The A-Z's of Marathon Training (That I Learned the Hard Way)

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I am no expert on marathons. In fact, I've never run one before. Still reading? I ran my first half marathon last year and finally saw myself as a runner...and then didn't run again for 7 months! But for Team World Vision I have signed up for the full 26.2 L.A. Marathon this year (You can read more about this on my blog This Will Not Kill Me). The training process has been brutal. In fact, I've had to take this week off from several injuries and am trying not to panic about catching up in time! But I will cross that finish line if I have to CRAWL! I've learned a lot during this process (mostly what NOT to do) and here are the A-Z's of marathon training...from a beginners point of view. A - Avoid Overtraining! - This is one of the hardest lessons for me. I don't train properly and then want to sign up for something and just do it! But overtraining leads to injuries (case and point), lack of motivation, sleeplessness, and sore muscles. If you are running for an event like a half or full marathon look at training programs online and determine if it seems doable to you. If you can't run the 3 mile, day 1 run, either sign up for a shorter distance race or give yourself more weeks to get to that level. If you have already over-trained, take a week off (try not to beat yourself up) and catch up what you can. Remember, it's supposed to be fun!

B- Breakfast - Starting the day off with a good boost of carbs and protein will help immensely through the run! I used to worry that eating before my workout would upset my stomach but I found that whenever I ran for more than 30 minutes I felt drained and dragging without some calories in my system.

C - Cross-train - It's important to take a day or two off from running but still stay moving. Cross-training mixes up the routine and works on different muscles. It also breaks up the monotony daily running can have.

D - Don't Stress - Do what you can and just put one foot in front of the other. Stress can cause the body to tense up and lead to more injuries. This is the one I have to keep reminding myself of at the moment. It doesn't matter how you finish the race, just that you do.

E - Epsom Salt - My running best friend! (next to my shoes). Taking baths in Epsom salt does miracles on sore muscles!

F - Footwear - The shoes you buy are INCREDIBLY important! My #1 BFF of running! I recommend going to a specialty running store or at least a sports store with running experts. Make sure they test out your running gait on a treadmill. Seeing where your foot is impacting makes all the difference in what shoes will work in the long run.

G - Gear - For me this included a running belt to store my keys and a granola bar in and water bottles that clip onto the belt. G could also be for Gatorade. Any of your long runs should include water and a sports drink like Gatorade to replenish the electrolytes your body is burning through. And don't forget some great running clothes. I always feel more confident and like a "real" runner when I wear my favorite matching running outfit rather than old shorts and a baggy t-shirt that says, "go back to the couch girl, you're good!".

H - Have Fun! Join fun runs, make it social and run with friends, or just get yourself that bright pink tutu for the race. No matter how hard it gets, remember why you signed up and enjoy those runners highs when they hit!

I - ICE - I can not emphasize this one enough! A lot of my soreness and injuries could have been prevented had I iced on a regular basis or at the beginning signs of an injury. When icing, make sure you compress the ice with a wrap or a towel and elevate whatever's hurting.

J - Join - Join a running group and join a race! Sign up! Once you've paid the fees to run you'll have more initiative to follow through and incentive to keep your commitment.

K - Keep a Journal - It's nice to go back on the hard and unmotivated days and see how far you've come. Even if it's just having your training schedule visible and crossing off the workouts as you complete them, seeing the big training picture helps to keep things in perspective.

L - Long Run - This can either be miles or time, but your long run will help you increase endurance and build up to running 26.2 miles (Or any 5k, 10k, or half). Slowly build your long run by 1-2 miles each week or 10%. Don't push these runs, just put one foot in front of the other and get er' done!

M - Mental - Keep things in perspective, don't stress, have fun, see a pattern here? While the body may be taking a pounding, having your head in the right place can make all the difference between quitting and finishing strong. Having the motivation to get up and go on days that feel hard takes a lot of mental toughness. Remembering that this will not kill you and that your body is stronger than you give it credit for will help you break through walls when they hit, and they will hit.

