Friday, January 2, 2015

Top 3 Tips for Your First Marathon or 1/2 Marathon

So, you’re sitting down to map out your 2015 goals and considering making the Pittsburgh Marathon one of them. Great Idea! The beginning of the new year is a perfect time to start training. By the time most fitness newbies drop their resolutions, you’ll be waist deep in commitment, making it mentally harder to quit than continue!

If you are new to race training there are a few things you’ll need to know. Here are my top three tips for new (or old) racers!

Tip # 1 -Focus on Form

The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation reports that nearly 70 percent of runners will develop a related injury. It’s unbelievable, but this stat makes running one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Several programs have been developed to teach runners how to improve their form, therby dramatically decreasing the risk of injury. I’m a huge proponent (and certified instructor) of ChiRunning. This practice helps runners learn proper alignment while, remaining relaxed, to promote energy-effiency and injury prevention. You can easily self-study this technique with the ChiRunning books or DVDs. Even better, you can arrange to work with a certified instructor for one-on-one coaching!

There are other great programs/guides as well. These include Pose RunningGood Form Running, and many more. While the names of techniques vary, most underlying principles stay the same.

Tip # 2 - Get A Plan

In an ideal world every runner would hire an awesome coach to work with them. The coach can adjust each weeks runs based on results from the prior week. Coaches help athletes set goals, measure progress and push them beyond their comfort zones. At, we can definitely hook you up with something like this, but if private coaching isn’t in your budget, you can still get a great plan online for FREE.

Simply Google "Marathon Training Plan." You’ll end up with about 10 million results! Sort through the results until you find one that is right for you. Watch out for online programs that require you to pay. If you do pick a paid program, be sure it comes with a coach (even if they only talk to you once or twice to provide a customized version of the plan).

Here are a few things to look for in your program:
  • Grab a 16 - 20 week program depending on your base level of fitness (12 - 16 for a half marathon)
  • Don’t over commit your time. If you are already a runner you can get away with two weekday runs of 45 - 60 minutes, and a long weekend run
  • Look for something that incorporates cross training on off days (maybe a spin class during the week, yoga, walking, etc)
  • Don’t hesitate to choose a walk/run plan, especially if you’re new (you’ll likely be doing 4 - 5 days per week with an option like this)

Tip #3 - Don’t Get Caught Up In Marketing/Just Run!

Sure, you might be extremely excited to get started. You may even be thinking “I need new shoes, new clothes, a GPS watch, heart rate monitor, nutrition gels.” The truth is, all of this crap is just icing on the cake. Running is free! Everyone has access and you can do it in almost anything.

Let’s take a quick look at the common items most runners think they “need."
  • Shoes: Yes, they are important, but not as important as we’ve been lead to believe. You don’t need to drop $200 on a pair (and if you read “Born to Run” you might not wear shoes at all). Look for something that will ease you into moving toward a neutral drop over time (I like the Kinvara). You might also check out this post by ChiRunning founder Danny Dryer on minimalist shoes.
  • GPS Watch: If you don’t have a $300 watch, how could you possibly know how far you’ve gone? First, distance isn’t everything, you could always focus on time (ex; “I want to run 45 minutes today). That said, knowing how far you’ve gone is nice. Instead of grabbing an expensive watch, download a free app for your smart phone. They’re just as good and automatically sync to other online tracking services.
  • Heart Rate Monitor: Similar to the GPS watch, this is a nice-to-have. At the end of the day you can use your Rate of Perceived Exertion to deliver the same benefits as training with a HR monitor.
  • Clothing: Good clothing does make a difference in how you feel, but don’t drop hundreds of dollars at a running shoe store. You can start with an old pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt. As you run more, you’ll probably want to upgrade to a dry fit type of material. You can get everything you need (from pants, to shorts, shirts, jackets, compression shorts, and more) at a store like TJ Maxx, Marshals, or even Gabriel Brothers at a fraction of the cost.
  • Gels, Bars & Nutrition: Lastly, every magazine you read, or event you watch, will try and convince you to be hammering back goo’s, gels, gatorade and other sugary items to ‘fuel’ your runs. Don’t listen. You need much less then you’ve been lead to believe. Not working out longer than 45 minutes? All you need is water. If you’re starting to go longer, then consider one gel per hour or some other type of fuel, but use it sparingly. You’re stomach (and waistline) will thank you.

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