116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor's note: Erin Moeller, 35, of Mount Vernon, is a lifelong runner who qualified for the last two Olympic Marathon Trials. A native of Ryan, she's a graduate of North-Linn and Wartburg who works for Benchmark Inc. in Cedar Rapids. She has two children - Ryne (8) and Evelyn (3) - and one on the way with husband Andy.
Whether you lost a bet, made a commitment to mark off one of those bucket list items, got sucked in by a training buddy, or maybe got a little too lippy with friends while enjoying a late Saturday night, you've verbally made it known that you're going to run a marathon.
What have you gotten yourself into?
If your friends and family are anything like mine, you may find yourself answering a common question: “how far is your marathon?” Every marathon is 26.2 miles. A 5K is not considered a marathon. A 10K is not a marathon. In my opinion, running a half-marathon doesn't even come close to the “full” experience.
In addition to the time commitment required for long runs, speed sessions, extra naps (if you can sneak them in), it all leads up to the big event - marathon day. Just thinking about the excitement on race morning brings butterflies to my stomach.
Throughout my marathon running career I've had the opportunity to start the marathon in the masses of Chicago with approximately 40,000 other runners. I've also had the opportunity to toe the start line with some of the most elite marathoners from all over the world.
Regardless of your start position or anticipated completion time, all marathoners have the same feat ahead - willing their mind to convince their body to cover 26.2 miles, on foot.
Even though I've done the training and know my body is capable of the distance, the mind can be a dangerous foe when it comes to running the marathon. I've found breaking the race down into segments has been extremely beneficial in getting me through the tough phases along the way. Each person is different, but following are a few tips that have helped me along the way (yes, I do realize that some of these are a little comical and won't be offended if you get a laugh or two at my expense):
l During the first hour of running, I commit to not thinking about anything other than hitting my pace, getting into a groove, taking in my surroundings, and focusing on how good my legs feel as the miles click by. Marathon morning is filled with so much excitement and adrenalin. Take advantage of this amazing feeling, allow your mind to check out for a bit, and take this time to enjoy the entire experience.
- After about an hour of running, I take this time to reward myself with a Gu packet. My preference is Tri-Berry, but I encourage runners to seek out whatever form of nutrition works best for their body. (Note: Unless you have a gut of steel or aren't opposed to frequent stops at the Port-o-potties along the way, experimenting with nutrition/fluid intake on marathon day is not something I recommend!) You are going to be burning a lot of calories while covering 26.2 miles, and it's really important to not deplete your supply of carbs, electrolytes, and especially good old H2O along the way.
Ok, here's where you're welcome to think I'm a little crazy. I generally work on taking in my Gu pack over the course of a mile. I find this helps distract me a little and before I know it another mile is “in the books.” After finishing my Gu and taking in some water at the next water stop, I picture myself being Mario from Mario Brothers. You know Mario as the super-charged little guy from the Nintendo game who appears to have meg-power? Well, that's what I picture in my mind. My gas tank has been topped off and I have an extra spring in my step as I focus on the next phase of the run.
This approach generally brings me to about the half way point of the marathon. Yahoo, 13.1 miles done and half way to home. Talk about exciting.
- After enjoying the excitement for a mile or two, this has historically become my most vulnerable part of the race. My legs begin to remind me that they've just run a half marathon and we still have a long ways to go.
This is where the real benefits of training come in. “Attitude is everything” I tell myself.
- At mile 15, I focus on relaxing and just running the next 5 miles. While continuing to take in fluids at each station, I also reward myself with another Gu packet. You know the drill - another Gu and more Mario super powers.
I'd be remiss if I didn't also mention that lots of prayers also are said. I've also been known to dedicate certain miles to family members and friends who have supported me along the way or who might be struggling with a particular issue or ailment. I try to channel their strength and allow their support to carry me throughout the mile.
Whatever it takes to get to the reward of having the next mile marker in sight.
- This game plan typically works pretty well for me, but it only brings us to mile 20. While many may have run a 10K (6.2 miles), I assure you that this 10K is going to be unlike any other 10K you've run before. Unfortunately, you have 20 miles on your legs and your mind is doing its best to convince your body that another 10K doesn't sound doable at the moment.
Dig deep, keep up the positive self talk, and believe in yourself, the end is getting closer with each step.
- I've found that starting to count down helps me to stay focused through the final miles. After reaching mile 21, I only have 5 miles left (yes, I lie to myself a bit and ignore the final .2). I'll reward myself with a final Gu, and then all focus is shifted toward the finish line.
If all goes well and I can maintain something close to my target pace, I only have about 30 minutes of running left. I know I can run for 30 minutes (my 8-year-old could run for 30 minutes, I remind myself).
Before you know it, you're down to only 20 minutes of running, then 10 minutes. The finish line is definitely getting closer.
Despite the excitement, your legs may feel like they are about ready to break as they are getting heavier and heavier with each step. For the “lucky” ones, you're also struggling with the onset of muscles cramping up. (Are we having fun yet?)
At this point, I find myself resorting to spelling my kids' names or counting. Yes, I'm serious. My body is moving and my mind is forced to think about something else.
- Before you know it, that beautiful mile 26 mile marker is in view. Whoa, we're not done yet. There is .2 miles to go. At this point, I focus on my breathing, do my best to pick my feet up and maintain a decent stride, and picture myself running at top speed toward the finish line (with a little theme music from Chariots of Fire going on in my mind).
I'm sure it doesn't look very pretty to the spectators lining the course, but I do my best convince myself otherwise.
- You've reached the finish line, the Mylar blanket has been draped over your shoulders, finishers medal placed around your neck and you painfully waddle toward friends and family awaiting your finish.
Regardless of your finish time - it's official - you did it. Congratulations, you are a marathoner. Enjoy all of the aches and pains over the next few days - you earned them all.
One more thing. Be sure to enjoy the experience and have fun along the way.