My friend Jane recently told me she wants to run a marathon next year. I had two reactions: Unbridled enthusiasm, and “Give me your credit card—now.”
You see, running a marathon hurts. Running any distance hurts. But the trade-off is huge: Flying through the streets on your own two feet can also make you ridiculously happy and confident and allow you to explore neighborhoods (and feelings) you’ve never known. You’ll cling to the moment you cross a finish line with a pride you thought was impossible. Here’s the thing, though. Running doesn’t have to hurt. “All you need is a pair of shoes!” is what everyone says about this low-cost barrier to entry sport, but here’s the truth: you need more gear. There are tools, gizmos, and snacks that can transform your running life—as long as you embrace them.
Let’s start with The Stick. Looks like a bunch of beads on a dowel, right? Um, it is. But this rudimentary thwacker also fixes your whole body. Massage this stick over your calves and quads after a run—I have the 24-inch blue version—and you’ll get that hurts-so-good feeling you thought only a licensed masseuse could give you.
More necessary self-torture comes by way of this appropriately-named Spiky Massage Ball. Primarily for people with plantar fasciitis—AKA sad souls whose feet chronically hurt, AKA me—this red orb helps relax the muscle in the arch of your foot. It also tickles a little bit. It also is your new best friend.
Can you guess the most important body part on a runner? If the phrase “leg day” came to mind, you’re wrong. It’s all ‘bout the butt. Having powerful glutes makes you a stronger, faster runner. I used to come back from a run and throw myself on the floor and, well, do nothing. But I challenge you to do 25 squats—fine, 20, OK, five, just do five—then roll your butt, hips, quads, back, basically everything with skin around on a Lacrosse Ball, which provides instant self-myofascial release, a fancy term for “your body won’t be quite as sore the next day.”
If you’re training for a half-marathon or the full 26.2 miles, it’s important to figure out what to eat. Yes, yes, pasta is an excellent night-before meal. But guess what! You get to consume carbs during a race, too! My favorite snack-sized sugary treat is Huma Chia Energy Gel. This little pouch is full of an applesauce-like paste made from chia seeds, that’s perfect for eating one-handed while running. Common rule of thumb is to consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs for every hour you run, and each Huma has around 20 grams. Plus, the chocolate version tastes like cake frosting.
Finally, while it’s very tempting once you start running to go H.A.M. on every piece of bread and, well, ham you see, please learn from my mistakes: Your body feels better when it’s fueled by quote-unquote good food. The Run Fast. Eat Slow. cookbook by marathon great Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky should be in every runner’s kitchen. Most of the meals are “healthy,” but they’re actually palatable, too. Try the Superhero muffins and thank me later. Or instead you can reach for pizza and learn ifhow your stomach likes greasy cheese halfway through a race. Nevermind, I’ll tell you now: It doesn't’s not good. But with a little bit of help, you can keep yourself healthy, in shape, and ready for the starting line—no intestinal distress or sore muscles in sight.