When I told my dad I was training for the Boston Marathon, he said "What are you doing? You aren't a runner!" And he was right; I'm a middle-aged CEO, more accustomed to sending emails than logging miles. But I signed up, trained, ran and finished just the same. Here's how I did it while running my company, being a dad and a husband, and trying not to be too self-absorbed along the way.
Get Your Head in the Game
- Memento Mori: That's Latin for "Remember you will die." The Stoics were particularly fond of this contemplation. Depressing? Maybe, but it's the truth. Realizing our mortality makes every day and hour more precious. How are we going to spend our fleeting time?
- Know the Facts: Regular exercise boosts creativity, improves executive function, reduces stress, and gives you more energy to get things done. Regular exercise has actually been linked to higher salaries, increasing your earning potential by nine percent. 76 percent of the world's wealthiest people exercise 4 days per week.
- Give Before You Get: The only way I got a spot in the Boston Marathon was because I had been involved with the amazing TUGG.org. One day, Jeff Fagnan, the founder of TUGG called me up. I was expecting him to ask for a donation. Instead, he offered me a chance to run the Boston Marathon!
- Think and Talk About It: Over the weekend, I thought about what this commitment would actually entail. I read training guides (especially this one). I talked with my wife and kids about the time required. Marathon training is highlighted by the weekend "long run". Committing to these runs means spending between two and five hours every weekend for four to five months! When you add in two to three workouts during the rest of the week, plus gear shopping, talking, researching obsessively on the Internet, and boring your family silly, marathon training is a big time sink.
Prepare a Foundation
- Get a Trainer: I know, I know; it's expensive! I pay Lisa Andrews at Central Rock Gym $100 a week to train me. But since this body is all I have to carry me through the rest of my life, I figure it's a good investment.
- Make Sure You've Got Support: If my family wasn't on board, I would have bailed. There is no way I wanted be away from them more if they weren't ultimately supportive of the project. Luckily, they were.
- Get the Right Gear: You can probably take this too far, but getting all the right equipment is one of the most fun parts of the whole thing, so indulge. You want to read all the sneaker reviews, get your stride analyzed by an expert, buy the right clothes, and experiment with all the different sports snacks, bites and treats. Assembling your long run gear is a bit like going hiking: having the right stuff boosts confidence that you'll make it.
- Find a Team: TUGG pulled together three other first-time marathoners to train and run together. They also provided a coach (the amazing Erik Hjer) and a ton of community support. I definitely wouldn't have reached my goal without the support and encouragement of our team.
- Join Runkeeper: Our team used the awesome Runkeeper app to train together even if we weren't on the same run. Seeing that Fred did a Thursday night run got me motivated to do something on Friday. Seeing our coach's motivational messages like, "Keep It Lit!" during one run helped me get ready for the next.
- Spread the Word at Work: Once people at work figure out what you are doing, things get fun. The folks at Yesware all had stories to tell, tips to share or encouraging words. Another Yesware Yeti was running the marathon to benefit Dana Farber. It was great to commiserate about the training conditions together over Monday morning coffee.
- Read More: The three best books I read during the training period were: Running with the Mind of Meditation, Born to Run and Chi Running. I liked them so much I gave copies to everyone on my team.
- Get Help for Injuries: I pulled a hamstring on one of our runs through the snow and slush. My trainers ordered me to stay off it and let it heal. They put me on an alternate program: three- and four-hour long elliptical sessions to keep up the training, and sports massage to help heal the muscle.
- Don't Run Too Much: Everyone I talked with said that the biggest newbie mistake was packing too many miles on too soon. Better to add cross training, pilates or yoga instead of another run during the week.
- Eat Food, But Not Too Much: I followed a low carb/sugar/alcohol diet during the week, and was 100 percent off that diet on Saturdays. Having that release valve for a day made it easier to stay disciplined during the week.
- Train on the Course: Living and running in Boston gave us the chance to train on Heartbreak Hill. Plodding up and down that thing gave me intimate knowledge and surprising confidence about handling the hill on race day.
- Don't Train in the Slush: I have no idea who thought of holding the Boston Marathon in April, but we need to talk. With a four-month training program, the timing means training through the New England winter. Ours was an historic snow year.
- Bring Backup: Put $20, a subway pass and Lyft or Uber on your phone in case you don't make it.
Getting Ready for the Big Day
- Prepare for Nerves: Everyone I knew was nervous on the weekend before the race. No matter how many times I told myself it was going to be ok, I was tense and nervous and couldn't relax.
- Prepare to Taper: In the last three weeks, your training will change. Long runs get shorter. Running ten miles is suddenly a "short run". Your nerves start to kick in.
- Have a Team Dinner: On Sunday night before the race, we gathered at my house for an early ravioli dinner. No one was drinking. Everyone was nervous. But it was great to share the discomfort together.
Race Day Tips
- Wear Wool: I'm 100% sold on performance outdoor wool for marathon running. From socks to hat, I wore Ibex wool. The weather was 40 degrees and raining, with 25 mph gusts. Wool kept me warm.
- Pack Contractor Bags: At the last minute, I grabbed a heavy-duty trash bag. We waited over an hour at the starting area in the cold rain and that bag kept me warm and dry.
- Start Slow: Adrenaline is flowing in the streets at the start of a marathon. Especially in Boston, where the first 15 miles of the race are downhill, it's easy to start out too fast. As someone told me early on, "You can't win Boston in the first 15 miles, but you can definitely lose it."
- Relax and Enjoy: From start to finish, we're only talking 26 miles. 30,000 people ran that far this year in Boston. Moving that far in a day is very doable. You've trained, right? You've got this.
- Dig the Crowd: From bluegrass bands to Santa impersonators to kids handing out necklaces to runners, to women giving kisses, there's all kinds of entertainment on the sides of the roads. And each marathon has it's own fun touches, like one in Las Vegas with live music every half mile.
- Feel the City Pride: Marathons are exciting events that bring entire communities together. For Boston, it was worth remembering that 168 years of history made this race happen. Lots of tragedy and lots more joy.
- Get Friends and Family Involved in the Run: I didn't know anyone watching for the first 17 miles, but several friends and my whole family were waiting for me on the three-mile-long Heartbreak Hill section. Cresting the top with my kids running alongside me was the best part of the race.
- Thank the Volunteers: If it wasn't for the thousands of people who lined the racecourse, handed out water, manned the medical tents, and did countless other tasks, none of this would happen. They are incredible people.
- Prepare for Pain: Miles 22 through 25 were tough. At that point I knew I was going to finish, but I wasn't exactly having fun. Thankfully, people had warned me previously, so it wasn't a surprise. Consider yourself warned.
- Finish strong: The last turn in Boston Marathon is a left turn onto Boylston Street. Even after five hours of watching in the rain, the crowd is nuts. Leave everything you can on the race course.
Once You Cross the Finish Line
- Arrange Pickup: I packed up a little after-race bag, but neglected to coordinate with someone to meet me at the finish line. I definitely should have done that.
- Get Warm: Although we didn't arrange it, my family came and picked me up at the finish, for which I am so grateful. As soon as I stopped running, my body temperature dropped. My hands and feet turned white. If not for them getting me home and in a bath, I would have gotten hypothermia.
- Recover: The next morning, I was as sore as I've ever been. I had to cancel a trip (don't book a business trip the day after a marathon) and just recover--find a good show on Netflix to binge on!
Have you run a marathon before? What are your best suggestions and tips? I just might do another one.