N - Nutrition - This is for SURE the hardest one for me! Eating the right foods helps fuel our bodies to perform at our best. Greasy, fatty foods slow us down; protein and good carbs fuel us more. I love my wine and beer but having one the night before a hard run not only kills my morning motivation to get up and go, but leaves me dragging all day.

O - Oatmeal - Yes, I know this one falls under nutrition but it's my secret weapon (along with peanut butter). It's the one and only breakfast food that I have found that fills me up for hours and doesn't feel too heavy to run on. To add a little protein I use soy milk instead of water. And if you REALLY wanna get crazy, throw in some peanut butter!

P - Protein - Speaking of protein...this is what builds up our muscles and repairs damage in our bodies. Before a run grabbing something small like a rice cake with peanut butter or some egg whites is important but even more important is adding protein AFTER your workout. Having a protein shake or bar afterward can make a big difference in the long run. Speaking of long runs...if  you're running for over an hour it's good to take a protein chew, gel, or bar with you for an added boost of energy.

Q - Quantity AND Quality! Ok, I cheated a little here, but BOTH are important. Running on a frequent basis is the best way to increase endurance, build at a moderate pace to avoid over-training, and get into a routine. But more importantly is the quality of your runs. Having the proper technique of stride and impact can prevent injuries and increase times. When I ran my half-marathon last year I was swinging my legs and getting winded quickly and running at an 11:30 pace. Switching my stride to be more even and balanced got my pace to 10:00 without even trying.

R - Rest - This is the most crucial and sometimes hardest thing to do. I tried pushing through small pains because I didn't want to get off track and am now forced to stop for a whole week! Listening to your body and giving it the rest it needs (especially as training gets more intense)  will keep you feeling great and injury-free!

S - Stretch - The other necessary component to preventing injury and soreness. Before a run, warm up by doing some light cardio, walking, or jumping jacks, but afterward make sure to STRETCH! It may not feel needed when you're on your runners high or ready to jump in the shower but taking 15 minutes to stretch your muscles can mean the difference between walking like a normal human the next day and needing the sink to help you lower yourself to the toilet (yup, I've been there. Don't judge).

T - Turn down for WHAT? j/k Tell People - Telling your friends and family that you're training for a marathon gives you instant motivation! Having people cheering you on during the process and at the finish line make the whole process more fun! And it's super hard to quit when people are asking how the training is going.

U - Uphill battles - One of the best running tips I ever got was when you're going uphill don't speed up to push it or slow down because its hard, lengthen your stride! Keeping the same pace and making longer strides makes the task easier and builds endurance. And make sure to throw some hills in your training. It challenges different muscles and the race course may have some hills so it's best to be prepared.

V - Visualize - Picturing yourself running the race with your head held high and crossing the finish line can be very powerful to making that happen in reality. Putting motivational quotes and pictures around an area you see in the morning helps to start your running day off on the right foot.

W - Walk - Be ok taking a minute to walk if you need to or slow down when you're getting over an injury. The first time around I put so much pressure on myself to never stop, but this time I've let myself take 30 seconds when I need it to shake out my legs and catch my breath and I was shocked to discover my overall time has IMPROVED!

X - XOXO - Show yourself some love! Remember less than 1% of the U.S. population has ever run a marathon so you're already kicking ass just being there! For beginners like me it's important to keep things in perspective and be proud of yourself along the way.

Y - Yoga - This goes back into the whole stretching and cross-training but doing different workouts like yoga can help open up tight joints and prevent a lot of running soreness. Simply doing sun salutations helped my back relax after the constant jarring of running.

Z - ZZZ's - Get enough sleep! Getting a good 7-9 hours of sleep each night gives your body the much-needed time to recover. This also helps you wake up to your best, most refreshed, self ready to tackle another run!

So, there you have it. My super super super beginners guide to marathon training and the things I've learned along the way. This process has taught me so much and mostly that my body is stronger than I give it credit for. So, in the words of Nike, JUST DO IT! Sign up, push yourself, have fun, and get running!