For many runners, the marathon chooses them: in a moment of madness (often after a few drinks) they get a bit excited and enter the big one. This could be Paris, London, New York or Chicago. It could be anywhere really. The main goal here is to enter the marathon and to get round.
But we want to break three hours so we have to be a bit more crafty than that. Obviously, if you live in LA you're unlikely to fly all the way to London just because the course is slightly more favourable than a more local one (in any case, the flight and jet-lag would likely not do you any favours come race day!). However, it is worth bearing in mind that the elevation of the course can have a big outcome on your time: a 2:59:59 on a flat course will be more like a 3:05 on a hilly course. If you do opt for a hilly course, make sure you do appropriate training and incorporate a weekly hill workout into your schedule.
Some of the fastest courses include:
- Mohawk-Hudson, Albany, NY
It's also worth considering the time of year your marathon will take place and the likely weather conditions. For example, the Paris marathon is run in April and starts at 8:45am local time. At this time of year, it will generally be fairly cool in the morning but will get quite warm as you approach noon (by which time you'd hopefully be enjoying a post run massage and banana!). By contrast, New York is run in November when temperatures will be quite a bit cooler. While fairly cold weather shouldn't derail you too much, very warm weather can be disastrous. It will affect your take on of fluids and will likely lead to a slower time. Ideally the temperature should be between 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit (10 to 13 degrees Celsius).
One more thing to consider when entering your marathon is the effect of the crowd. You may have entered the ideal race in terms of elevation and the weather may be great but if there's no one to cheer you on, you may not get through the last few miles. Of course, this will depend on what kind of person you are. If you like to tune into the crowd and feel them urging you on as you go round, the crowds (or lack of them) will have a real effect on your performance. If, however, you prefer to listen to music and concentrate on the race in hand, on course support may be less important. In my experience, the very hardest miles of a marathon, particularly the last mile or so, are made easier with people screaming you on to do well.
Linked to the crowd is the topic of loved ones at the race. Usually you will want to share your experience with your friends and family and what better way to do that than to have them strategically placed around the course. Seeing your girlfriend or husband in the crowd with a banner or a wave can really spur you on. Obviously, this will be easier if your race is local. If not, it may be easier to sell your wife on a trip to Paris than one to Detroit.
One last thing to think about is that the date of your marathon will dictate when you will do your training. For example, a spring marathon will require training through the winter whereas for an autumn marathon, your training will mostly be during the summer months. You may prefer to train when it's warmer. On the other hand, you may prefer to spend your summer doing something else, in which case you may opt for cold dark winter runs instead.
Obviously, you're going to need running shoes. While you may already have a preference as to manufacturer, there are a couple of things that are worth bearing in mind. Firstly, everyone's feet are different so it's well worth going to a specialist running store to get fitted for shoes. A good store will get you the best pair for your running gait and feet and won't try to sell you the most expensive pair they stock. I would also recommend owning two pairs of running shoes, one pair for slower and longer runs and one pair for speed work and races. There's really no need to have super light shoes on longer runs and by having a second more cushioned pair you will reduce the risk of injury. If you're prone to getting blisters, you may want to look into specialist running socks (e.g. Thorlo or 1000 Mile).
To track your progress you're going to need a quality watch. There are many and varied offerings which not only time your run but also measure heart rate, elevation, speed, distance and pace. Such techno-wizadry comes at a cost but can be very helpful while training - knowing exactly how fast you're going ensures consistent training and helps to keep you motivated as you see your improvement week on week. Garmin is a great place to start if you are looking for a watch that does everything.
Obviously, the clothing you'll need for running will depend on the climate where you live and the time of year. There's no shortage of manufacturers making running gear for all weather conditions. Over the course of your campaign you will almost certainly have to face some horrible weather. The best way to mitigate the effect of the weather (and to ensure you are not put off by it) is to get appropriate clothing. Plus, running gear is cool!
One last accessory to consider is a massage stick. 'The stick' is a great way to tenderise your sore muscles after a run. Combined with stretching, this will ensure you are ready to go the next day. It also works well as part of a warm-up routine.
A marathon campaign is a long road. There is a temptation to look ahead to the training you'll be doing in the following weeks and months. This can cause panic as you can't imagine how you're going to get into the kind of shape to bang out 800m reps at X. But rest assured, you'll get there. The best way to approach the campaign is one run at a time. Each run you have will be the only chance you get to do that particular run. So make the best of it. Get out there and give it your all that day because you won't get that day back. Forget about tomorrow's run or yesterday's run and make sure you smash today's. If you do this each day, in a few months you'll be ready to beat the marathon into submission.