Catherine Durkin Robinson: How to prepare for a marathon

There are many articles about how to train for a 26.2-mile run. They’re as compelling as the bread aisle at Target. I’m still not the runner who thinks anyone really wants to read a thousand words on glycogen levels and tempo runs.

Several columns strongly suggest a person run one year, minimum, before attempting the big, bad marathon. I started this adventure last April after the bombing during the Boston Marathon, and running Boston this year will be my second big, bad marathon. So those folks lost me at “Don’t.”

I’ve decided to leave the experts to their training suggestions and debates about tutus. For a fairly fit 44-year-old who started running as a statement against terrorism, and then found a home of sorts, I have additional ideas on how to prepare for a marathon.

If you have a dream race in mind, consider running another marathon first. Marathons are a lot like men. The first time you tango, it’s not necessarily the best experience. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands, he can easily poke an eye out, and you both wonder what all the fuss was about.

Running a marathon is similar. If you’re looking forward to Chicago, Boston, or Iceland, run another first. Try a few positions, learn to control your breathing, and figure out a coordinated rhythm.

From the beginning, I knew Boston would not be my first marathon. I wanted one under my belt so that I’d learn what works, what doesn’t, and now I’m better prepared to look past the sweat and awkward eye contact to thoroughly enjoy the experience.

Yes, I’m still talking about a marathon.

Pick a good support group. Runners have given me invaluable advice. They’ve sent spreadsheets to track training miles and pace. They respond to questions with tips and funny YouTube videos. They talk about bowel movements over dinner. It’s all helpful.

People who think running is insane are helpful, too. Whether cheering me across the finish line with a cigarette in one hand and vodka coffee in the other, or just leaving an occasional thumbs-up on Facebook – I’ll take love in any form.

Even naysayers have a role to play. One woman expressed cynicism when presented with the idea that a novice runner with an attitude problem could do this twice in one year. I’ve enjoyed proving her wrong.

Get in touch with your inner child. It’s easy to watch runners grunting and powering through the miles and remark that running isn’t fun. I used to say it.

Somewhere around 22 miles, I might still say it.

All I have to do is remember back to childhood, when my mom spent a good majority of her day imploring me to “slow down.” When my twin sons were toddlers, I yelled “walking feet” almost as often as “happy hour!” Like most adults, I’d simply forgotten how good it feels to really move. Try it sometime.

Think happy thoughts. When I ran my second official half-marathon a few weeks ago, I wanted to beat my best time and finish under two hours. I told myself, when it got really difficult toward the end, that it’s supposed to be difficult. If it were easy, I’d be doing it wrong.

As I got closer to the end and saw that digital clock high above the finish line, I must have hallucinated, because I’m pretty sure I started moving in slow motion. The clouds parted and angels sang along with Katy Perry on the loudspeaker.

Naturally I began to cry, that ugly cry like when I’m watching Steel Magnolias or Fox and Friends.

I’ve heard this is normal, but emotional, public breakdowns are embarrassing. Snot runs down my face. It’s impossible to breathe.

And since breathing comes in handy when running, I had a decision to make. Run. Or cry.

I immediately recited my Social Security number and imagined every fellow runner naked. That did the trick.

Slow down. If I’m aching or fatigued, slowing down helps me focus and feel re-energized. For my first marathon, conditions were warmer than anyone thought possible in December. Then we all remembered we were in West Palm Beach.

As condition signs went from Normal to Cautious to Dangerous – I felt like that guy who took me on my one date in high school. I slowed down and started looking for an exit strategy.

People vomited and passed out in the grass, and I slowed down even more. I felt better and kept that pace, still finishing in less than five hours.

In the end, this experience will be sweaty, uncomfortable, and exhausting – but also exhilarating and empowering. Practice a little, and give it a go.

Yes, I’m still talking about a marathon.

Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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