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The Bad Habits You Definitely Need to Lose If You’re Thinking About Running a Marathon

You certainly won’t be spending as much time at the bar

Another marathon season has reached its conclusion, and if you’ve never run a marathon and always surreptitiously longed to do so, that means you’ve spent another year staring through green-eyed resentment as your friends and colleagues posted snapshots of their fancy medals and race bibs, boasted about their improved split times and slapped new “26.2” stickers on the backs of their vehicles.

“That will be me one day!” you try to convince yourself as you practically bathe in a punch bowl filled with eggnog.

To get there, of course, it starts with putting down the eggnog, the first of many steps toward clearing the deck of bad habits that can plague your efforts to finally capture that gaudy, ostentatious finisher’s medal. 

Rachela Lack certainly had to dispense with plenty of her worst routines to prepare her body to take its first stride toward distance-running glory — especially considering she didn’t even start to run until she was 39. Today, now that Lack has completed multiple 100-mile runs and won a USA Track & Field National Championship in her age group at that distance, 26.2 miles doesn’t seem so bad. But she still recalls all of the sacrifices and changes she had to make in order to run just a fraction of that distance.

If we take an average person off the street who isn’t overweight, but they’ve never seriously trained before, and they want to run a marathon, how much prep time do you think they need from that moment before they can run a marathon?

Because I’ve done it, I think anyone who puts the time and effort in can be prepared to run a marathon if they follow a four- or five-month program, and if they do the work. If you don’t put the effort and training into it, you’re not going to be able to run a marathon. Anyone can walk one, and anyone can walk-run one, but if you’re going to run one, you need to put the effort in, and anyone can prepare to run one in four to five months.

What does putting the effort in mean? Does that mean running a specific distance every single day?

No, it means following a program. Follow the discipline. You have to commit to getting better every week. Say you start off with 10 miles, you want to slowly move up to 12 and then 15. You don’t just get up and say, “I’m going to run 15 miles today,” and then call it a day. You have to put in the effort and the time, and put it in the right stages.

What is most likely of these three things to derail a runner from acquiring their marathon goal: 1) a lack of training discipline; 2) a lack of eating discipline; or 3) a lack of mental toughness?

I couldn’t pick just one because it’s all three! When I was training, I had to tell my friends, “I’m sorry; I can’t drink with you guys this weekend; I have a long run on the weekend.” I knew I wasn’t going to win the race, but I was in bed early because I needed the discipline, and I couldn’t have alcohol that weekend. None of my other friends were running long distances so they didn’t have to be disciplined in that way. If you’re not able to fight through the wall when you break down and your legs are hurting, and you start asking yourself why you’re running 26 miles, you’re not going to make it. So you need to be mentally tough. 

It’s hard, because if you don’t maintain all of those things and you also don’t have someone behind you rooting for you, you’re not going to achieve it. And if you don’t tell yourself you can do it, you’re not going to do it. You’re going to quit.

Did you have any special challenges you had to overcome or bad habits you had to break in order to start running? 

I don’t want to be the bad one to say this, but taking off weight made a huge difference. I’m 4-foot-11 — I’m short — and I gave up during my first attempt at running back in 2012 because it hurt my knees and my legs. I didn’t realize I was heavy at the time, because I was content with my body, but when I lost all that weight, I had no more issues — I immediately shaved 15 to 20 minutes off my time, and I ran pain free. I lost 55 pounds over the course of a year by using MyFitnessPal, which helped me realize what I was eating. Then I worked out in the gym every day with spin classes and weightlifting classes. 

I know weight is a sensitive topic when it comes to running. You don’t have to be skinny. I’m not skinny; I have huge legs. But it does make a difference when you’re running for that long of a distance. My shin splints went away. I had no knee issues, and I’ve been running injury free since 2014 while running 2,800 miles per year. So that has to mean something.

What other key pieces of advice would you give someone who aspires to run just one marathon?

When I ran my first one, I had no idea what I was doing. There was a lot to learn, and especially with me being a new runner who never ran in school or anything like that, I didn’t know how to fuel during a race, like to eat or carry a gel. I didn’t know how much water to take. You kind of learn that on your own as you progress the distance, because if you don’t know how to do all of that, you’re definitely going to hit a wall during the marathon.

When I ran my first marathon, I even stopped to use the restroom at the half marathon mark because nobody told me that wasn’t something I had to do. I just figured I should stop to use it because I still had half a race to go. But if you’re trying to qualify for Boston and you don’t have a cushion, you’d better not stop!

Also, get fitted for the right shoe. Whether people believe it or not, a shoe makes a big difference. There are some expensive shoes out there, and honestly, the more expensive the shoe is, the more likely it is to help you run more efficiently. Nutrition is important. If you don’t practice good nutrition, it can mess up your race day. Also, train in all kinds of weather. Train when it’s raining, train when it’s snowing, train when it’s extremely hot and humid, and train when it’s freezing. On race day, you just don’t know what kind of weather is going to be delivered to you, and if you’re not prepared to race in it, it’s nobody else’s fault. 

Everyone is going to be competing under the same conditions, so if you’ve prepared yourself for everything, you’ll be successful. If you want it bad enough, you can definitely do it.