Running should feel natural

Running should feel natural

Friday, August 22, 2014

No, really: why do you need a "training schedule" for a Marathon?

You may recall a day-by-day training schedule from my Directions on how to run a Marathon:

9/5/20109Cross-train8 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest12 pace8 m run38298
9/12/201010Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest106 m pace31329
9/19/201011Cross-train8 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest204 m pace42371
9/26/201012rest5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest128 m run35406
10/3/201013Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest225 m pace42448
10/10/201014rest5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest10 race4 m run29477
10/17/201015Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest165 m pace38515
10/24/201016rest6 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest83 m run27542
10/31/201017Cross-train5 m run3 m runRESTREST2 m runrace 26.2 m35.2579.2

So why do we need a training schedule? We can't we just go out and fun when we feel like it, get our long runs in, and make to the Marathon all-systems-go?!  Because this rarely happens unless you make it happen.

Training for a Marathon is a huge effort, and like most things this requires a lot of planning.  You need a plan, a way to figure out all those workouts, and a method to juggle it all with your personal and professional commitments.  More than likely you won't stick to it 100%; some runs will be skipped, others cut short, some workouts squeezed in where you weren't expecting, but having a training schedule in place lets you track all this and keep yourself accountable.  Thus, having your training pretty much planned out day by day.

Even better is a more detailed, in-depth account of your runs to include everything from expected vs actual mileage, workout details, total mileage, route info, personal comments, and more.  Its also smart to even record what you ate and drank before, during, and after your runs and how it affected you.  For example, this excerpt from my training log for the 2012 Chicago Marathon:

"Oh, but its too time consuming".  Okay, I hear this lame excuse for an excuse way too often, and (yet again) it just doesn't apply.  Proper scheduling will save you time in the long run since you know how much time you need to allocate to running activities far in advance.  Each day when I get into work I take 2 minutes to update my training log on the previous day's workout(s).  Drafting the initial schedule does take a few hours - but I consider this fun!  Take a look at your next few months, have a calendar handy, and plan out your runs around your personal and professional commitments.  This also ensures you can come through on all your non-running promises.

If you don't have one its in place don't worry, its never too late.  You can start with a general recap of your training up to this point, record some of your key long runs, and then write up a day-by-day schedule leading up to race day.  Make sure you have a place for the number of weeks left until your race!  "Week 0" will be both exciting and nerve racking, but looking back over a detailed account of your training will let you rest assured that you are ready!

Monday, August 18, 2014

No, really: what if you get injured training for a Marathon?

Injuries suck. Plain and simple.  And sometimes its even more frustrating when you Google what to do if you get injured and all the results read something like "the best way to deal with injuries is to prevent them from happening".  Its kind of like a big fat "I told you so" when you are looking for help.  Sometimes you wonder when will it end? And then if it does end when will it come back?

That being said, all runners, no matter how "bullet-proof" they may feel should be taking prevention efforts toward running injuries.  These include everything from stretching and strength training, to foam rolling and massage, iceing and elevation, proper rest and recovery, and even you daily hydration and diet practices.

However, really, what do you do when you get injured during training?  First thing is first - don't freakout.  This is easy to do, as you see months of work mentally evaporate away and start thinking you'll never run again (don't worry - you will).

The little things

I don't think anyone can completely prevent running injuries, even if you do all the smart preventative stuff.  However, what you can do is prevent a little problem from turning into a big one.  If you have something that feels sore, fatigued, or just generally not-right, do not use the popular strategy of just running through it and hoping it goes away.  Yes, for some people it goes away; for most others, it just gets worse.

The good news is that if its only a minor injury (e.g. a tight IT band, early signs of shin splints, or runners' knee) you probably aren't at high risk.  You will need to rest a few days from all activities to let the inflammation go down and let any soft tissues heal.  Then you can get back to cross-training and low impact activities such as spinning, biking, swimming, pool-running and elliptical-ing.  Every injury is different and requires its own set of corrective measures to prevent the problem from reoccurring.  Google your injury and you should find more than enough ways to deal with it.  Make sure to utilize some of your handy runner items during this ordeal, and then keep using them.  Look at your training schedule and try to figure out if you need new running shoes.  Most shoes can handle anywhere from 250-400 miles so if you are at the upper end of that get new ones.

