It takes a village to raise…a marathoner? We certainly think so.
While training for and running 26.2 miles is pretty much an individual endeavor—your own legs have to cover the distance, after all—having a marathon support squad is key. While marathon support can take myriad forms (a neighbor who consistently asks you how training is going; a partner offers to massage your feet; a friend who drops by bags of Epsom salts), we’re pretty sure the best kind comes from fellow mother runners. In other words, women who know how demanding simply walking the tightrope of family and household and work and aging parents can be—and still encourage you to reach for a terribly ambitious physical goal that includes weekends of long runs, plenty of hangry afternoons, and loads of laundry.
We checked in with three runners who recently crossed a marathon finish line—and built what we would consider an optimal marathon support squad.
Marathon Runner: Alana
Marathon: Sandford Fargo Marathon
Goal for Marathon: A Goal: 4:43; B Goal: Sub-5; C Goal: PR
Achieved?: Yes! C goal: 5:13:07 chip time (5:10:33 watch time. I had to stop to drop half my body weight at a porta-potty around mile 16.)
My marathon support squad included: A relay team running the Fargo Marathon. I was the baton for 26.2 miles.
Anne: Kept me perfectly on pace as we wound through what felt like every residential neighborhood in Fargo. Kids in pajamas and spectators in camping chairs cheered us on while I willed my heart rate to settle down after start line excitement.
Brenda: Gave me a tour of some of the most beautiful parts of Fargo/Moorhead. Her leg was better than a cushy-seat bus tour and more entertaining to boot, and she kept me out of my head.
Erin: I started crying the moment she started running beside me. Erin has been my BRF (best running friend) for years. I was starting to feel the pain and wanted only her to run me through it. She chased me with the Vaseline she found for my chafing at an aid station, filled my water bottle while I stopped for the Biff, and kept me mentally focused.
Stacy: Somewhere around the start of Stacy’s leg I realized I was nauseous (almost certainly from dehydration), the sun came out, and the course lost a bit of its sexiness. She was unrelenting about trying to find me something that could stay in my mouth for longer than 4 seconds, and, most importantly, keeping the 5:15 pace group behind us. (And she sang Billy Idol for me when my music shut off at the 26 mile marker.)
Speed bumps along the way: A scant few. In fact, I wholeheartedly committed to the training. I think I missed 3-5 workouts in the entire 21-week period. Being home 24/7 during a pandemic will do that.
Moment I felt most supported: When I came down for breakfast in the hotel lobby, the relay team was standing around in shirts with my face all over them. I couldn’t stop laughing and neither could anyone stop cheering; the shirts were a huge hit with the crowd. A group of college students liked them so much they started following us around the course to cheer us on.
If you’re supporting a marathon runner (IRL or virtually): If you’re running alongside the person, ask what they need or want from you. Sometimes I wanted my friend to talk, other times I wanted them to not talk. And I needed to be pulled out of my head when the going got tough. Also, be prepared for all the scenarios on behalf of your runner; not having to think about how to fill water or swap out my preferred hydration mix was heavenly.
Goal for Marathon: I had ankle surgery in late 2020, so I wanted to celebrate running again and seeing how far I could push things post-surgery. I had an abbreviated training cycle because I set this Big Hairy Goal to do virtual Boston when they offered the opportunity in March 2021. I was cleared to start running in January, was doing .1 run/.3 walk in February, and barely running a 5K distance when I registered for the race. As my training and strength increased over the summer, I wondered if I could break 5 hours so that was my A goal. Breaking 5:50—my PR— would be the B goal.
Achieved?: Yes! My Achilles felt great and I had no pain. I had so much fun, even when I was cursing miles 18-22. My overall time was 5:07, so not the A goal but it was a pretty hilly course.
My marathon support squad included: A BAMR crowd on the Marco Polo app that was going to run the (canceled) 2020 Seneca Seven race together. When I was planning my route and asking for suggestions, Phoebe jumped right in to set up a course, add some aid stations, and cheer lead. And on the morning of, Lisa drove over to surprise me and offer more cowbell. The rest of the Polo team kept the cheers going for five hours, virtually.
Solution: I hired a coach for the first time in my running career. He altered my weekly plans based on how I was responding to training, when I was traveling, and how I felt.
2. Inspiration during a long training cycling.
Solution: Connection with a fellow runner. BAMR Amy in New Hampshire met up with me a few times over winter/spring for XC skiing and some trail runs. I found her story of a self-supported ultra during the pandemic to be completely inspiring.
3. Struggling mentally on long runs.
Moments I felt most supported: When Phoebe reached out to me outside of Marco Polo to suggest running in New Hampshire with her as my crew when she heard I would be doing it on my own. When Lisa showed up in the morning and completely surprised me. She is the ultimate cheerleader. When I noticed the signs along the course with specific words of encouragement from the Marco Polo crew. I knew they were there in spirit.
If you are supporting a marathon runner (IRL or virtually): Pack a cold wet washcloth to hand to your runner in the second half. It revives you like nothing else!
Marathon Runner: Pam
Marathon Run: Virtual Boston Marathon
Goal for Marathon: To stay engaged and present in the moment, valuing persistence over performance.
Achieved?: YES! The marathon might have been my slowest time, but it also was by far the best time I’ve ever had in a race.
My marathon support squad included: My husband Erik who ran with me. Our race director/route planner/photographer/chief sign maker Melissa Theberge and her husband Steve, and head cheerleader Donna Lehman.
Speed bumps along the way: From a compliance perspective, I had an A+ training cycle. I got out the door every day and completed the workouts as written. From a life perspective, the training cycle was nothing but speed bumps. My family struggled throughout the summer to find aftercare for our young children within the frayed infrastructure of our school district. I grew increasingly unhappy at work and threw much of my energy into job hunting and the subsequent–and grueling–interview process. Dear friends lost their fights with the pandemic. Marathon training became less about the race and more about keeping myself grounded. And in the usual way of things, as I began to taper, my life began to calm down.
Moments I felt most supported: Honestly, there was never a moment I did not feel 110% supported. Melissa had the route planned meticulously, down to the exact points where we needed to cross the road for safety, all the bathrooms, and the best spots for water and fuel refills. She had signs for all the major Boston Marathon landmarks, including the Wellesley Scream Tunnel and the CITGO sign at the final mile. Donna had the moves Jagger wishes he had. I don’t think a mile went by without our crew there for cheers, laughs, and signs.
If you are supporting a marathon runner (IRL or virtually): If your partner is running a marathon, realize that marathon training takes A LOT of time and even more energy. Runners get hungry and cranky and forgetful, and—this may surprise you—want to talk about their training and their fueling and the weather and the race course constantly. Perfect the smile and nod; know that you may have to shoulder some extra familial and household duties for a short time; try to roll with the occasional schedule change due to an unexpected thunder storm or cold front.
If your running buddy is training to run a marathon, offer to join her on long runs and act understanding on those times she needs to go it alone. And on race day? Be her biggest cheerleader. Remind her of the miles and hours she has put in, and that she is strong and capable and ready.
If you can be there in person, drag the kids and the cowbells, hold up silly signs, and stash extra GU packets in your pockets. If not, send texts with encouraging or silly messages and gifs. Let her know you’re available to talk her through low moments if needed. It’s not easy to run a marathon, and it’s also not easy to live with someone training to run a marathon. So don’t forget that you’ve earned a reward as well! (But maybe don’t remind your marathoner of that until after the second or third time she’s rehashed her race?)