11 Ways to Train for a Marathon With Just Sidewalks

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You’ve registered for your first big 26.2-mile race, and now it’s time to get your body and mind ready for the long run. Picturesque running paths in a pastoral setting might sound ideal for training, but preparing in a city can still lead you to incredibly speedy results.

1. Become a Surface Expert

Running for hours can be tough on your joints in the best of circumstances, so do your body a favor by seeking out optimal surfaces. Conventional wisdom states that softer surfaces like asphalt or grass are friendlier than unforgiving concrete sidewalks, but studies have found little correlation between surface and injury risk. Instead, experts suggest varying your running surfaces, so be on the lookout for safe asphalt routes, dirt or grass trails, and synthetic tracks. Make sure that the bulk of your training takes place on the surface you’ll be on during your race.

2. Get on Track

If you’re aiming for a certain time in your marathon, your training plan will probably involve speed work where you push the pace for anywhere from 400 meters to a mile. City stoplights can make uninterrupted speed work difficult, but luckily you can probably find an open track in your city. Not only does a synthetic track offer a nice springy surface, it gives you a precisely measured venue for your speed work where you won’t have to worry about pedestrians, cyclists, or traffic lights.

3. Embrace the Stoplight

When you’re not on a track, you’ll inevitably end up on the wrong end of a “Don’t Walk” sign. How should you spend these few stationary seconds? However you like! Remember, you’re preparing to run 26.2 miles, and whether or not you jogged in place at a light won’t make or break your race. Don’t get bogged down in the small stuff. If you like running in place, do it. If you’d rather relish a few deep breaths while standing still, have at it. Stretch, do a standing plank, check your shoelace knots – do whatever feels the most comfortable for you.

4. Explore Your City

Running in a city may not offer stunning views of nature, but it can be a great way to explore areas you wouldn’t otherwise have seen. In a city with hundreds of streets, you never have to run the same route twice. Set a course through a neighborhood or area you might not otherwise have explored, and turn your training into a running tour of your city.

5. Park It

Even the densest cities have large parks that offer running trails. While you’ll probably have a hard time finding an urban park that can handle a full 18-mile training run unless you’re repeatedly looping through the same route, parks offer a variety of surfaces, a safe haven from traffic, varied scenery, and plenty of water fountains.

6. Find a New Appreciation for Water Fountains

And those water fountains can be crucial. As your training runs get longer, hydrating during workouts will become increasingly important. This area is another one in which cities excel - when it’s not too cold, you should be able to track down a water fountain without too much trouble. Parks, playgrounds, and public athletic facilities offer great spots for pit stops that will save you from having to tote water for your entire run. Keep your eyes open for water fountains along your favorite running routes.

7. Use Your Place as a Home Base

Water fountains are great, but if you want to make an even easier urban-running plan for staying hydrated, the sink in your apartment or condo is an option. Rather than building your training runs as one long out-and-back loop, map out loops of varying length that will lead you back by your building. If you need water, an energy gel, or a bathroom break, you can pop into your place, then get back on the road.

8. Get to Know Side Streets

Any city dweller knows that it can be hard to walk on crowded urban sidewalks, much less run on them. When you’re planning your running routes, look for side streets that will have less pedestrian congestion on them. You’ll be able to hit top speeds more confidently and comfortably if you’re not worried about bumping into pedestrians, and you may even get to explore streets you would otherwise have missed.

9. Take the Stairs

Elevators are an inescapable part of city life, but taking the stairs can actually help improve your marathon performance. By zipping up the stairs rather than riding an elevator, you’ll strengthen your quads and glutes while giving your heart and lungs a workout. Skip the elevator, turn your apartment or office into a walk-up, and watch as your training runs get just a little easier.

10. Learn Your Race’s Course

If the marathon you’re running is in your city, you’ve got a built-in advantage. Drive the route to familiarize yourself with the course, and work segments of the course into your training runs if you can. That way, when race day comes there won’t be any surprises, and if you’ve already run part of the course, you’ll be more confident that you can do it again.

11. Join a Running Club

No matter how committed you are to finishing your race, at some point during four months of training you’ll have days where your enthusiasm wanes. Joining a running club is a good way to stay motivated – you can probably even find one with members who are training for your race. Any urban area will boast multiple running clubs, so you can find one that’s a good fit for you. Suddenly, your training will have a fun social element, and you’ll also be able to get training pointers and running route advice from other members. If you’re lucky, you’ll create friendships that last well beyond your race’s finish line.

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