If you only suffer from a minor injury like I have just described, you should be back running in 1-3 weeks and since you maintained most of your fitness with cross-training you won't have to scale back your goals.  Make sure, as with any injury or break from running, you ease back into your training.  Don't jump right back into your schedule.  My rule of thumb is to run about half the mileage of all my runs in a week's schedule the first week back, then the next week run about 2/3 the mileage, by the 3rd week you should be back on track.  You may want to skip your track workouts or hard runs for a few weeks too just to be safe.

The big things

Then sometimes you will have major injuries that take you out of the game for months at a time and cause you to re-evaluate your goals and races for the year. If you are smart, listen to your body and take corrective measures against minor setbacks, you should never have to deal with these.  However, more than likely you will do something stupid (that may seem smart at the time) and fall victim to major shin splints, an achilles tear, plantar fasciitis, or one of the various other issues that causes significant time off.

It all depends on how long you have to take off, how far out you are from your race, how much cross-training you can implement to preserve fitness, and what your current running base is like.  If you have to rest for more than a few weeks you will most likely have to readjust your goals.  This may mean pushing your marathon goal time back by 10-20 minutes, or even sitting out your race and finding something a month later if you are really set on hitting your desired marathon time.

Just always know you will bounce back someday.  Even professional athletes takes months if not years off due to injuries and are able to return faster and stronger.  Its not the end of the world, or the end of running, even though it often feels that way.

The only time I would ever advocate running while injured is race day, and even then its tricky.  So you have trained hard all season, made it through your minor set backs, and now 1 week out (or less) you have a problem that is not resolving itself.  Rest the entire last week if you have to and just go run your race.  Go get that Personal Record and then sitting on the couch for the next 2 months will at least be semi-bearable.  If it takes a few weeks or months to heal up post-race than so be it.  However, if you are on the brink of a serious, career-ending (as in, may never run again) injury, then in this case skip your race and live to fight another day.


We usually hate dealing with Doctors.  They just give us bad news, tell us what we already know, and typically are completely out of touch with endurance sports (which I find ironic since they should be encouraging a healthy lifestyle).  However, if you have something thats been plaguing you for a few weeks, or a major (and painful) running injury, just go.  Find an orthopedist or running specialist or get referred to one from a general practitioner.  They will most likely tell you what you already know - to rest from running, and ease back into it in 6-8 weeks.  Also, for the record, 6-8 weeks is the amount of time badly damaged soft tissue needs to heal (thus the timeline).  Mentally it can help to hear it from a professional, and to confirm your self-diagnose.  It solidifies that you need to rest.  This realization is a turning point, to take you out of denial and into acceptance.  Now you can plan a comeback, schedule rest, cross-training, and eventually a return to running.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Directions: How to run a Marathon

Its amazing, now that I am a full fledged running enthusiast, looking back at just how hard it was to get into running and especially to tame my first marathon.  Running is paradoxical - so simple (you are just running when it comes down to it), yet also with so many variables involved.  With several of my good friends training this summer for their first marathon, I thought I would revisit the "process", if you will, of how to run your first marathon.

Where do I start?

First and foremost, you should already have some idea of what you are doing.  If you haven't completed multiple shorter races in the past year (from 5k's all the way up to a half-marathon) you have no business signing up for a marathon.  Yes, you "could" sign up and probably finish it in the time allotted, but it sounds really miserable to run-walk a marathon in 7 hours and you will probably never want to run again. You would also stand a good chance of getting injured and not being able to run, or not finishing in the official time allowed and getting pulled off the course.

Having already done some running here and there and completed some shorter races, you should already know the absolute basics - like what running clothes are and how running shoes differ from regular gym shoes (and why you should already be running in shoes fitted for you).  Having completed a half-marathon is ideal, but a 10 miler is sufficient.  Even better if you ran the whole time, but if you had to take some small walk breaks that's fine too.  How long should it take you? This is a very individualized question and depends on your starting point and natural ability.  Some people would say 1 hour 45 minutes, others would just say that as long as you finished that's all that counts.  Both valid arguments, but I'm going to say that 2 hrs 30 minutes or less for a half-marathon, or maybe sub 2 hours for a 10 miler, is a requirement to start eying a marathon.

