I hated running.
I dreaded the annual 1-mile Presidential Physical Fitness run in junior high gym class. In my 20s, I attempted a 10k race but started too fast, so I had to walk the last 4 miles. A decade later, the boy I was dating wanted me to run with him but would yell at me when I couldn’t keep up with his 8-minute-per-mile pace. (Don’t worry, that boy is long gone.)
Why then, did I sign up for a marathon when I was almost 40 years old, having never run more than 6 miles? Easy. This time, I was running for myself. And it wasn’t about running, it was about doing something transformative. About proving to myself that I could.
You can, too! It doesn’t matter how old you are or if you have prior running experience. You can train for and complete a marathon and, in doing so, experience the elevated confidence and deep sense of achievement that accompanies striving for and slaying a big goal. A marathon, 26.2 miles, is exactly that kind of goal.
Getting started is easy, sticking with it is harder. Arm yourself for success with these tips.
Plan and Commit
Sign up for a race that is beginner friendly. A relatively flat course and good crowd support helps. Download a 16- or 20-week marathon training plan for beginners with workouts designed to slowly and safely increase your mileage. Commit to doing them all. Consider a plan that includes scheduled walk breaks, a common approach that extends your ability to tackle the miles ahead. It doesn’t matter one bit how fast you go, it matters that you finish what you started.
Obsess About Recovery
Actively taking steps to help your body recover quickly from running workouts is the key to making it to race day without injury. Dynamic stretching, proper hydration, using a foam roller, and regular yoga are just a start. Train in the shoes, compression socks, and clothes you will wear on race day and log long miles on a forgiving surface like a dirt path versus punishing concrete. Nutrition is also fundamental to recovery and stamina. Test what foods and electrolyte drinks work best for you before, during, and after your long runs so you have a solid plan.
Don’t Go It Alone
I have a secret: Crossing the finish line wasn’t the best part of my first marathon. It was the camaraderie, shared miles, and common-goal bond with my running partners that I remember most fondly. The value of supportive accountability in a challenging experience is powerful. Find a training buddy with a similar pace and a strong commitment — someone you refuse to let down no matter what.
Be Relentlessly Positive
There is a saying that mile 18 is the halfway point of a marathon. We know that isn’t mathematically right, so why? Because those last 8.2 miles are more difficult than the first 18. For these moments, you must be prepared with a relentlessly positive mindset. Never say “I can’t do this.” Instead say “I am doing this!” Celebrate every single victory, no matter how small. Was this training run your longest ever? Amazing! Was that pie-flavored gel pack delicious? Awesome! Did you make it to mile 18 with a resolute smile on your face? Even better. Constantly remind yourself that it’s hard, but you can do hard things.
In 2015, 92-year-old Harriette Thompson ran the San Diego Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon in 7 hours, 24 minutes, and 36 seconds, breaking the record for oldest woman to ever run a marathon. Think about that while you run.
Lea Maxwell is a database marketing executive, writer, Ironman triathlete, and founder of escapeundersail.com.