Runners tackle marathons for all sorts of reasons. We run them to commemorate milestones, to grow as athletes, and, in some cases, just to prove we can. Regardless of why you set out to run 26.2, one thing’s unavoidable: you’re going to learn something about yourself in the process. And maybe that’s the true reason so many runners aspire to this iconic distance. To dig a little deeper, we tapped two Tracksmith athletes and marathon specialists for their practical tips, sage advice, and lessons learned from running marathons.
1. You Need to Know Your “Why”
L.A. runner Rio Lakeshore first fell in love with easy, meditative running when he was just 12 years old, growing up in the Mojave desert, sometimes logging ten miles to get to school when he missed the infrequent bus. “My easy runs are my sanctuary,” he says. “Running cleans up the cobwebs and allows for a clear head so I can have more space to be able to handle other things in life.”
For Boulder-based Hiruni Wijayaratne, distance running not only awakened confidence and a voice, it helped her become the first person in her extended family to go to college. (She’s the most decorated Sri Lankan distance athlete, and she broke the Sri Lankan national record the first time she ran a marathon.) She wants to be fast, but she also wants to push the limits of what people, especially in Asian countries like Sri Lanka, expect of women and female athletes. “I’m showing people and athletes that you can have a job, you can be older, you can continue to have success.” On your next run, consider your why and what it means to you. When training, or life, gets difficult, as it inevitably will, think back to your why and keep moving forward.
2. It’s OK to Set Big Goals
If your goals don’t excite you, it’s harder to motivate yourself to achieve them, so there’s value in aiming high. But a lofty goal, like running your first marathon or shaving time off your PR, can feel daunting. Wijayaratne’s advice: try not to get bogged down in the micro along the way—the training log, the workouts, the grams of protein—and embrace the fact that your goal is big, and that’s kind of the point. “I think the magic of running a really good marathon is such an elusive concept to me. It’s like you’re chasing a unicorn.”
3. Focus on What You Can Control
“The marathon is a crazy puzzle. You can work your butt off and do all the perfect training and show up on race day and get terrible weather,” says Wijayaratne, who’s run over 15 marathons (she’s lost count). “There are so many ways to succeed but it’s up to you to figure it out.” So rather than obsession over a variable like race-day weather (something you cannot control), Wijayaratne stresses the importance of reframing those potential hurdles in the context of what is within your control. You may not be able to predict the weather three months from now but you certainly can go for training runs in the heat, rain, and snow. The same perspective, applied to everyday challenges and goals, can be liberating.
4. Don’t Forget to Celebrate the Small Wins
“It’s powerful to reach a goal: you spend time training and only then can it shine,” says Lakeshore. But training for a marathon is a long, sometimes grueling process. For that reason, it’s important to take note of small wins along the way. “I’ve really learned to celebrate my training achievements,” says Lakeshore, who often reviews his old Strava activities and diary entries. “When I look back I can see that I’ve made significant progress. I think I’ve learned that recognition along the way encourages future endeavors.”
5. And Always Remember to Embrace the Process
Lakeshore is always trying to figure out how far he can push himself. “There’s something to be gained every time you go farther,” he says. If you’re running a marathon for the first time, then every weekend you’ll have an opportunity for discovery as the distance of your long runs increases. “It’s about embracing the whole process and the training. You can get so much out of the experience.” Not every day is going to be pretty. Both Lakeshore and Wijayaratne have bad days when running feels clunky, or they have trouble getting motivated to do a workout. That’s OK.
“I’ve learned that my soul is much more resilient than I give it credit for,” says Wijayaratne, who imagines how her training will help her feel at mile 20 of the marathon in order to get out the door and run. “You might learn that you are much stronger and more persistent than you ever imagined. You’re not guaranteed a good day, but just keep trying and keep showing up. That’s how I try to live my life.”
Founded in Boston in 2014, Tracksmith is an independent running brand built on a deep love for the sport. We craft products, tell stories and create experiences that aim to celebrate, support and add to running’s distinct culture.