Marathons sell out quickly these days.
Eight months from today, I will run the Chicago Marathon. Yesterday, the Chicago Marathon closed registration, having filled all of its non-charity spots in less than 6 days. Fortunately, I got my spot on day one, and I recently found out that two of my cousins will be there as well. I love that town, and I can't wait for October.
But I do have to wait. In fact, I've got another race to run before I even get there. It seems a little absurd to me that you have to purchase your spot eight months in advance. I think about last year, the Marine Corps marathon sold out in less than a day and I spent month after month thinking about the race that I had ahead of me. Through a long, exhausting series of events, I finally got to race day massively undertrained and overconfident. I had no idea when I signed up early in the year that I would be putting myself through the, uh, adventure that I experienced. How can you stay focused for that long?
I don't have an answer to that question, other than making sure you break up the time. If you do other marathons, find one that doesn't sell out so quickly and sign up a little closer to race day. For example, the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, Indiana still has many spots available, and will be run the first weekend in June. Also, it's less than half the cost of Chicago, but that's another story.
If, however, this is your first marathon, my best advice to you would be to put off "training" for a while. I use that word specifically, because I don't mean you should wait to start running. I mean you should wait to start "training."
My not-so-personal coach is Hal Higdon. I've used his online programs for my last couple races (though I did not follow recommendations leading up to Marine Corps, which is why I had trouble), and I just recently bought his book, which I'm working my way through at the current time. He recommends an 18-week training program, which is a little long for me, but for a first-time marathoner, it's just about right. If you want to train for 18 weeks prior to Chicago, you would start on June 4th (two days after Sunburst).
So what do you do for the next four months? Just run. Not fast, mind you. And don't even run that far. Just run regularly. Get your body used to heading out the door and putting some miles behind you, building what is called your "base" mileage. Plan our your mileage and keep track for your own records, but if you can avoid the temptation, don't time yourself. It's important not to take your base too seriously if you want to avoid injury in the long run.
Also, find some local races. Maybe there are even some during your training period that can fit into your schedule. Get used to racing (or remember the feeling, if you're returning after a hiatus) and you'll go a long way toward avoiding a burn out on race day.
For me, I'm filling my time with challenges. Today was day 7 of the February wake-up challenge, and so far I haven't missed a day. In addition, it completed my 5th straight week of running, another personal best. I'll be more prepared and better conditioned for South Bend, which in turn will prep me for Chicago.
Assuming I can wait that long.