The 3-Part Strategy to Conquer Any Distance, According to a Run Coach

Photo: Getty Images/JGITom Grill; Graphics: Well+Good Creative
New York City-based trainer Meg Takacs' race day formula is one you've probably never heard before. Yes, the Aaptiv running coach advocates for negative splits, impeccable form, and the proper pre-race fuel, but she also has a three-part ethos on how to transform a 5K, marathon, or [insert distance here] into a revelatory experience that's about so much more than crossing the finish line.

"I look at it like this: The first part of the race, you run with your legs. You’re getting used to how your body’s feeling. The second part I always say you’re running with your personality; you're figuring out what your why is," she tells me. "Then the third part is all heart." If you're gearing up for a 26.2 then, according to Takacs' logic, the last 18 miles shouldn't just be a countdown to the post-marathon feast. She's calling for nothing less than a full-on metamorphosis. How? By using your time on the course to spark the conversations you've long put off having with yourself. 

"There’s something about moving forward specifically that kind of reveals a lot about yourself." - Meghan Takacs, Master Aaptiv and CrossFit trainer

"There’s something about moving forward specifically that kind of reveals a lot about yourself," says Takacs. Within this fluidity of motion, says the trainer, is the opportunity to problem-solve in ways the bustle of your day-to-day life just doesn't leave time for. Fighting with your S.O. about your monthly budget? Challenge you to come up with a game-plan (if not a solve) before your cool down. Out of ideas at work? Brainstorm of a few solid pitches in the next half mile. Heartbroken? Challenge yourself to dream up five super-kind things to say to yourself. "I’m going to try to think about the answers to that problem that I’ve never thought about before, and the only way I’m going to get through that is to keep going, keep thinking forward, and moving forward physically,"  the coach says.

From personal experience using this method, I'll say that treating your runs like a self-touch base has a twofer effect. First, the miles feel shorter (I'm thinking about my life, not my wearable); and second, each movement takes on a new purpose. In many ways, I'm discovering uncharted parts of myself, becoming intimate with my everyday anxieties, and, yes, learning how to lean on my personality as a tool of resilience.

All of this brings us to the "heart" bit of Takacs' run equation. I'm not sure if the trainer has ever read Haruki Murakami's book What I Talk About When I Talk About Runningbut surely this third piece of the running puzzle echoes one of the title's most famous lines, "Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice." It may be the slightest bit woo woo, but yes: There's some je ne sais quoi, mystical quality that happens when you couple self-discovery and running—just take it from Takacs and Murakami.

Before race day, here's how to make sure you're starting line-ready—no matter your distance, and how to fix the 5 most common injuries.  

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