Most people seem to think marathons are something adults only participate in because adults are who they usually see participating. But If you have participated in the Los Angeles Marathon over the past 20 years or live near a middle or high school in LA county you probably have seen tons of teens training for and running the LA marathon. I was one of these teens who took this journey and I am still on a marathon journey. Every year I realize training for a marathon was a lot different when I was 13 compared to now at 25. If you have completed a marathon you know that this accomplishment changed your life in some type of way. There are numerous outcomes of this accomplishment, but for teens it makes them feel like they have more of a purpose in life and higher goals to reach for, for adults it is more of a proving point to themselves that they are mentally and physically strong or they can make themselves healthier.
How I was introduced to marathons
A little background of the program I started with. This program is called Students Run Los Angeles (SRLA) it was started by a teacher in 1987 who wanted to challenge his students to train for the marathon and have it change their lives forever. From there the program grew rapidly over the years and now have 3,000 students standing on that starting line every year. The kids get to run seven races, one is the marathon, get two free pairs of running shoes, a marathon uniform and an awesome hoodie when they cross the finish line. This kind of changes your perspective about marathons being an adult thing. When I was in 7th grade my health teacher was a coach for the SRLA program at our school, he bragged all the time about what a great thing running is but from his own personal journey as an adult and once he got to put kids through the program he bragged about my classmates. In March, when they all came to school with their medals and cool hoodies they received I became a little jealous and made a promise to myself the next year I would try and get those goodies. In 8th grade I signed up for the program and crossing that finish line changed my life forever. Now as an adult I’ve come to learn how different training is for the age groups.
Training for a marathon as a teen
I can only speak from experience through a program like SRLA because I really haven’t met kids outside of LA who have run a marathon willingly on their own. Training as a 13 year old is more of a learning experience about life compared to adults. Most 13 year olds want to follow trends or want something other people have and once they hear from friends that they got a cool medal and t-shirt from a race it sparks their interest a lot more than adult can imagine. So these kids take a leap of faith and sign up for a program and start training. They start with a few laps and gradually increasing mileage over the months until marathon day just like anyone else would. How is it different for a teen? Most teens are pretty naïve and don’t listen to coaches advice when it comes to training.
Let’s start with diets, most coaches will express to them how a healthy diet will only help them become better runners but being teens most have a rebellious mentality and will still eat horribly before a practice or race. It’s not until they feel the side effects during a run where they will try to change their diets.
Next is the components of training; stretching before and after runs, getting the mileage in, putting effort into those miles etc. Through this program almost everyone has a running buddy, which can be a good or bad thing when it comes to training. It is beneficial because you have a friend to help push you through a run if you are struggling, but if you both are struggling and in a mood where you do not really want to run it becomes a walk and talk type of deal which isn’t very beneficial in training. Yes, they are putting the miles on their legs but they are not learning how to mentally prepare themselves for longer runs, especially the marathon where they need to break through the wall.
Now stretching, which is a huge thing most teens are not into because they mostly don’t understand the benefits of it even when their coach tries to explain it to them. Eventually they will feel the side effects and start to learn how stretching can benefit their performance.
Lastly, let’s get into the mental game as a teen. When you’re a teen odds are that you are told daily that you won’t go anywhere in life without a goal and drive and this is exactly what marathon training does for them. It teaches them to set a goal and stick with it, it teaches them to listen to the advice people give them so they don’t have to always learn the hard way and ultimately it gives them a sense of pride most teens will never be able to feel.
Training as an adult
Not saying beginning runner adults don’t go through what teens do, but most don’t. Yes it is a learning process for you as well, but you’re going into this with a completely different mindset. Being older and wiser can have its benefits and disadvantages.
Let’s start with training, unlike the teens in the program who have tons of people to run with, you either have to join a running group in your community or decide to take this journey with a friend for that company. If you’re running alone the benefits are you have alone time and you have to learn how to push yourself through the rough times. The disadvantage for this is that it is easy for you to lose motivation when you’re running alone or in a boring place. Running with a group as an adult usually turns into more of a social hour so if you want real training to mentally prepare for that long run you have to make sure you and your running buddy are on the same page.
Your diet, as an adult you know that eating junk food the night before a long run or race isn’t the smartest thing to do which is beneficial so you don’t have to learn the hard way like the teens.
Stretching, as an adult if you’re told stretching loosens up your muscle so you they won’t tighten up as much you will most likely do it because you understand that you’re pretty much about to work them harder than ever. Plus, being older you want to loosen up those muscles more.
Now let’s get into your mental game. Most likely you already know the benefits of goal setting and what it takes to reach goals so you already have an up on the teens. Your mental game can also be way harder or easier than a teen. You have so many responsibilities, between bills, families, health, work, etc. your brain is already going into a million different directions which can either make it harder for you to push yourself through a run or easier because it’s a way to put your responsibilities to the side for the moment. What marathon training does for you is giving you another goal in life, sharpens your life skills when it comes to listening to your body and of course makes you even more proud of yourself.
In the end we can all relate on some things when it comes to marathon training. We are all aiming to accomplish something only 1% of the world tries to tackle, we all want to do the best we can at it and we all want it to change our lives.