5 Lessons I learnt the hard way training for my first marathon

My name is Duncan and I’m an accidental serial marathon runner. In three years I have 5 marathon finishes, one DNS, and too many hospital trips to my name. Those experiences form a collection of experiments. Trial and error. Lots of error in fact!

Reflecting on all of this I can distill a few shots of self-medicating wisdom that I’d sell to the younger me setting out on my running journey in the 2015 NYC marathon. That earlier me had an abundance of enthusiasm and energy balanced by not having the first clue about training, running form or the psychology of distance running.

So which 5 shots of wisdom, (like tequila, to be taken with a pinch of salt), would I send back to the younger-me embarking on my first 16-week marathon training program?

  1. Be patient, consistent and controlled

Dynamic warm up before a run
Dynamic warm up before a run

Be PATIENT with each and every workout. Don’t go faster or longer than planned. Training stress accumulates and you will get injured. (Honestly, you will get injured; two knee surgeries and a blood clot kinda injured!). Those sixteen weeks won’t seem like enough, but training for 4 months will take plenty of energy. Stay focussed and stay controlled. Enjoy it.

CONSISTENTLY make time for 5 minutes of proper warming up. Do it for every run starting right now. You will always feel the pressure to skip the warm-up because time is short. Resist! Prioritise those 5 minutes, even over 5 minutes of the workout. You will have fewer injuries. (I’ll share my warmup routine in a future post, or go Google “5 minute warmup for runners”)

Week to week keep your mileage increases CONTROLLED, below 10%. That’s a golden rule. You are the only one who doesn’t know it yet, and it’s the reason for your first knee surgery!

  1. Strength train + foam roll

Strength training for runners

Introduce STRENGTH TRAINING. I know you hate the idea and have no confidence in classes or weight lifting in the gym. I promise that you will end up loving it. You will interact with people and get ideas and support from them. You will get injured less. (Join a group strength class with a teacher, you’ll build confidence faster that way).

Go buy a FOAM ROLLER right now and use it every day. You’re in your forties and already losing muscle elasticity. Keep your legs happy. You’ll avoid unnecessary injury downtime and calf troubles.

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others, or you own naive ideas of performance

There are always countless runners who are fitter/faster/better than you. There are always countless runners who are less fit/fast as you. External comparisons have no value to you.

Go easy on your first attempt at the new big things. Longer distances, faster paces are tough on body on mind, so allow yourself time to build confidence and competence.

  1. Trust yourself, you have everything you need

You have this. As soon as you committed you had this. You will doubt yourself, there will be setbacks, and crisis of confidence, but you totally have this. Trust yourself, (we both know you won’t). Trust yourself enough to try. You will surprise yourself.

If you can’t trust, then at least ALLOW yourself to try. Having come this far the only failure is in not trying. Nothing new or good ever happened without putting in a little effort.

  1. Find good people to help you succeed

Get a coach. Find a mentor. Make friends with people who run. Surround yourself with running knowledge wherever you can. Soak up that knowledge, energy, and BELIEF IN YOU. You will always need other people to help you succeed.

What are the most important words of wisdom you’d send your younger self?

Trust yourself

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