Sign up!

Next, you'll need to figure out which marathon you want to run.  Try to stay local - its much easier to train for, race day logistics are a breeze, you'll find more people running the same race as you to train for - I would also pick a "bigger" marathon, usually put on in a major city.  There is just more buzz in the air and its easier to get motivated for a marquee event than something no one has ever heard of.  My first marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2009 and I felt it was the perfect choice.

Due to the huge demand behind marathons now, you'll have to sign up right after registration opens for most events.  This means a lot of planning and commitment, both something you'll need to get good at anyway.  Please don't sign up if you aren't serious about running or in the "maybe I'll do it, maybe I won't" mindset.  This takes away a registration from someone who may really want to run it, and drives race costs up (higher demand = higher costs).

So really, how do you run a marathon?

During my first Marathon in 2009.
The marathon itself is only a small portion of the effort, the training is really what its all about.  If you train the right way, marathon day will be a celebration of your efforts. Its tough, and no one can describe the agony of miles 22-25 (trust me on that), but completing a marathon is one of the most (if not the most) satisfying things out there that any person is capable of.  And yes, I did say any person!

First and foremost, you will have to run - a lot.  This may sound super obvious, but people who don't really like running will try to get around this by too much cross-training, using cross-fit workouts, biking, and even "run less run faster" training programs.  These are all useful in some ways, but do not avoid running in favor of other activities.  The alternatives should compliment your training, not replace it.  Speaking of, if you don't really like running -- why are you signing up for a marathon in the first place?

Another less obvious thing is that you will have to run often.  Get used to making it part of your daily routine.  You don't need to log mega-miles, but you should be running 4 days a week, 5 (or 6) is even better.  Don't make your run optional - make it mandatory.  You've got eating, sleeping, commuting to work, work, time with friends and loved ones, and running.  This is part of the transformation into being a runner.

Here is a sample schedule I drafted up a few years ago for the Marine Corps Marathon based partially on the Hal Higdon training plans.  I also recommend getting his book "Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide" , helpful for marathoners of any ability.  You can apply this plan to any marathon.

2010 Marine Corp. Marathon 18 week training plan
Date (Sunday)WeekMonTueWedThurFriSatSunWeekly MileageTotal Mileage (planned)
7/4/2010Prerest3 m runTempo, Track, or hills4 m run5 k raceCross-train6 m run21.1-
7/11/20101rest4 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest93 m run2222
7/18/20102Cross-train5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest85 m run2850
7/25/20103Cross-train6 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest116 m run3383
8/1/20104Cross-train5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest96 m pace30113
8/8/20105Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest137 m pace37150
8/15/20106Cross-train6 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest157 m run38188
8/22/20107rest5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest9 pace6 pace30218
8/29/20108Cross-train6 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest188 m run42260
9/5/20109Cross-train8 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest12 pace8 m run38298
9/12/201010Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest106 m pace31329
9/19/201011Cross-train8 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest204 m pace42371
9/26/201012rest5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest128 m run35406
10/3/201013Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest225 m pace42448
10/10/201014rest5 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest10 race4 m run29477
10/17/201015Cross-train7 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest165 m pace38515
10/24/201016rest6 m runTempo, Track, or hills5 m runrest83 m run27542
10/31/201017Cross-train5 m run3 m runRESTREST2 m runrace 26.2 m35.2579.2

All the small things

Cross Training should consist of about half cardio (bike or elliptical) and half weights (all leg muscles, abs, arms, back, chest, etc.). Yoga or classes are good too. Even if it is just for aesthetic purposes it gives you more confidence, which makes you want to work-out more, which lets you enjoy training more, etc. This keeps your body (and mind) in shape, but reduces the risk of injury from over-training (your body needs to gradually get used to running often). Stretch out after a work-out or run to relax. Injury is probably the #1 risk factor!

Miles denoted as "run" should be at an easy, comfortable pace; think of this as your "fun run" pace.  Miles denoted as "pace" should be run at your planned marathon race pace. Basically, just a little faster than the "fun run" pace since you won't really have an accurate estimate of marathon pace until like September. When in doubt just take it easy!

