By Dan Chabert
entrepreneur, husband and ultra-marathon distance runner
How to train for a marathon and still have a life
When you take that plunge and decide to register for a marathon, a lot of feelings surely swirl through your mind – including excitement, anticipation, dread, elation, and fear. You might wonder how you’re going to complete all of your training satisfactorily while also still tending to your other obligations, such as those related to your family or job. You might even think that you’ll be kissing your non-running life goodbye when you decide to train for a marathon.
Here’s the thing: you can have a life and train for a marathon simultaneously. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.
Based on my own years of marathon training and racing experience, which includes 27 marathons and 1 x 50k ultramarathon since 2007, I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you figure out ways that you can get through marathon training without sacrificing too much of your non-running life. With a little creativity and a bunch of planning, I promise you that it can be feasible.
Commit to it.
If you’re already committed to some sort of exercise routine that gives you 4-6 opportunities each week to exercise, changing things around to become marathon training-specific will be easier than you think. There are benefits to still including non-running cross-training efforts to your running each week, but with marathon training, the emphasis will understandably be on various types of running: fast, slow, short distances, long distances, and other variations. If you aren’t already in an exercise regime, it may feel overwhelming to suddenly jump right into marathon training – and it might be inadvisable, so talking to your medical practitioner first would behoove you – but if you’re already exercising regularly, switching your focus to becoming running specific will likely be easier than you think.
Bigger distance isn’t always necessary or safe.
Many people have the idea that marathoners have to run several hundreds of kilometers each week in order to complete a marathon, and while that’s true for some runners, most runners train and race successfully with far fewer kms under their belts each week. Finding your “sweet spot” with training will come with trial and error, and partnering with a coach to ensure that you are training intelligently and safely will be in your best interest. You may find, over time, that you can still have a successful and strong training regime with fewer kms (and therefore, less time) than you do with higher km programs, and you may also find that you are less prone to injury with fewer kms each week. The frequency of running-related overuse injuries increases significantly with higher weekly running volumes, so it’s critical that you don’t run too much, too soon, too quickly; again, partnering with a coach or an experienced runner, either of whom can help guide your training, is key.
Schedule, schedule, schedule.
Many Type-A people flock to running because they like the routine and predictability of marathon training. In this way, it’ll be helpful to you and to your support network (including your family and friends) if you plan your marathon training out in advance and work around major life milestones and events. Running is incredibly accessible, so even if you’re away from home on vacation or somehow out of your usual routine, it’s often easier than you think to modify your plan and still get in your requisite mileage each week. Having a schedule for your running will also allow your support network to be aware of when they can expect you to be more or less available, given your training demands each week. Running shouldn’t become your first focus in life, unless you are getting paid to run, and fortunately, running is a sufficiently adaptable sport that you can do it virtually anywhere at any time – provided you plan ahead.
Maximise your run opportunities, and minimise the time suck.
If you decide that being an early-morning runner makes the most sense for you, so that you have ample time later in the day and evening to be present to your friends and family, then do everything in your power to ensure that you get out the door on time each morning to run. Wasting time on social media, not preparing for your run the night before, or otherwise procrastinating to get out the door on time will only inconvenience your support network later (and selfishly, you won’t be able to complete your scheduled run that day). In other words, if you’ve designated yourself 60 minutes to run, do everything you can in order to be ready to run all 60 minutes – not 50, or 40, or fewer.
Make it social.
Training with your friends and family is a wonderful way to combine your marathon training efforts with your non-running life, and as an added bonus, it’ll surely make the kms fly by. We often think that running is a solitary pursuit, and while it definitely can be, it doesn’t have to be. Catching-up with loved ones on the run will allow you to train and still show your loved ones that you are attentive to them and what’s going on in their lives.
Enlist a support network, and communicate your needs.
Marathon training doesn’t occur in a vacuum – that is, when you’re in training, everything else in your non-running life will affect your training, and vice-versa – so it’s important to ensure that you have a good support network in place that can help you when you need it most. You may find that you need to go to bed slightly earlier each night in order to wake up earlier in the morning or that you need childcare one morning for a race you’re running that’s somewhat far from your home. The earlier you can communicate your needs to your support network, the better off you’ll be and the more time you’ll give your support network to prepare. So much behind-the-scenes action takes place during marathon training, and it truly becomes a matter of teamwork in order for you to be able to train while still “doing life” as normal. Obviously, be sure to be gracious to those who have helped you along the way, and who knows? Maybe they’ll ask you to reciprocate later, or they might even want to train alongside you somewhere down the line.
Remember this is a hobby. Have fun!
Naturally, you’ll want to pursue your marathon training goal and work hard to realise it, but always remember that unless you are earning a paycheck from running, this is just a hobby for you. Be realistic in your expectations and what you ask of others. Don’t take yourself too seriously or rob yourself of the joy that comes with marathon training. Skipping a scheduled run here or there to tend to unexpected life circumstances, such as an illness or needing to care for a loved one, happens, and it’s not the end of the world. Move on from it, and don’t dwell. Take care to remember that for all of the sacrifices you’re making to fit marathon training in with your life – the earlier nights in, the early morning runs, maybe abstaining from certain foods or beverages – chances are high that your support network is also making many sacrifices of their own behind the scenes in order to support you.
Setting yourself up to successfully balance marathon training with your non-running life is tricky, to be sure. You will likely find that some weeks are heavier on the “run” side and lighter on the “life” side and vice-versa. Be aware of these imbalances, and when it’s feasible or in your control, do what you can to rectify the imbalances earlier rather than later. When you’ve crossed that final km mark at the marathon and are standing in the finisher’s chute, relishing in your accomplishment with the shiny medal around your neck, remember everyone who supported your endeavors and who helped get you to that sacred spot. Physically training for a marathon can be a solitary endeavor, but getting to the starting and finishing lines requires untold amounts of behind-the-scenes teamwork. Your support network deserves that medal as much as you.
About Dan Chabert
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultra-marathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on www.runnerclick.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.