Trade your complaining for marathon training

Laughing, not whining, will help you through the next six months

The hardest thing about a marathon is staying motivated throughout your training. Photograph: Thinkstock

The hardest thing about a marathon is staying motivated throughout your training. Photograph: Thinkstock


Q I am a 29-year-old complainer and serial feeling-sorry-for-myselfer. My life is fine in the grand scheme of things but I am a serial whiner and giver-upper, and my inner bitch has been sat on for years by inner lazy cow (depression) and inner whiny cow (anxiety).

I am a preschool teacher living in the British Virgin Islands. I am running the New York marathon in November. Having randomly signed up for this after three glasses of white wine at a house party, I applied and got in.

Unfortunately for me, the girl who talked me into applying is a triathlete, whereas I am a lover of both the couch and the potato (covered in butter, cheese and mayo). Although I am absolutely nowhere near marathon status yet, I can run six miles and started running, thanks to your book, about six months ago. I have managed to go from “I can’t do this” and looking at the cancellation policy, to “I hope I can do this”, to “I am totally going to do this.” Can you please help me?

A You have signed up for your first marathon in much the same way as I did. In my late 20s, I was in a pub and jealous of a girlfriend who announced she was running the London marathon and so, half cut, I declared I was going to run it too. It felt like nothing short of madness to do so, especially as I had never run farther than the bus stop before, but simultaneously it felt gutsy and exhilarating; just entering it gave me a huge injection of motivation.

So, well done for signing up and your (much longer) email had me laughing out loud, so thank you for that. Your keen sense of humour, aside from your training, is your most valuable weapon in running a marathon, because you need to be able to laugh a lot or risk crying a hell of a lot more. Plus, you can already run six miles, which is fantastic. Only 20 or so to go.

Six months is an ideal amount of time to have you race ready. As for your triathlete buddy, no one knows better than she does how courageous you are to have taken on this challenge, and she will be full of admiration for you. Just don’t try to beat her on race day, or attempt to follow her training plan. You will lose.

Decide now what a “win” would look like for you. For example, do you want to complete your marathon in five hours without stopping or walking? It is a really good idea to have a goal, so you can run towards that from now on.

The hardest thing about a marathon is staying motivated throughout your training, so you need to source inspiration from as many places as you can. Inspiration can come from raising money for a chosen cause; vowing to beat the person who is in front of you at mile 18; entering a few 10km races and a half marathon; beating the clock; and so on.

Be realistic, but at the same time be brave. You can always shift the goalposts (upwards) if you really start outperforming your expectations. For example, you may have an initial goal of five hours that you might change to four hours and 45 minutes nearer the time.

Training plan
I advise you to follow a training plan. A quick Google search throws up lots of useful online guides. See, and for starters. There is one in Run, Fat B!tch, Run, which you already have, but find one you like and, most importantly, adopt a routine that suits your lifestyle and fitness levels.

This is as much for helping to sustain your motivation as anything else. The only thing critical to your plan is increasing your mileage each week so that you can run 18-20 miles four weeks before race day.

So, with that in mind, I recommend upping your mileage by a mile every fortnight at the very least, and every week when you are feeling punchy, so that you allow yourself plenty of slippage time for injury and unforeseen circumstances which are inevitable over a six-month timeframe. No one ever gets to marathon day and thinks, Oh, I wish I’d had less time to train for this.

Make your weekend run your long run if this suits you, and it is on your long run each week/fortnight that you increase your mileage. Then do a minimum of three short runs during the week, mixing up speeds and terrains. If you can squeeze in a resistance workout too, all the better.

As for the serial complaining, whining, anxiety and depression, I guarantee that training for this marathon is going to help with all that, and more. It will not just be because the regular exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, which make you feel happy and improve your mood, but you will also find that you eat and sleep better too. This has an impact on your work performance, with knock-on effects on your confidence and self-esteem, which has an impact everywhere.

The discipline that comes from committing to something hard and seeing it through to the bitter end gives you something else; that peculiar gift of grit. Running a marathon is about so much more than just running the marathon. How much more is entirely a matter for you. Just writing that paragraph has made me want to enter another one.

I am so pleased for you that you have taken this on. It is going to change you forever. For the better.

The Grit Doctor says: Bye bye lazy, whiny cow; hello inner-bitch-ass-whipping-superwoman.

Ruth Field is author of Run, Fat B!tch, Run and Get Your Sh!t Together