For the Tempo or Track run days, the idea is to do high-intensity repeats with low-intensity breaks. The best go-to track workout is to do 800 m (thats 2 laps) at 10k pace with 400 m (1 lap) breaks at a super slow pace. Tempo style runs on a track are also sometimes referred to as "Fartlek" (Swedish for "Speed-play"). This isn't mandatory - but it will make you faster at all distances.

Hill are important to any routine as well as speed work.  I can't believe how often and to what lengths people go to avoid hills because they are hard.  Marathons have hills -- the Earth has hills!  Running focused hill repeats makes you faster on hills as well as on flats, and its a good substitute for speed work.  An easy hill workout is just to warm-up, find a hill about 1/4 mile long, run up it fairly fast, jog back down slowly to recover, and repeat 3 or 4 times.  Its been said that "Hill repeats are track-work in disguise"!

Keep track of your miles! Try not to skimp or "round-up". When you deviate from your plan, note your actual vs. planned mileage. You probably won't get every run in or always run the planned mileage but its important to note and hold yourself accountable.

In the last few weeks of training there is a reduction of mileage in preparation for the Marathon. This is known as the magic "taper"; your training is about over with and your focus now is to have the most energy possible for the marathon. Do not try to get in another long run or tempo workout in the last couple of weeks. When in doubt during the taper, especially in the last week, rest or do minimal running. However, do not use this as an excuse to skip workouts!

There is such a thing as rest (days with no physical activity -- its important) and (gasp) skipping workouts. Skipping should be reserved for when you are just way too tired, fatigued or out of time. The idea is that if you absolutely have to skip a workout, make it a shorter run or cross training session. The weekend long runs are key and should never be missed, even if you have to switch days to accommodate. Plan these longer runs out, if you try to squeeze them in between other activities, get them done Friday after work, or do them after a night of drinking and sleeping in, you will have a very tough time!

Plan and juggle this schedule to fit your own summer schedule. Don't think that you will still get a 20 mile long run in while on vacation, or try to squeeze in an 8 mile pace run between an afternoon BBQ and a night out. As long as you plan for it though, it's not hard to fit in shorter runs, even on vacation. Basically, planning for success means planning every day out during the marathon training time frame. Just make sure not to have high mileage weeks or really long runs in back-to-back weeks (notice how each time there is a build up to a high mileage weekend there is then a step back down the next week).

Try to do a race (10 miler or half-marathon is ideal) a few weeks before the marathon to give yourself an accurate prediction on your fitness level and pace, and to just get you back in the swing of things for race logistics. If you end up doing a race 2 weeks before the marathon don't push it too hard; don't do a race 1 week out. 3-4 weeks before the marathon is best.

You should already be training in proper running shoes chosen for you based on your arch, pronation, etc. Keep using these but invest in another pair about half-way through your training. The first pair will wear out before you are finished training. A typical shoe gets about 300 miles of use in it's lifetime. Take turns with both pairs while the old ones are still good. You can make the old ones your "rain pair" to keep the new ones clean and dry. If any shoe gets soaked loosen up the laces and give it a day or two to dry out fully. Try not to get your marathon pair soaked at all.

Eating and drinking on the run may be new territory but become essential on long runs and in the marathon. There are plenty of choices in what to drink (water, powerade, gatorade) and eat ("Gu" brand energy gel, Cliff-bar "Cliff shots" energy gel, sport beans, shot-blocks, etc). Get used to eating these on the go early on; sometimes it doesn't quite agree with your stomach the first time. Keep in mind most races give out water and powerade to drink, and "Gu" brand energy gel so either be prepared to use it or bring your own supply in a fuel belt (such as a "Spy-belt" or hydration belt). It's a good rule of thumb to drink fluids every 5-6 miles on a run of 10 miles or more, and to also add an energy supplement like Gu every 5 miles on runs longer than 12 miles starting at about the 10 mile mark. Wash down foods with water to prevent cramps. You may need a Hydro-belt to carry food and fluids while on the go if you won't be looping back to your car and can't count on water fountains.

