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There Really Are No Set Rules For Marathon Training

When I moved to New York City after graduating college, I realized that I needed something to sustain myself other than work and I joined a running team. My goal was to find a social outlet that wasn’t just going to a bar after work. Now I could tell my parents that, “I ran 6 miles—before I met friends at the bar.”

Fast forward a year and I threw myself into training way more than I had anticipated. I found myself diving into articles on what to do to run my best marathon, what to eat, what not to eat, what the effects of too much ice cream were, etc. I signed up for massages and yoga classes. I purchased sneakers, compression socks and everything in between.

After several years of strict training, I had developed rules for myself that I could not find in any one article. That is because there are no rules to marathon training. I know, you need to let that last sentence sink in.

I used to ask my training partners in disbelief how they could not care about skipping a long run? Or even better, not show up to the track on Thursday after raging too hard on a Wednesday? I’ve realized that motivation and the desire to train for and run a marathon is internal. And, guess what? Not everyone is gunning for an Olympic Trials Qualifier, or even a Boston Qualifier. Running, for a lot of us, is purely a lifestyle and something that we have to learn how to integrate into our everyday lives. It is so easy to get caught up in Instagram and Strava and think that everyone is living and breathing their training.

My conclusion is, you have to find what works for you in order to get what you truly want out of each run and each race. So as I round out the training for my fourth marathon, here are my rules for ME.

  1. You must have at least one alcoholic beverage or dessert if you are running more than 1x per day. I don’t care if it means I have to stay up a little bit later or run to the grocery store to purchase a bar of chocolate. It is deserved and it is happening.
  2. You will go to yoga at least once a week or you will be forced to roll out and stretch every day. We all know I will not be stretching all the time, so yoga is happening. I also learned that this is good for my mental health. Sometimes on runs I let anxiety from work and life creep in; yoga has been the only time in my life that I have been able to completely turn off for an entire hour. Who knew I could love other outlets besides running?!
  3. You will eat three meals a day—minimum. Hi, my name is Anoush and I am a chronic snacker. I did see a dietician this training cycle and I learned a lot from just writing down what I eat. A 200 calorie protein shake after a 12 mile run…I’m no mathematician, but I think I’ve been doing my math wrong. So I’ll expand: You will eat a minimum of three appropriately-sized meals. The rungry version of myself is someone I hope none of you ever meet. Think zombie meets puberty ridden pre-teen. It’s ugly.
  4. You will go out with  your friends on the weekends (occasionally). You do not have to drink. If you want to, you can. If you are hungover, that’s on you and your long run may be rough. I have learned from a professional fake drinker, my mother, that this is actually quite easy. No one is pushing you to drink more, so there is a way to go out, not drink or not drink a lot, and still make it home in time for bedtime. I am a huge fan of the occasional Friday night dance party. I may make it a rule to avoid wearing heels the night before a long run at said dance parties.
  5. You are going to have to make sacrifices. Like, not having time to put on makeup before work, not being able to fit my run in, etc. For instance, one morning I selfishly really wanted to run even though we had to all be present at work by 8 a.m. I compromised with myself and didn’t wash my hair, but did wear my Patriots beanie. Consequences: The meeting was live-streamed and the general manager made me keep the hat on the rest of the day. Pros: Everyone in the office now knows me.
  6. If you end up running on a treadmill for multiple long runs, you must have a friend to text while running. I have a training partner a few states away that will get on the treadmill at the same time as me and send me encouraging texts and selfies as she powers through her workout. It has also resulted in our compilation of the most neurotic playlist of all time. If you have not put “Blood in the Cut” on your workout playlist, you’re missing out.
  7. If you’re not having fun, stop. Keeping a journal for training has been really good for me to figure out when I am having the most fun and what translates into my best workouts and runs. I am constantly humbled by the incredible women I run with, and I use them as motivation to be the best version of myself. However, none of us are elites and running is not our job. Perspective has done wonders for me.

So next time you are bogged down in every “how to” article known to (wo)mankind, stop and remind yourself of why you are here in the first place. Make your own list of priorities, because they should not be the same as anyone else’s. And hey, if you want to steal some of my rules, be my guest (I particularly recommend number one as a regular occurrence). But just remember, we are all unique in our marathon and running journeys, and the truth behind sticking to the rules is that there are none.

Anoush Arakelian

Anoush works in healthcare technology in Boston. She started running competitively in NYC in 2014 and brought her team, Gotham City Runners, to Boston in 2017. By day she can found working in marketing for healthcare technology, and by night she can be found running and/or finding the next best IPA. You can connect with Anoush via Instagram or Twitter.