Nearly two weeks ago, I ran my first marathon ever, the Chicago marathon. And it was. . . fun! As one of my friends smirked, "those two words don't belong in the same sentence." Believe me, I never thought I would categorize a marathon as fun. I was a very casual runner prior to this. Marathons seemed like something for two populations: serious runners, and washed-up athletes like me, looking for something to achieve. But the electrifying atmosphere that was the city of Chicago truly made for a 26.2 mile party. Was it hard? Of course. Those last five miles were grueling. The final mile seemed unending. Yet, the good, bad, and the downright ugly (my feet after the race) still made for an experience I would re-live in a pounding, exhausted heartbeat. Based on my race day experience, I've come up with six tips and tricks that can make running any race fun and achievable.
Set a goal for yourself
Whether your goal is simply to finish before your big sister in the 4th of July three mile run (I'm lookin' at you, Peter Thompson!) or to qualify for the Boston marathon, having a goal will guide your training and motivate you when your body wants to give up during the race. Goals should be attainable, but not impossible; they should also be challenging, but not guaranteed. For instance, I knew I couldn't run the marathon at an elite pace (sub-6:00 minute miles was not attainable for me) but I speculated if I adhered to a training plan, I might be able to run a Boston qualifying time. Your goals could be finishing your first 5K, 10K, half, or marathon, achieving a certain time or pace, or completing a race without stopping or walking, among many others. Research has shown that just writing down your goal increases your likelihood of achieving it, so put a pen to paper, friend!
Put your name on your shirt
Hands down, wearing my name on my shirt was the key to my success—and the reason I had such a blast! With "KELSEY" displayed boldly across my chest, I never went more than a few steps without hearing "GO KELSEY!" "You got this, Kelsey!" "You look so good Kelsey!" "Kelsey, you make this look easy!" and even chanting, "kelsey...Kelsey....KELSEY!"—all from complete strangers! The highlight of these personalized cheers, however, was hearing one of the live bands spontaneously incorporate my name into their song as I ran by.
Each time I heard my name, I couldn't help but smile (well, maybe except for those last few miles), which—bonus!—helps alleviate the physical pain. Putting your name on your shirt (directly or via duct tape) or on your bib will make you feel like your own friends and family are lining the race course.
Set some #squadgoals
However, not every race has 1.2 million spectators, so it might be a good idea to have your actual friends and family (#squad) come cheer you on. Based on my predicted pace and the local train stops, my husband made a plan to see me at six different points! He sent out his plan to friends of ours so they could join him or know where and when to spot me!
For big races like the Chicago marathon, it's a good idea go over which mile-markers, landmarks, and even what side of the street they will be waiting on (i.e. mile 8, by Stan's Donuts, on the west side of the street). For a race that isn't as crowded, it might be nice to be surprised by your loved ones along the way!
Trust your training
"How did you calm your pre-race jitters?" one of my friends asked to me afterwards. "Well, I knew I could do it, based on my training. I was still nervous-excited for the race, but I. . . " "You trusted your training," she finished for me. And that was exactly it. Of course, there is adrenaline before any race, regardless of its size, gravity, or value to you, and that's a good thing! But trusting in the work, hours, and dedication you've put in to prepare for race day can help quell any fears and feelings of inadequacy. Reflect on all your hard work and trust that the training program you stuck to will get you through that 5K, 10K, half, or marathon! The race is your reward for all that training the days your legs were tired, you didn't want to get out of bed, and no one was watching.
Have (or find!) a running buddy
A key to being held accountable to your training program or to your pace on race day is to have a running buddy! You're less likely to crawl back into bed when your alarm goes off if you have someone waiting at the corner to run with you. During the race, you and your buddy can motivate each other when the going gets tough, and take turns setting the pace. While I didn't have a buddy to run the entire race with me (though I did have my friend Carol for eight miles + Anthony the last few!) I found one around mile 17. I kept noticing someone, whom I later found out to be a high school senior named Richard, running close by. He asked if he could pace with me, and I said sure. As we entered the most challenging part of the marathon, I relied on him as much as he had relied on me, dropping bits of encouragement to each other, complete strangers. Don't be afraid to introduce yourself and buddy up with someone running your pace, if they don't mind. The extra breath at the moment will be worth it in the long run.
With about half a mile left, Richard sprinted ahead of me to finish. I prayed I would find him among the masses so I could thank him for helping get me to the end.
. . . Thankfully, I did!
Two of the ways I passed the time on my longer training runs was listening to podcasts by Fr. Mike Schmitz, and praying rosaries for certain intentions. On race day, when my legs felt like they were going to fall off at mile 21, I started praying a rosary in my head, imploring Jesus and His mother Mary to help me through the end. Many miles earlier, I had seen a Planned Parenthood along the course, and made a mental note to offer up my impending pain for the lives lost in that building. So on mile 21, I prayed a rosary with that intention. Meditative praying like this can be a way to take the focus off of your aching body. It helps you pass the time while keeper a greater purpose in mind.
One thing I took away from a Fr. Mike podcast, was the ability to make any period of time—running, resting, driving—a sacrament and a sacrifice. Asking God, "Father, be with me during this time" makes it a sacrament, and telling Him, "Father, I give you this time," makes it a sacrifice to him. So, when you get to the crux of your training or your race, turn to God, and let Him help you through it.
No matter what race you're running, or even if you're training for another sport altogether, hopefully these tips make your experience happier and holier. Thank you to everyone who supported me in this marathon by donating to Girls On The Run on my behalf!
With a little grace,
For more running tips, be sure to check out Molly on the Move!