For some reason, I run marathons anyway. And so do a lot of other self-punishing people who clearly need therapy too. Maybe you're one of them, or want to join our ranks (hey, you DO get to wear a lot of stretchy pants, so we've got that going for us).
Here is what I've learned from the most wonderful and horrible of sports.
2. Take it slowly in the beginning. Just because you CAN run fast and hard from the get go doesn't mean you SHOULD. Your leg muscles and joints need time to acclimate to running, or you risk injury. I was pumped to start running again after a long hiatus and had the cardiovascular health to run for-fucking-ever in spite of myself, and then... Second reference to my blown knee.
3. THOU SHALT NOT RUN IN COTTON. Trust me on this. It will get damp and just hang on you like a wet towel, all heavy and uncomfortable. Clammy clothes do not a comfortable run make. (See also: chafing.) What should you run in then? Dry-wick/technical fabrics. They're the second-best thing since deodorant was invented, with Body Glide lubricant being a close third. By the way, you might want some of that. You will be *surprised* all the places you can chafe while running. And it has nothing to do with weight, either. Least sexy use of lube ever.
4. Respect the "Rest Day". These are holy. It's like your freakin' sabbath now, show some respect! I still have a hard time with this one, but if I skip my "rest day", my speed and finish times suffer, and my legs are sore and tight all week. Take a break. Do something leisurely and not too strenuous, and definitely low-impact like swimming, biking, walking, yoga if you really feel you must do something. But ideally, do NOTHING. But definitely skip the running for one day per week (a lot of runners have more than one "rest day" per week, and that's perfectly fine. As a distance runner, I take two days off per week, just never in a row.)
5. Endurance first, speed second. Want to run x miles in y minutes? First, just get to the point where you can run x miles. You might be slow. Very slow. You might have to take walking-breaks to build up to it. But each time you run x miles, you'll do it a little more efficiently, and your time will get closer to y minutes. But don't focus on speed first. Third reference to my blown knee.
6. Pee before you run, even if you think you don't have to. And ladies, if you've had kids, you might want to consider wearing a panty-liner. You're welcome.
7. Never ignore pain, and know the difference between discomfort (the type that comes with strenuous exercise), and true pain. Pain means something is wrong. Don't "run through it". It will not go away like that. Fourth reference to my blown knee.
8. You don't need supplements and energy goop or caffeine drinks... All you need is water, and even then, that's only if you're running a long distance race. You can hydrate ahead of time and skip the water in a 5K (and even a 10K) as long as you have trained to do so. And a 5K especially. Save the supplements and salt tabs for long distance running, and NEVER take a supplement or electrolyte drink during a race if you haven't already used it during your training. These are usually offered at the water stations by whoever is sponsoring the event. If your body isn't already used to them, you can suffer from cramps, nausea, or stumble off the side of the road to puke. Don't gamble on race day. Stick with what you've trained with. Bring your own electrolyte drink.
9. Stretch. Then stretch some more. And then after you're done, stretch.
10. You are ALWAYS allowed to brag about your running on Facebook. Or Instagram, or Twitter, or whatever platform you prefer. Yes, it's annoying. Yes, people are rolling their eyes. Haters gonna' hate. Couch-potatoes gonna' couch-potate. Keep being awesome, instead.
11. Accountability is important to make it a habit. Get a running partner, join a group, log your runs online through MyFitnessPal, do SOMETHING where if you skip your run, someone else is going to know (even if that "someone" is just your "iphone app" or "the internet in general"). You are less likely to bail. This is important to making running a HABIT. If you don't run regularly, then don't expect to ever improve. You need to be consistent.
12. There really is no drug like the "runner's high" (which is, unfortunately, preceded by the "oh-my-god-why-do-I do-this-to-myself" Runner's Low). Unfortunately, the runner's high isn't something I get from jog-walking a mile. I have to work for it. It's different for everyone, and my husband swears I'm making it up because he just hates running THAT much. But every now and then, it's like I'm just flying and can run forever and everything is perfect. It is zen. A hot, sweaty, huffing and puffing zen.
