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I Ran the NYC Marathon Without Training — Here’s What I Learned

In which one foolish runner attempts 26.2 miles with an utter lack of preparation.


Humans are good at many things, but we — some of us, anyway — are particularly specialized to do two of them: planning, and running long distances. The marathon combines both skills into one grueling package. It’s a 26.2-mile test of technique, endurance and willpower, one that can push body and mind to their limits. (Remember that legend has it the first guy to ever run one collapsed dead at the end.)

I’ve been running for exercise and fun since high school, but I’ve never tried competition, group events — or a distance of more than eight miles with any regularity. The longest run I’d made in my life was 12.5 miles, and that left me staggering and drained. But when the kind folks at Michelob’s Team Ultra hit Gear Patrol up to see if anyone in our office was interested in participating in New York’s famous version of the world’s best-known endurance race, I signed up tout suite.

See, the New York City Marathon is a beast unto itself in the running world. It’s not just 26-miles-and-change of asphalt and cement; it’s a chance to be the center of attention at the center of the universe. Hundreds of thousands of people crowd the sidelines almost every step of the way, cheering you on like you’re starting for the Yankees, the Rangers and (a less sucky version of) the Knicks all at once. Live bands and DJs line the route. For a few hours, the greatest city in the world peels off its calluses and reveals the good-natured soul beneath it all — and the runners get the best seat in the house. There was no way I wasn’t going to do it.

But I was going to do it my way. While serious marathoners do extensive training — precise workout regimens, careful diet plans, personal training sessions and app-based preparation — I decided to follow the Barney Stinson Method of Marathon Preparation. Here’s how you run a marathon. Step 1: You start running. Step 2: There is no step 2.

My normal life involves running three or four miles three or four nights a week. Plus, I’ve spent many a day walking 10, 15 or 20 miles through the streets of New York. How tough could a few more miles at a couple more miles per hour be? Just keep putting one foot in front of the other like animals have been doing for 350 million years; there’s beer waiting for you at the end of it.

So with a headful of nonchalance and a heartful of maximum effort, I knocked out the New York City Marathon. Here’s what I learned along the way.

1. Know the Distance

OK, fine, I did a little bit of preparation. In addition to my normal workout routine, I took a day a few weeks before marathon Sunday and attempted to run the equivalent distance. I only managed to run about 60 percent of it, but it still proved to be one of the best decisions I made in the lead-up to the race.

Pre-running (slash pre-walking) the equivalent of the marathon gave me the chance to better pace myself when race day came. I had a general idea of how far I’d come, and how far I still had to go. Better yet, it took away the looming fear of the unknown that comes with running your first marathon, the irrational flare-up that comes every time somebody gives you a surprised look when you mention your plans to bust ass for 26.2 miles. As The Little Engine That Could showed us all, there’s nothing like jumping from I think I can, I think I can to I know I can, I know I can.

If you don’t have the endurance yet to run it, then walk it. Or grab that fancy Specialized off the wall and ride 26.2 at an easy pace. Hell, hop on a Segway and zoom it. No matter how you do it, any means of understanding the distance when traveling at a human pace will pay off on race day when you’re rationing out your muscles and willpower.

2. Gear Up

Sure, humans have been walking and running long distances since the mid-Pleistocene, back in the days when Gear Patrol’s purview would have been limited to a section called “Fire” and a section called “Rocks.” But as the old Virginia Slims ads used to say, we’ve come a long way, baby. Human ingenuity has created all sorts of equipment that makes covering long distances easier (if not easy; that’s what cars are for).

I ran the NYC Marathon in a pair of Brooks Ghost 11 sneakers, which served adequately; they were fine for the first two-thirds of the course, but by mile 20, my feet were crying enough to make me wonder if I should have gone for some Nike VaporFly NEXT% hoof-covers instead. I knew I’d be holding my iPhone a lot during the race to take pictures, so I popped it into an OtterBox hard case to protect it in the event I wiped out. And with race day temperatures in the mid-50s, I popped a short-sleeve Under Armour T-shirt beneath the singlet that Team Ultra had kindly branded with my full name, enabling bystanders to clarify which Will they were cheering on.

3. Know Yourself

Gear Patrol’s own runner extraordinaire Meg Lappe offered a key piece of advice in the days ahead of the marathon: don’t vary things up on race day. Whatever habits you’ve adopted during your training (or lack thereof), stick with them for the big event.

If you don’t chug water while you normally run, don’t try and guzzle down tons of it at once. That goes double for food; if your body’s not used to eating when you’re on the move, don’t try and down PowerBars on the course, or they may wind up splattered on your feet a few minutes later. (I don’t normally get hungry during a run, but I caved and sucked down a couple of the Honey Stinger energy gels being offered by the kind volunteers; I still can’t decide whether the added energy was worth the stomachache.) If you like listening to Lizzo and Taylor Swift when you run for fun, don’t switch over to Anthrax and Metallica to pump yourself up for those 42 klicks. Familiarity is your friend.

4. Have Fun

If you’re reading this story and actually considering running a marathon without formally training for it, odds are good you’re not going to set any sort of record. So instead of trying to squeeze every possible second out of your body, why not dial it back a bit and enjoy the ride, so to speak?

After all, 26 miles gives you a lot of time to think, and a lot of sights to see. Especially in New York City, where the route carries you through all five boroughs (though, admittedly, Staten Island and the Bronx effectively get token stretches) and where there’s literally something new to see every time you turn your head. It’s worth running the NYC marathon just to see all the clever signs people come up with to cheer you — yes, you! — along with. (“Pain is just the French word for bread” was the most common witty one I saw.)

I may not have set a record, but I got to see New York at its best. “The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world,” F. Scott Fitzgerald observed; I can vouch for that sentiment — and tell you that’s doubly so when you’re hoofing towards it on that roadway Gatsby drove across. I ran past Ben Stiller, two feet away from him as he cheered me on. I ran past a hundred places you’ve seen in movies and a thousand places where peoples’ lives have changed forever. That’s the beauty of the New York City Marathon.

Oh, and for the record: I finished in 4 hours and 49 minutes.

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5 Things You Need to Run Your First Marathon


It takes time and effort to get ready for running’s most famous distance race. Having the right gear helps too. Read the Story

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