Marathon Training Tips from a 3x Boston Finisher

When I started running in 2018, I told myself it was just for fun, and I’d never be one of those people who ran half-marathons or, (God forbid) marathons.

Those people hated themselves, I was sure of it.

Well, after running just one half-marathon, I’ve taken the plunge and signed up for my first full marathon this fall. On October 5th, I’ll run in St. George, Utah.

I know I have a lot to learn and a lot of training to put in over the next four months, so I thought I’d tap my most experienced marathon friend to get some tips to share with you all.

Let me tell you a bit about Amy Jones.

Amy, 56, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2007. To deal with the stress, she found support in the local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society running group for those with leukemia and lymphoma.

Amy was already exercising, walking and taking workout classes at the Franklin Family YMCA, but the running group got her to compete in her first half-marathon in Nashville in 2008. She raised nearly $10,000 for the society, and was hooked on running.

That fall, she decided to start training with Fleet Feet for next year’s Nashville marathon. She completed that marathon in 2009, but didn’t even know her time qualified her to run in Boston the following spring until someone from Fleet Feet told her!

Amy boston
Amy before running the Boston Marathon in 2019

Flash forward to the present: most importantly, Amy is cancer-free and healthy! She has completed over 50 half-marathons and 10 full marathons. Her fastest was her most recent Boston Marathon finish, which qualified her again for 2020.

So what are some of her tips to prepare for running 26.2. miles?

Mental training may be the most difficult

“There’s nothing that can prepare you mentally,” Amy says. “Nothing.”

“Until you run those twenties, and maybe that one 21 or 22 miler, the whole time you’re thinking, ‘How am I going to run 26 miles when I’ve only run 21 miles?’ That’s a big mental issue.”

Learn to embrace the suck

Ok, this is a military phrase I’ve been loving lately, but I asked Amy to elaborate on it.

She points to her Boston experience from this year.

“Physically, I thought I was going to fall out,” she says, referring to intense leg cramps after an unexpected hot and humid start to the race. “With every step I took, I screamed in pain of those cramps I was having.”

But she employed a strategy she’s long used of bringing her attention to a “happy place.”

“My mind’s going to be stronger than my body. My mind is going to allow my legs to move. It’s hard to describe how to do that, but it’s taking yourself somewhere else.”

When running up hills, she says she will focus on the ground, “When you look down at the road, it’s all flat. You can make it to the top, you can make it to that lamppost, you can make it to that next mailbox. You can do it.”

And, even at her worst, “just don’t walk, just don’t walk,” she’ll tell herself.

Be prepared to spend a lot of time training

Amy says the one thing that she wasn’t prepared for when she started training for her first marathon was the time commitment.

“You have no idea the time it takes to train,” she says. “Even though the half, it’s tough to train for that, you just don’t realize, those Saturdays that you’re out there for four to five hours.”

During her peak mileage, she’ll hit the pavement for 55-60 miles per week before the marathon, but she also cross trains to avoid injury, taking cardio interval workout classes and lifting weights.

About four weeks out from race day, she’ll back off from heavier weights, but continue lifting lighter.

Make sure you know your essentials

For Amy, the top essential is nutrition, like staying hydrated during a race by carrying her own fluids, and taking GU gels before and during her race.

The nutrition aspect, though, begins long before race day. “Your diet just becomes a lifestyle,” she says, noting the discipline it takes some people to abstain from drinking on Friday nights before what is typically a runner’s longest distance of the week on Saturday mornings.

The day before a big race, Amy drinks Powerade to get extra electrolytes, and has a meal she know will be easy to digest. Her pre-run breakfast usually includes a banana and a Honey Stinger waffle.

Making sure you know what gear works for you is imperative, too. Anything you will be wearing on race day, you want to have run in several times before.

Amy says she incurred a running injury that nagged at her for a while from something as simple as tying her shoelaces the wrong way.

For me, getting a anti-chafe stick (thanks, Amy!) was a game changer. No more bleeding from my collarbones rubbing on my shirt!

Find out what works for you and stick with it.

Final thoughts

“Don’t overthink while you’re running. Just enjoy it and know what you can do,” Amy says, noting how running has given her a total awareness and appreciation for how her body works.

I’ve found that as long as I embrace the mindset that I’m healthy enough to be able to run, I’m able to put my physical discomfort and any other problems in my life into perspective.

What are your running tips? Please share them in the comments!

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