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Go the Distance

Running like a girl is goal to strive for nowadays, especially if you want to cover a lot of ground. In the past decade, the number of female finishers in U.S. marathons grew by 50 percent, from 141,600 to 212,400, according to Running USA, a non-profit that aims to improve the status and experience of distance running. Why are so many women trading their stilettos for sneakers?

“The huge success of charity training programs (such as the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team In Training) that prepare new runners for their first marathon is the main reason more women are participating,” says Ryan Lamppa, a Running USA researcher. Marathons have also become more family- and community-centered and fun, and buzz from social media has turned the distance into a bucket-list item, he adds.

Even if running even one straight mile seems difficult, there’s no reason to write off the idea of a race. With the right training plan, anyone—of any age, size, and body shape—can complete a marathon—and sculpt the killer legs and butt that come with it! To help you get out the door for those first steps, six marathon finishers share their training and race tips for crossing the finish line of a 26.2-miler.

Use Food to Go Faster

“Runners of all skill levels need to remember to run at conversational pace. You should be able to talk to the person next to you and not just answer in grunts! It’s also important to look at food as a source of nutrients to help you perform better. Find a sports drink that works and stick with it and use it on race day as well as while training. And don’t forget to refuel after your runs with a well-deserved coffee or nutrient-dense snack.” —Ariana Hilborn, 31, 1st grade teacher and 2016 Olympic track and field hopeful

Make a Breakfast Run

“If you want to run a marathon, start by jogging even 1 to 2 miles a few times a week and add on a little distance every week, but no more than 20 percent of the last week’s distance to prevent injury. And reward yourself for sticking to your regimen with a French-toast breakfast after your distance run if you’re like me and that’s what it takes!” —April Zangl, 33, CEO of HydroPeptide and recreational marathon runner

Break It Down

“Training for a marathon is not just about physical strength. Some runners find that their body is willing to run longer, but it's too hard mentally to keep going. If you're running alone and struggling, give yourself a pep talk. Tell yourself that you're not physically tired, you’re just mentally fatigued and you can push through it. Say to yourself things like, ‘I'll have some water in five minutes, and that will make me feel better.’ If you're doing your longest run ever, remind yourself how proud you'll feel when you're finished. Another trick is to divide up your run into smaller segments, which will make the distance feel much more manageable. At the start of each new segment, visualize yourself just starting out on a new run with fresh legs and focus on getting to the end of that segment.” —Tere Zacher, 40, former world champion swimmer-turned-marathon runner and 2016 Olympic track and field hopeful

Stay in the Moment

”You can run a marathon if you put in the work! During the race, take one step at a time, run mile to a mile, streetlight to streetlight, aid station to aid station, and pick out runners ahead of you and try to pass them. Don't let yourself get overwhelmed with the distance, and be the very best and smartest runner you can be in each moment: Are you eating? Drinking? Monitoring your pace and effort? Completing a marathon is often less about being a great runner than it is about paying attention to your body and maintaining your hydration levels, caloric intake, electrolytes, and positive mental state. That's what all the training is for. And be careful—a marathon is a gateway to even bigger endurance challenges because you learn how awesome you are and wonder what else you've got.” —Robyn Benincasa, 45, world-champion adventure racer, San Diego firefighter, author of How Winning Works, and founder of the Project Athena Foundation

Bust Through the Wall

“A lot of runners fear hitting the dreaded ‘wall.’ Your body has burned its fuel stores and your brain is plum ticked off. When this happens, be proactive in this moment. Mentally, you want to acknowledge and become aware of those negative feelings, but don’t let them take over. Just say ‘Hi’ to that wall and run right through it. 20 minutes later you may be surprised to notice that your bad spot has vanished and you feel like you could go forever. That’s the magic of the run!” —Jennifer Hughes, 33, founder of Run Pretty Far running apparel

Know You Can Do Anything

“Women should definitely join the marathon craze and go the distance because it will change everything that’s a ‘no’ in your life to a ‘yes’ and make you believe in yourself more than any other feat. It’s a very personal thing, and you learn so many great things about yourself in the training process. It's something that makes you feel strong and brave, and nobody can take the accomplishment of running 26.2 miles away from you. That feeling is empowering and can be called upon when you run into any sort of adversity in your life.” —Tanna Frederick, 33, actress and marathon runner