Sunday, April 12, 2009

the non-runner's guide to running a marathon

It's been a few weeks now since I completed the marathon (saying that never gets old!), and I've found myself telling the non-runners among my friends pretty much the same thing: how I, a former non-runner, could have ever done this. So here's a basic guide of tips and tricks I learned along the way. Yep, magazine-style bullets coming right up:

1. Don't think about it, just sign up. If you've ever felt the tiniest pang of inspiration or its alter-ego, jealousy, when a friend runs a marathon, that means it's something you might want to do. The only way to move from the "thinking about it" stage to the commiting stage is by signing up for a race. If a marathon is too dauting, do a 5K at

2. Start running. Yep, it's that easy. I would have never believed this before, but no one starts out able to run 26 miles, and most NR (non-runners) can't even run a mile. Just pick a reasonable goal--and by reasonable, I literally mean a half mile or mile if that sounds like a lot to you, and just try it and see how it goes.

3. If you can't or don't feel like running, walk. This was my key to success. In the past I've pushed myself to try to make the three-mile mark or whatever goal I've set. If it's too much, I end up feeling winded, and dread doing it again. I always thought I "should" be able to run three miles, so I'd set my self up for failure. This tactic set me back years and years and made me believe I wasn't a runner. In contrast, just doing however much you feel like does the exact opposite. Each time you work with your body instead of against it, so you always remember the run as a positive experience. And on good run days when you find yourself able to do more than you ever have before, it propels your confidence even higher, so you can't wait to get out there again.

4. Go SLOOOOW. This is another biggie. They always say you should be able to carry on a conversation when you're running, and it's true--that's the pace you can sustain for long periods--like marathons. But what it actually means is that when you start running at what you "think," you should: you start to feel like your heart's pounding, your breathing becomes panting and you can hear it, and you immediately start thinking about when it will end--that's too fast. Drop it down a few levels until your heart feels good, you can breathe silently and if you're with someone you. can. get. words. out. like. this. to the beat of your running pace. Running at this new, slower speed will help you run farther, and make the whole experience actually enjoyable, which will make you want to keep it up.

5. Figure out your three-day-per-week schedule. Yep, that's all you need at first. Just do one day during the week where you run about 3-4 miles, but at medium effort, one day a week where you run 4 miles at easy effort, and make Saturday your long run day. That means each Saturday you schedule time to start running a little longer each week (I liked starting at 8:30AM so it was out of the way by noon). If your race isn't for a good 4-5 months, you can build in a mile or two more every other week, dropping back in mileage every fifth week. Three days is all you need at first, and then you can start adding in a fourth easy run day as you grow accustomed to running, and your long runs get in the 7+ mile range. Beyond this, it's best to check out the tips at Runner's World, since I'm no expert, but I will say that doing a 3-4 day schedule really helped me not get burnt out, and not have to make excuses to myself about it not fitting into my schedule and dropping out completely.

6. Last but not least, suit up. Yep, it's your excuse to go out and buy a whole new running wardrobe. After running in whatever old cotton T-shirt and cotton leggings I had around the house and flattened out sneakers, I can honestly say the stuff they sell in running shops makes ALL the difference. When you're wearing materials that wick away sweat, it's one less thing you have to worry about in the cold or heat, plus, they really prevent chafing, and of course, make you feel completely AWESOME.

Optional: find a running buddy who's training for the same event you are. Some people love running alone, or at the very least, don't think they'll be able to keep up a conversation while running, but others, as I found with myself, love the distraction of talking about whatever, especially during long runs. In the last month before the marathon, the month where I clocked a 13, 15, 17, 18 and 20 miler, having my running buddy Jen right there with me to remember to eat, drink and, of course talk about guys, helped me make it through.

Good luck and of course, hit me up with any questions and I'll do my best to answer!


  1. Great bullet points! I just read this & re-familiarized myself with the basics - I am 2 months postpartum & trying to get back in shape, have not run in 5 months! It can be realy tough to find a running partner at your same ability level/pace!

    I successfully used a service called Meet in Real Life to find a running partner in my area & wanted to share for the benefit of your readers.

    Sign up in your city & post that you are looking, or click the “running” tag to see others who are looking. Good luck!

  2. Thanks, Amanda! Good suggestion! Keep me posted how the running's going! I'm back at it as well! xoxo, Meg

  3. Meghann, good for you with the running and writing. I happen to run (no pun intended) into your blog online and am glad I did. Not only have I always wanted to run a marathon, I'm still hoping to publish some day. We have two things in common right there!

    I am planning on buying the book, THE NON RUNNER'S GUIDE TO RUNNING A MARATHON. Even though I've been running off and on ever since I was 13 (I'm 52 ) I've never run past a 10K....and that was years and years ago. I would really like to run a marathon if it's possible without hurting my body at all.