1. Be Patient
It’s easy to get fixated on where you want to be 12, 8, 4, or however many weeks from now and forget about where you are today. Remember, building fitness is a patient process: Step 1: Accept where you are right now. Step 2: Begin there. Step 3: Don’t get ahead of yourself. Step 4: Go back to Step 1.
2. Find a Friend
Find a friend—or many friends!—to share your journey with this fall. A training partner(s) will keep you accountable and motivated, especially if you find yourself in a rut, and you’ll learn something from one another every time you get together for a run. They’ll also help you get more out of your key workouts and add enjoyment to the process of training for your marathon. You don’t have to run with someone else every day—make a standing date 1-2 times a week and stick to it!
3. Sweat the Details
Training is more than long runs, track workouts, strength sessions, and weekly mileage. It’s how you fuel yourself and how (and how much) you rest. It’s taking care of your body and not neglecting the “little” things that make a big difference. It’s how you treat yourself and those around you. It’s the attitude you have when things are going well but more importantly when they’re not. It’s the company you surround yourself with and the people you impact through your actions. In other words, training is a lifestyle. Everything counts!
4. Strength Matters
If you want to be a better runner, it’s important to spend some time working on becoming a stronger athlete. No need to get fancy: Spend 15-20 minutes three times a week working on general strength using your own bodyweight. Your body will become stronger, more resilient, and better able to handle the stresses that running places upon it. Here’s a sample routine you can do just about anywhere and with minimal equipment.
5. Get the Wheels Turning
Marathon training isn’t just about running far—it’s important to run fast too. Get out of your comfort zone 1-2 times a week and do workouts faster than your goal marathon pace. Not only does this make training more fun, it helps you develop a better sense of speed and will help make you more efficient at race pace.
6. Feet First
Got a few minutes before you head out to run? Spend some time waking up your feet! Walk around barefoot for a bit, roll ’em around on a golf ball, or do some simple toe raises to mobilize your soft tissue and get some blood flowing prior to putting in your miles.
7. Do a Dress Rehearsal
Treat your weekly long runs as dress rehearsals for the race so that it’s all second nature when it’s time to perform: wake up at the same time as race day and eat your standard pre-race breakfast, start your run close to the same time the race is going to start, wear the same shoes and race kit you plan to on race day, mix in some race pace miles when you’re tired to simulate the latter stages of the race, and work on positive self talk when things get tough. Remember: perfect practice makes perfect!
8. Rest Right
Your fitness doesn’t improve when you’re running or working out—it improves when you’re at rest. Recovery isn’t separate from training—it’s a key part of it. Make sure you nail the most important elements before spending money on fancy gadgets: sleep at least 7 hours a night, eat a balanced diet that fuels your training and helps your body repair itself, and take your rest days as seriously as your hardest workouts.
9. Focus on Your Form
Want to improve your running form? Remember this simple cue when you’re tired or if you can feel your stride getting sloppy: Run tall. (Think back to when your grade school teacher would tell you to “Sit up straight!” in class and you went from hunched to attentive in a split second. Same idea here.) Good running form starts from the top down, not the other way around. Relax your jaw, shoulders, and arms. Straighten and align your head, neck, and shoulders. Keep a healthy tension through the torso. Drive from the hips. Don’t worry about your footstrike or cadence—those pieces will fall into place from there.
10. Practice Racing
Racing well—whatever “your distance”—is a skill that needs to be developed and honed over time. It’s not a direct result of “race-specific” workouts or the fortunate byproduct of a flawless training cycle. Sign up for a few shorter races, put yourself on the starting line, take some calculated risks, be open to making some mistakes, learn from the experience, and you’ll be a better, more experienced racer the next time out.
11. Trust the Process
No one run will make or break your training cycle—or the race itself. You will have your share of great sessions, average ones, and others that you’ll want to pretend never happened. They’re all a part of the process of training for a marathon. Don’t get hung up on any one workout, for better or worse. The fitness you need, and confidence it breeds, comes from putting in consistent work day after day and week after week.
12. Celebrate the Journey
Race day is simply a culmination of all the days of work that went into it. It can be easy to put undue pressure on yourself to perform or get caught up in the results afterward. Take the pressure off by celebrating the journey you’ve been on these past several months and appreciating the achievements you’ve accomplished along the way. One of my favorite ways to do this is by looking back at the Training Log feature in Strava a few days before my race and seeing how all the runs, workouts, and weeks have built upon one another over the previous few months.