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Three Key Goal Setting Tips for Couch to Marathon Runners

10 October

The dog loses to the couch!

Author’s Note: This is an installment in our new “Couch to Marathon” instructional series designed to help newbie marathoners make the most of their first race. From training to racing information, we’ll cover the fundamentals that all beginner runners should know. If you have any additional questions, please find us on Facebook:

For most first time marathoners…pulling the registration trigger is a monumental moment. Surpassed, almost instantly, by the sudden realization that you actually have to do the race. Over time, this dread is replaced by you trying to come to terms with what it means to train to complete twenty-six point two miles.

But it doesn’t have to be a constant up hill battle. Structured properly, training for and racing a marathon can be a relativley simple and fun experience. Here are three tips to help you keep your marathon journey simple and effective.

Step One: Be Consistent

The secret to getting ready for a marathon does not lie in one magical workout that you are going to find in next installment of your favorite running magazine. It also can’t be found in the distance of any one individual “long run,” despite the fact that an informal survey of 10 runners will give you 10 different recommendations for a distance.

The secret to getting ready for race day is simple: run well and run often.

  • Whatever plan you choose, keep it simple.
  • Build it into your regular weekly and daily schedule so that you don’t have to jump through too many hoops to make it work.
  • Keep it fun by involving your friends or finding a local running group.
  • Find intermediary races between now and the big day to keep you focused and on point.
  • Schedule a variety of runs, some easy and some hard. Most short but once a week go long.
  • Alternate long run weeks with intermediate distance long runs, such as 16 miles, then 12 miles, then 18 miles, then 12 miles, etc.
  • Take frequent days off to ensure you get enough rest, especially after long run and hard run days.

Step Two: Manage Your Recovery

While most new runners get all excited about the running and the racing, the savvy runner will tell you that the time when you are not running is equally important. For while the work and subsequent fatigue of training create the opportunity for functional adaptations (aka improvements), the only way those gains can take root are if you recover.

But contrary to conventional wisdom is more than just drinking the right ratio of carbs and protein after a hard workout (4:1, in case you were wondering). It’s about creating the conditions for constant growth and absorption of work.

Here are some simple yet very effective ways to make sure you are recovering properly.

  • Consistent sleep makes a huge difference in your ability to recover. Most people need eight hours a night, but the average is closer to six. Do your best to get seven and we’ll call it even!
  • A consistent wake time also helps. If you can’t get the same amount of sleep, work on a regular rising ritual so your body gets acclimated to the morning (especially if you are moving to morning workouts). This will also help you do a better job of getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
  • Don’t just run, cross train too! The pounding of the open road can take a toll; avoid this situation by mixing in alternate days of aerobic activity such as cycling, swimming, roller blading and even just walking. It all adds up!
  • Elevate your legs based on total miles run. This is one of my favorite recovery rules; even if I don’t use it until I am running longer than an hour. Make a note of how far you run and then set aside time to sit — or lay down — with your legs up. Even better if you have some compression socks on!
  • Recovery starts before you stop. Fuel each run as best you can…there should be NO bad patches due to poor fueling or hydration. Over extending yourself within a workout, even with proper recovery, can set you back several days worth of workouts. Know your food and fluid needs and plan accordingly; every run is a chance to test and practice proper nutrition.

Step Three: Improve Your Body Composition

Not only do we need to deal with how our body handles the work we are doing, but it pays huge dividends to make sure our body is in the best condition possible. Every single pound you lose is worth approximately three seconds per mile; lose ten pounds and you are close to 30 seconds per mile faster without any substantial training!

For some runners, simply being active helps take care of this issue; but many of us need to pay extra attention. Here are some tips that can help you start the journey to a healthier, faster you.

  • Make healthier choices every day. Don’t throw out all your food; pick one thing and make a better choice. Do that consistently over time and it’ll become a habit, allowing you to move on to the next thing. Options could be a healthier dessert, or better midday snack.
  • Start each day with your best possible meal. If your days get away from you more than you’d like to admit, then focus on what you can control — your breakfast. Not only will you get a great start on your day, but you’ll be more likely to keep the healthy streak going the rest of the day
  • Fill food “gaps” with good choices. If larger meals are too daunting to manage, then put your attention on making lots of better, smaller decisions. They add up!
  • Never go more than three hours without eating something. Too long and your body’s need for calories will encourage you to choose the most expedient food…which is usually not the healthiest! Review your usual meal times and plan to fill the gaps with excellent choices like fruit, a handful of nuts, a small greek yogurt, etc.

Bonus Tip: Track Your Miles!

Knowledge is momentum, momentum is power. Tracking your miles will have the dual effect of giving you a record of your progress (congrats!) and help you build a streak of running. You can work to beat last week’s totals, beat your longest run, run a local loop faster, etc…the power is in the numbers!