We all know how to eat a balanced daily diet (usually 1/3 carbs, 1/3 fruits & veggies, and 1/3 protein) but adjust a little for the marathon diet. Try for about 50% carbs, and split the rest between proteins and fruits & veggies. Avoid excess fats and sweets (remember, protein doesn't always mean meat and non-meat alternatives usually contain less fat). Drink a TON of water all week (like 1 to 2 liters a day extra water -- not soda, gatorade, or juice). On the plus side you can have about 500-1000 more calories a day than if you weren't running all the time.  Eat extra bananas.  You will be sick of them by race day but some call them the perfect food and as a bonus they are cheap.

There has been an explosion of nutrition strategies in recent years for endurance sports.  There is someone who swears by just about anything -- vegetarian, vegan, fruitarian, paleo, high-fat, high-carb -- the list goes on and on. You will figure out what works best.  For starters just keep it simple, eat extra carbs, eat when you are hungry, drink plenty of fluids, and carbo-loading.  Carbo-loading is when you eat way more than normal amounts of carbs before a race.  You can carbo-load the day before a race, but the few days leading up to a race are even better.  This tops off your carbohydrate stores so that you will have more fuel to burn in the marathon.  Using the principle that you should be practicing everything about the marathon while training, you should  carbo-load before all your super long runs (not just the night before the marathon) so you know how your body will react.

Don't try anything out race day or in your last longer runs that isn't already tried and true. Use your first few longer runs to experiment on what and how much to eat and drink the night before, the morning of, during, and after a long run. DO NOT try out a new energy substitute, training philosophy, or radical form of thinking right before the race -- it could backfire! Know which pair of socks, shorts, and shirt work best on long runs. Modify your routines and repeat, make it a science and apply it on race day.

Chafing will now present itself as a problem on long runs. Some people start to chafe after around 10 miles, but for some it might not start until over 18 miles has gone by! This occurs due to a combination of sweat and long periods of skin rubbing and can be quite painful. Typically happens under your arms, between the legs, between your toes, or anywhere that the skin rubs against either other skin or fabric. Get some Body-Glide or Petroleum jelly and start figuring out which works best and how to utilize it. Different clothes can affect it too (short vs. long shorts, short sleeve vs. sleeve less shirts, etc.). Get all this figured out well before race day!

There are several common injuries that plague runners. It could be that you landed on something wrong, you might be adjusting to higher mileage, your shoes are worn out, etc. These can include "runners knee", IT-band soreness, achilles tendonitis, etc. The only way to deal with them is to rest and do non-running activity until it goes away. If you start running and it comes back immediately stop and walk the rest. Ease back into training after it feels better, and continue to stretch and strength train to ward off any new injuries. The old training ideals of "tough it out", "pain is good", or "push through anything" do NOT apply to marathon training and prep. A good remedy for most injuries is RICE - Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation of injuries. It's smart to ice leg muscles after a long or strenuous run even if you don't feel injured to reduce the risk of inflammation and swelling.

Embrace the running lifestyle -- subscribe to running magazines, read the new "shoe reviews", volunteer at races, attend free running seminars and injury prevention clinics, yuck it up with other runners in marathon training, update your training spreadsheet every morning, sharpen your culinary pasta skills! The more you do to stay in the running mindset the more you will enjoy it and be able to stay focused.

What about "bonk-ing"?

The term "bonk" is thrown around a lot when it comes to endurance sports and specifically the marathon.  I'll attempt to demystify it.  Bonking is really just want your body finally runs out of energy.  It can come either when you have been active for too long at a moderate pace (for instance, mile 20 of a marathon), or even much sooner if you are pushing it too hard in a shorter race (you can "bonk" in a half-marathon if you go out too fast, its just less common).  There is a not-so-magic cure for the bonk: train correctly, run your race smart, and drink enough along the course.  Nothing will prevent you from getting tired in the marathon, but at least you can minimize the damage.

Cramping is also a bonk-related risk.  This is when your muscles will tighten and sometimes "lock-up" on you, causing it to be very hard if not impossible to run.  You'll have to stretch them out, walk, and get some fluids in your to carry on.  Cramping is partially the result of dehydration, but its really just the result of pushing your body harder than it can handle.  Stay conservative throughout the race to avoid this.

That being said, there marathon holds an x-factor over all shorter races, that even if you are in tip-top shape and having a great day, there is still that possibility of just bottoming out.  The "bonk" usually occurs between miles 18 and 22.  It could happen later but usually if you made it that far you are home free!

