Editor’s note: “The Year of the Marathon” is part one in a series on marathon training that will offer practical advice and inspiration to help you complete your long run this year. Look for follow-ups from Erika in the coming months at OutThereMonthly.com, on Facebook, and in print.

So, you’ve claimed 2014 as the year you’ll finally run a marathon. Or, like me, this is the year you’ll get back into marathon shape after a shamefully long hiatus. Either way, it’s time to get going. Allowing yourself extra time to build up your mileage can help prevent injuries – and make the difference between enjoying the process and burning out.

Choose a Training Program

Some marathon training programs are as short as 12 weeks. Choose one that’s longer.

“I would do 14 – 16 weeks just to really give yourself a good base,” says Julie Pannell. She and her husband Wade Pannell own Fleet Feet in Spokane and run training programs throughout the year.

Ideally, she says, you’ll be running regularly before beginning your marathon training and will have run a half-marathon before. That’s certainly not a requirement, though, as long as you give yourself ample time to incrementally increase mileage. “If you want to feel successful, and really achieve in a healthy way and not injure yourself, it’s better to take the time and put in that effort,” she says.

If you’ve never run a marathon before, choose a training program specifically geared toward novices. Pannell recommends that for you first marathon, your longest training run need not be more than 20 miles.

 

Find a Running Group

“I think there’s definitely safety in numbers when you run with people,” says Jeff Schuster, who organizes C:\NextIT\Run, a running group that meets at Monterey Café downtown on Tuesday nights. “Groups are more visible to drivers and make running in the dark less risky,” he says.

Whether it’s an organized running group or a friend who’s also trying to get in shape, running with others can help you stay on track and make running more fun – even when it’s cold, rainy or snowy outside. “If I’m meeting five friends, they’re all counting on me,” says Pannell. “That group dynamic can really help. Then you can all get through that together and then be proud of your accomplishment.”

Fleet Feet runs a Winter Warriors program, which incentivizes running through the cold months with competition and prizes. The group runs together four times per week. Anyone can attend runs and join at any time. Beginning in March, the shop will offer a Windermere Marathon training group.

 

Gear Up for Cold Weather Running
Getting out there and training sounds daunting enough. Add in cruddy weather, and you’ve got a great excuse to stay home with fuzzy slippers on. But giving yourself that extra time to ramp up mileage is essential. Winter running also has some added benefits compared to running when it’s warmer out. For one, says Schuster, you’re not fighting overheating – in fact, he thinks the cold is great running weather. “After a warm-up, you really are warm.”

Running in snow or slush can also call attention to your form. “Sometimes if you’re running long, you get kind of tired and lazy, and you start shuffling your feet,” he says. In the snow, you’re forced to pick your feet up. Running on ice, however, is dangerous – just don’t do it.

To stay warm on your run (but not too warm), layer a light, waterproof shell over tight-fitting synthetics. You should feel a little chilly at first. Otherwise, you’ll be roasting after the first mile.

 

Front-load the Cross-training

Winter offers great cross-training opportunities – take advantage while you’re logging less running time, advises Pannell. Schuster and Pannell both rely on TRX for core strength training. Pannell also recommends building the leg muscles you’ll need with lunges and squats.

Most importantly, find something you like to do and do it, she says. “Some people don’t like swimming – maybe they like Zumba – just something that’s going to mix things up and strengthen those muscles that you’re going to be using.” Schuster plays pick-up ultimate Frisbee during lunch breaks a couple of times a week for variety.

 

Be Flexible

It’s easy to get discouraged the first (and second, and third) time you don’t get in your scheduled run as planned. Staying on track means finding a balance between discipline – doing your runs even when you don’t feel like it – and flexibility, which may mean shifting workouts around when necessary and allowing your process to be imperfect. Beating yourself up for missing a work-out will only make the next workout seem more daunting. Instead, find another time during the week to fit the run in. Start fresh at the beginning of each week – don’t try to pack in that run you missed last week.

“Plans are great because they’re going to keep you motivated to reach your goal,” says Pannell. “But having flexibility that maybe you have to shift a goal – you have to travel for work or something – is important. You have to be realistic about how life fits into training.”