Considering your first marathon after 40? Here are 5 things you need to know.
1. Your first marathon won’t, as you probably know, be your fastest. Your first marathon is the one to finish. And you’re going to learn a lot not only in the training but also in the marathon itself.
2. Your first marathon will also be your hardest – most likely. No matter what their age – old or young – runners experience more setbacks in the first years of training than later. With time, you learn the effects of stresses on your body and you learn how to work around them.
3. If you like the marathon distance, you have a lot to look forward to.
First, you can look forward to faster times. Your best marathon times may likely be 5 to 10 years after that – no matter if you’re in your forties, fifties or even sixties. The improvement from your first to your second marathon, weather and course depending, can be huge. As just one example among many, one runner of mine, now 57, ran her first marathon at 56 in 3:42. She ran her second, an easier course but a marathon nonetheless, in 3:27.
As long as you continue to train intelligently, you’ll become more focused, your body more prepared. I’ve had numerous runners begin training in their 40s and 50s only to run their best marathons 6 to 8 years later.
Here’s a diagram below that may help. It’s from my doctoral dissertation in which I compared performances of runners depending on when they started running. It shows that no matter when you start running, after ten years, your times can catch up with those with similar training and equivalent talent.
Second, if you have found training for your first marathon tough, you’ll probably find training for subsequent marathons easier. You’ll have friends who live “the marathon lifestyle” or at least “the running lifestyle”. You’ll get better at planning and used to long runs. “A 15 miler used to feel like an impossible run when I trained for my first marathon,” is something I hear a lot. In short, training for a marathon once or twice a year will become almost a habit – something visceral as well as fun (most of the time).
4. Having coached hundreds of marathoners and conducted 20 years of research on runners over 40, I am convinced that the discipline of running a marathon translates to more discipline in all areas of life. Here is one diagram that illustrates that the discipline of running encouraged more discipline in runners (the “respondents”) in terms of being able to focus, face fears, manage their time, set priorities, and handle stress, and hardships.
5. Get a coach (in addition to running partners) if you’re serious about getting faster – a coach who not only understands running and masters running in particular, but also understands you: your motivation, life circumstances, and goals. You’ll save energy, improve your speed, avoid injury, and, yes – spend a bit more money. It’s worth it, given all the time you invest in running. And you’ll appreciate the rewards!