.
Hydration is super important, especially if you’re training during the summer. If you don’t want to stop to find water in the middle of your runs, you might want a hydration vest that you can carry.
Do you have a beverage? Because I have a tough pill for you to swallow: Your lifestyle is going to change quite a bit while you’re training for a marathon. Your alcohol consumption will go down, your pasta intake will go up, and your bedtime will get earlier and earlier. You may feel bad about turning down plans the night before a long run, but you won’t regret it the next day when you’re giving it your all on the road. If you don’t want to spend a ton on the recovery tools above, at least get a foam roller and make time to use it. If you take care of your body, it’ll take care of you.
Now, a few words of unsolicited advice.
Take it slow. If you are new to marathons, you need to give your body time to adjust to the new distances you’re about to crush. Patience is key and, btw, it’s okay to walk when everyone else is running.
Eat enough food. You’re going to hit a point early on in your training where you feel ravenously hungry many times per day. Like, take your hangriest mood and multiply the intensity by 100. This mood is called runger. Do some research on the minimum amount of calories, protein, and carbohydrates you should be consuming throughout your training cycle, and don’t dip below it. You’re constantly breaking down your muscles and your body needs nutrients to build them back up again. As a former disordered eater, I know that the amount of food your body will ask for will feel unnatural, but trust me—you need it.
Embrace the really bad runs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried while preparing for this race. There were some brutally hot days when I wanted to give up, some days when I had a lot on my mind and didn’t want to run at all, and some days when I just felt inadequate next to seasoned runners. For every one of these bad moments, I eventually found a moment of joy and power. The sucky times show you how strong you are.
Find a running group in your area. Joining a track club was the best decision I’ve ever made as a runner. It held me accountable and pushed me to run harder and faster than I ever thought I could. Many groups host long runs on the weekends, which will help you get through some of your toughest miles. And there’s usually beer after. ✔️
Be a good teammate to yourself. Your mind can go to dark places when you’re out there running double-digit distances. Remember that you are in charge of your perspective and how you talk to yourself. So what if you didn’t hit the time goal that you wanted for your first 18-mile run? You ran 18 miles, probably before most people were awake, and that’s a major win. You’re impressive, you’re powerful. Don’t give up.
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