13. You probably won't look like a Fitness Model from all that running. Even if you do have weight to lose. Yes, you will likely shed pounds and lower your body-fat percentage, but the "toned" look comes from heavy-weights, not from cardio. The truth is, my body has not changed in any visible way from 4 years of regular ass-kicking. You'd think I'd be transformed physically in some huge dramatic way, but I'm not. And the bigger, more surprising truth is that I GIVE ZERO FUCKS ABOUT IT. Running has not changed my body, but it has changed the way I view and appreciate my body. I look the same, but I look at myself and no longer care about how I compare to other women or what I wish I could change so I could be "hot". Now I'm just like, "Daaaaamn my body is amazing. Good run today! Let's eat stuff!"
14. Do not wear new clothes or new shoes or new gear of any sort on race day. Wear something you've trained in. This is not the time to try to break in new shoes, or deal with a new shirt that is touching you in all the wrong ways, or trying to run while fiddling with your new race watch.
15. Looking awful in all of your race/running photos is just something that happens. I look like I'm 187 years old and constipated. Nobody looks good while running, NOBODY. Except for Ridiculously Photogenic Guy (remember that meme?) but fuck that guy. He doesn't count. He was famous for being literally the only guy in all of running history to ever look okay in a race photo, THAT'S how rare it is. Just be okay with the fact that you're going to look like the crypt keeper in all your official race photos.
16. Cross-train. That means, don't make running your ONLY exercise. You risk injury that way. You want to strengthen ALL of your muscles. Weight-lifting, cycling, and yoga are good cross-training workouts to add into your routine. I recommend adding those work outs in either on rest days, or days where you're not doing a hard run (like long-distance or speedwork). Take your run a little slower or shorter on the days you are cross-training.
17. Declare your goals out loud and set a semi-realistic deadline. Shoot for the stars and all, but don't think you're going to go from being a couch potato to running a marathon in 4 weeks. By stating your goal(s) out loud, you have just made yourself accountable to the public. Maybe that "public" is you. Or your spouse. Or your best friend. Or an online group. But they will know if you fail. THEY WILL KNOW. Do you really want them to know that you didn't even come close to finishing that race in x minutes?
By the way, my goal was to finish my marathon in less than 4 hours. It was lofty because that meant shaving 30 minutes off my time, which is over a minute faster per mile, over the course of 26 god-forsaken miles. I declared my intention on Facebook to my friends and acquaintances. I had my (long, whiney) moments of doubt, but I had already verbally committed and didn't want to be that person that SAYS she'll do something, and not follow through. I am not a flake. That's now how I work. I had committed, even while wallowing in doubt and fear of failure.
But I was going to do it. I just was. Even as I got out of bed at ass-o-clock that morning, I thought, "Fuuuuuuuuuck, what did I sign up for? Maybe I should just go back to bed." Yes, I thought about just abandoning ship, after 5 months of training. I was nervous. I was dreading it. What if I throw up? What if I can't run the whole thing? What if I FAIL? And that is one of the most important things that I've learned from running: how to fully commit, one-hundred-crazy-percent, even when I don't believe in myself and when I'm afraid, and I'm sore and hurt (and literally tripped over rocks), even when there hasn't been a porta-potty for miles... until somehow, I DO believe, and I embrace that fear and anxiety and pain, and turn it into my fastest finish time ever (I KILLED my goal at 3 hours, 48 minutes, and 2 seconds), and that feeling when I crossed the finish line is the closest thing I have to a religious experience. The only other experience like it was unmedicated childbirth. It hurts, you're afraid, you get tunnel vision, you can't see straight, you tune out, it's all come down to this one moment in time, why won't everyone just shut up?, you're so close to the end but so tired and you have no idea how you'll ever make it, you're pretty sure you might have already died at some point... and then through the fire and the pain and crazy amounts of adrenaline, you're done. You're done. Then euphoria. And a god damn porta-potty. And it was the most wonderful, horrible thing you've ever gone through, and totally worth it. Always.
...and then you can't walk up the stairs to your office for two weeks afterwards, but whatever.
If all of that doesn't make you want to start running right now... then yeah, I don't blame you because this shit is ridiculous. I am the worst salesperson ever. I'm like, "Running is the worst thing ever AND HOW, but let's do this race! It's going to suck! And also cost money! Yay!"
But if you're my type of crazy, we should totally do this race that will totally suck! I'm already lubing up.