10 Things To Know Before Marathon Training In the African Sahel

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Published: May 4, 2017


Ask anyone who’s done it before — marathon training is hard! Long, tedious miles trudging, rain or shine, as you develop the mental and physical endurance to power your body 42 km (26.2 miles) over hard, cold pavement. Even though more and more people are knocking marathons off their bucket lists, trust me when I say it’s a challenge for anyone.

Add living and working in Abuja, Nigeria, to the mix and the feat becomes almost impossible. At 850 meters above sea level, with temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius at night, one doesn’t need to visit the largest Black country in the world to know why Nigerians are sprinters and not distance runners. Yet that’s what I set out to do two months ago when I signed up for my first marathon.

Why I decided to run a marathon, knowing my adopted city isn’t exactly runner friendly, is still a mystery to me. Suffice it to say that it involved a love of wine and fine foods and an ever-expanding waistline, but this is beside the point. The past 10 weeks have been a roller coaster — emotionally, physically, psychologically and even spiritually. But with less than two months to go till the big day, I figure it’s time I shared some tips I’ve picked up along the way, just in case any of you feel like taking the plunge yourselves.

1. People will stare

Accept this now. Nigerians don’t run, and the ones who do don’t run very far or for very long. Speed walk, skip, jog a few steps — all this is fine. But pop on some headphones to pound some serious pavement? Good luck. Best word of advice: smile and wave back. You’re doing something few others do, and besides, most of the time people are just curious. Which brings me to point number 2 …

2. Some men won’t approve — and they’ll let you know it 

There’s nothing wrong with a few laps around the track or some hill sprints at the park, but when you come around the bend at the start of mile 4, the grumbling may begin. To be clear, I’m not talking about all men; some of my best running buddies in Abuja are guys. But make no mistake, I’ve been told on more than one occasion to stop running and that I’m hurting my body. I’ve also been scolded with “That’s enough!” and it’s time to go home to my husband.

I’ve even been followed and had men I don’t know try and take pictures of me. It’s something that no runner, especially a woman, should have to deal with, but it’s just a function of where we are. Let their comments be the soundtrack that pushes you farther and faster. Tip number 3 will also help …

3. You’ll gain fans 

This is the silver lining. Being the only person running around the neighborhood might make you stand out, but eventually those wandering eyes will become your biggest fans. On my last 16-miler (never thought I’d say that!) I had security guard after security guard telling me “well done” and how strong I looked that day. These are people who’ve seen me on my slow runs, long runs, speed runs and everything in between.

They know when I’m having an off day with slow strides. That’s when I get a “Sisi, you can do it o!” They also know when Beyoncé is blaring and I’m loving life — that’s when I get the “Ha ha, sista, you dey try today o!” What might start as a nuisance eventually becomes a rallying cry. There have been times I wanted to cut a run short but then thought, “Hey, it’s Tuesday and I haven’t seen Yakubu in a while.” Believe it or not, it’s kept me going.

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4. It will be hot

No, but really — it will be. And I don’t mean the good summer sun that you lie on the beach in. I mean proper heat. The kind that starts at 7 a.m. and doesn’t let up till 9 p.m. The kind of heat that accumulates around the equator and that you can’t escape because it’s also the residual heat left over from the heat of the day before. Three minutes into my first mile, I’m drenched in sweat. But what can you do? Grab a hat and a bottle of water. Actually, make it two bottles.

5. Motivation is internal

Don’t let Instagram fool you. All those pictures of runners doing amazing things in amazing places are just dandy, but when it comes to getting out of bed after your third snooze at 5:30 a.m., all that visual inspiration goes out the window. Don’t expect someone else to motivate you to do what you need to do. Your motivation has to come from within. This is a basic lesson for everything in life, but marathon training forces it out in the open. At the end of the day it’s you and your two feet. Dig deep and make it happen. That said …

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6. It takes a village 

No one achieves success by working in a silo. You might need to dig deep on your own, but never underestimate the power of support. Your friends might not be there running next to you, but don’t be scared to involve them in your marathon journey, and don’t be afraid to reach out.

Had a bad run? Call someone up and tell them about it. Had a good run? Share your excitement. Worst case scenario is that you’ll become that person — that one friend who’s always talking about running. But you know what? We all have that one person, so it might as well be you! Which brings me to point number 7…

7. Social media can be a good thing 

All the positive text messages in the world won’t change the fact that on Friday night, everyone and their mother will want to go out. Or so it will seem. Life can be boring when you have to head to bed at 10 p.m. to make your Saturday long run. Know what makes it better? Digital friends. You read that right. MapMyRun, NikeRunning, TomTom, UnderArmour — all these companies have amazing fitness communities based around their apps and fitness trackers. Check them out!

It may seem counterintuitive or antisocial, but it always makes me chuckle when someone in the world runs the same distance or pace as me on the same day, and this happens all the time. Also, sometimes digital friends become real friends. I met a lot of my running buddies in Abuja on the #gram. Hop on and connect with likeminded people. The cocktails will be there once the marathon’s finished.

8. You’ll need good shoes

Trust me, this is important. Your feet take a beating on a regular basis. Give them some love. No, it’s not a waste of money, and yes, you will notice a difference. Make the investment. Your shins, knees and hips will thank you.

9. And an even better bra 

This one should be a no-brainer, yet time after time I see ladies at the gym dodging their boobs like Neo dodged bullets. Trust me on this one, nothing is more important than adequate support for the ladies. A bad or ill-fitting bra not only invites chafing, which is any runner’s worst enemy, but also puts you at risk for back pain, shoulder pain and posture problems. Take the time to get a proper fitting and find something comfortable that supports you, even if it means coughing up a few extra bills to make it happen. You deserve it! And finally …

10. Savor every moment 

Running a marathon is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, even for someone who has run many marathons, because each moment is experienced just once and then it’s gone. The sun peeking through the trees, the peacock that chased me during mile 6, even the woman who made sure I got a flyer for her smoothies — each of these memories was a moment that lasted only a second and was then gone forever.

Relish them. Soak them up. Life is only as good as the moments we savor and share with others. Let the challenges and experiences come. You’re running a marathon, for goodness’ sake — enjoy it!

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About Lola Jemibewon

I'm a Nigerian-American (or is it American-Nigerian) currently living in Abuja, Nigeria. I work in export and trade development but my real passion is pounding the pavement and twisting my body into funny shapes i.e running and yoga. You can follow my Marathon journey and show me some social media love on Instagram and Twitter @lola_jemijem (click icons below).

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