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I ran my first full marathon 10 months ago. That’s right, I actually ran – without stopping – for 26.2 miles. It’s not even been a year, but I am already exhausted thinking about it. I trained hard for five months, and I was able to totally kick that marathon’s ass.

I have enjoyed running for the last 15 years (admittedly in waves of love and loathing). My peak was around 4 miles-ish. I was approached by a friend to try a full marathon. Though I pleaded to complete a half instead, I eventually agreed to the grueling 26+.

I ran with Team In Training and it was an incredible experience. Though some may find the team camaraderie a bit forced, I found it simply necessary. You bond with these people for months, raise thousands of dollars together, and push each other to the ultimate limits. I absolutely appreciated my team support, and only wish I would have embraced it more in the moment.

Having gone on to run much more after the marathon (next race – half marathon in 2 months!) I have unlocked a magic key to training and competing while remaining injury free.

1. Sports Massage Therapist I saw Nathan at Nathan Freebody Massage, who specializes in athletes (and largely, runners). Words can’t describe how invaluable these sessions were for me. I saw him consistently (about every 3-4 weeks) during training. I wore my running clothes during the sessions and explained where my aches and pains were. Nathan would focus on my legs the entire massage, explaining the muscles as he worked. He showed me stretches, explained my IT band, and emphasized the importance of foam rolling (see below). He is not only delightful to chat with, but extremely knowledgable and wicked good with his hands! If there is one thing you do during training for an endurance event, see Nathan (or someone local to you)!

2. Foam Rolling It sucks, I can’t lie. But you gotta do it. Purchase an inexpensive foam roller (I went to Lombardi Sports, though they are easily found at any sports store). Rollers come in a variety of sizes, but I suggest going large. For runners it’s most important to do your legs (oh, the painful thighs!) but with a large roller you can even do your back and shoulders. Just lay it on the ground, throw yourself on top of it, and roll around until your muscles beg you to stop. At least 5 minutes a day. It’s definitely one of those “hurts so good!” remedies, and it’s absolutely necessary.

3. Bikram Yoga This is strictly a personal recommendation. Strength training is absolutely vital for endurance sports, and every individual is different. For me, committing to two Bikram sessions every week was the perfect compliment to running 20 miles/week. I happen to love torturing myself for 90 minutes in a 106 degree room, though I understand everyone may not (insert: my boyfriend). The combination of sweating out the toxics and sinking deep into difficult postures is euphoric to me. It paired so well with my running because it mixes strength training and stretching. Your muscles become flexible as they warm up and adjust to the heat, and you’re able to do some serious stretching that is not possible when you’re not baking yourself in a steamed room. It also focuses on leg and back strength, both of which are vital to runners. Give yourself three sessions and see if you’re hooked.

4. Ice Bathing Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. But there’s a reason every athlete does it. My suggestion is to do it immediately following a long run. Climb in the tub with your running clothes (and socks!) still on. Fill up cold water around your legs. By the time it’s creeping to the top of your shin, you’re numb. Once your legs are submerged (but not higher than your lap) dump in a bag of ice. I would try to increase it two minutes, every session, starting with 10 minutes. I would ice bath once a week. By the end of training  I was soaking my legs for 20 minutes at a time, and it actually felt kind of awesome. And I *luckily* never developed any cramps while running, which I attribute to the ice!

5. GU This powerful substance delivers a punch of carbs, protein and sugar to keep you going when you need it most, recommended one pack for every 45 minutes of exercise. I personally prefer the “gooey” substance that has the consistency of toothpaste (not as gross as it sounds, I swear!). There are fruit snack-like gummies, but I find those get stuck in my teeth. Pomegranate Blueberry is my favorite flavor, though their Mocha Coffee isn’t half bad either.

6. Perfect Playlist This has nothing to do with training, but definitely raised my spirits during the race. I emailed 20 friends and asked them each to send me at least 2 songs that made them think of me (preferably upbeat). I downloaded all the music on iTunes and didn’t listen to it until race day (though I knew who sent what song, and memorized it while downloading). Every mile brought a new refreshing tune, which which makes running much more enjoyable, but also made me think of the person who sent me the song. It was a sweet, thoughtful way to think of my loved ones while competing, and I plan on doing it for every marathon in the future!

My marathon ended at the Pacific coast, where I plunged my burning legs in the icy ocean (then proceeded to drink copious amounts of champagne). The morning after I saw Nathan for a massage, then I bounded out of his office pain-free. Many other marathoners struggled to walk for days, but the list above saved my legs (and my sanity). Try it yourself and see if it improves your endurance!

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