Race Day

If you need more information, you can Google pretty much anything mentioned here.  Also, ask ask ask.  Runners love to talk about running and training (sometimes too much so).  Find a runner at work, through friends, or even at a local running store and ask away.  Only downside is they might talk your ear off.

Its here.  The Big One.  Day 0.  Race Day.  Try to get a lot of sleep the week prior to the race, because the night before you will be hard pressed to get even a few hours of sleep.  Race day shouldn't be a mystery - you should just be putting into practice what you have been doing for months now.  Study the course map, know where and how often to expect aid stations.  You should already know how much extra time you need to get ready, what to eat, when to eat, when to go to the bathroom, what to bring with you, and all the finer details. The bag checks work great; leave some long pants and a light jacket, some money/ID, and other essentials for after the race.

Should you run with a pace group?  I say "yes", most major marathons have pace groups for major time goals in 15 minute increments and they are a great way to keep you on track.  Not only to have someone to follow in the latter stages of the race, but a way to hold you back when you would foolishly speed up in the first 20 miles.

Try to find some friends and family to spectate and support you in your quest.  Coordinate with them well before race day on where to be and when, both on the course and after the finish. This is a big mental boost.  Take note of all the spectators, some of them come up with pretty hilarious signs!  Be sure to thank them and especially all the volunteers on the course.

For your race time, pick 3 goals: a stretch goal, a realistic goal, and a safety goal.  Base these on how well your training went, your current state of fitness, and the predictor race your ran a few weeks out.  These might be for instance 4:25, 4:35, and 4:45.  Now, go with your safety goal.  Trust me on this!

Its been said that a marathon is the hardest 10k you'll ever run.  Meaning, the first 20 miles should not be hard, it should almost be a cake-walk.  The last 6.2 (or 10 kilometers) are what the marathon really is.  You want to be feeling fresh at the 20 mile mark.  When all else fails, keep going!  Don't stop.  Walk if you must, but walk fast.  Don't just stop or stumble around walking.

Here we go:

Miles 0-5

Just getting started, try to get into a groove, and don't go out too fast.  Drink at the aid stations even though you probably aren't thirsty [yet]. Don't want to get behind on hydration.

Miles 5-13

Now you should be in your groove.  Keeping a steady pace, drinking at aid stations, and (as always) holding back and not running too fast. Stay just behind your pace group if you have one.

Miles  13-16

Now you have been out there for awhile.  You are getting into the meat of the marathon after the half-marathon mark.  You may feel surprisingly fresh. Again, don't speed up. You will probably have eaten a snack and/or Gu by now.

Miles 16-22

Try to keep it steady.  You will really feel like you are getting tired after the 16 mile mark.  You shouldn't be at risk of bonking until at least mile 18, but by now you should be glad you didn't go out too fast.  If you do start to feel yourself getting tired, slow down a bit, but do not stop!  This will pass - depend on getting your 2nd wind.

Miles 22-25

This is no man's land.  You should be post the point of an acute bonk, but you will be more tired than you ever imagined. If you are behind your pacer still just hold on for dear life.  You'll pass people who are just dying - you'll also get passed by people. Don't let either affect your judgement.  Just keep going, pick out landmarks to run to, the time will pass even though it seems like an eternity.

Miles 25-finish

You are basically done.  You will get a huge mental boost knowing you only have a mile left.  Keep going!  Even if you are dead tired and walking, dig deep and make yourself run that last mile.  Its almost over!

The Finish Line

A marathon is a major undertaking and should not be taken lightly.  Don't think you can just sign up and let it happen - you'll need to make it happen.  By race day you'll be a full fledged runner, not a "jogger" or "weekend warrior".  Once you start training take a few pictures and notes about yourself: your outlook on like, your physical appearance, your energy levels, your diet, your day-to-day mood, really anything that makes you "you".  Compare these after the race and see how many areas have improved.

Yup - now you finally get to be one of those people with an oval sticker on your car!

Once you finish you will feel on top of the world and that you accomplished something you never felt possible! Savor the moment, spoil yourself, wear your medal - you truly have something to be proud of!