Upgrade Your Race Distance in 2017: The 40 for 40 Challenge is Worth it

Contributed by Erin Garvey, a 2017 Ambassador for The San Francisco Marathon

As runners, we all have felt the sentiment that time sure flies when you’re having fun, and The San Francisco Marathon is feeling the same as it celebrates the 40th anniversary of the SF races this July. The San Francisco Marathon weekend stands out from many other races for tons of reasons, but among them is that runners have a huge selection of race distances from which they can choose to tackle over the weekend: a fast 5K, an elevated and scenic half marathon, a flatter and faster half marathon, a gorgeous full 26.2 mile marathon, or (reserved for the especially ambitious) 52.4 mile ultramarathon. As July starts to creep ever closer, now is a great time to decide which distance you want to tackle at this year’s race.

Before you commit to doing the same ol’, same ol’ this year, allow me to put a chip on your shoulder. What if this were the year you really went outside your comfort zone at SF?

What if this were the year that you committed yourself to doing something that you never thought you could do?

What if this were the year that you surprised yourself and blew all your self-imposed expectations and limitations out of the water?

If you’re going to go big, The San Francisco Marathon is the place to do it.

40 for 40 Challenge

In celebration of The San Francisco Marathon’s 40th anniversary in 2017, this year, the race is offering participants an opportunity to participate in the 40 for 40 Challenge. You can read more details about the challenge here, but the gist of it is that runners log at least 39.3 miles over the course of two TSFM races, including one race in 2017. The Challenge is an opportunity for us to (unsurprisingly) challenge ourselves into tackling a race distance we haven’t done before. Here are some examples of how to achieve the 40 for 40 Challenge:

  • If you have run the full 26.2 at The San Francisco Marathon in the past, you can earn the 40 for 40 Challenge medal by completing another Full in 2017, or either the 1st or 2nd Half Marathon.
  • If you have run either the 1st or 2nd Half Marathon in the past, challenge yourself by upgrading to the Full Marathon in 2017.
  • If you are one of the few past finishers of the Ultramarathon, you can run any distance at the 2017 San Francisco Marathon (even the 5K!) to earn the challenge medal.

Running is an excellent avenue for self-improvement because at the end of the day, you get out of it what you put into it. A friend once called this philosophy the Coke bottle theory: no deposit, no return. With running and training for endurance events like The San Francisco Marathon, it’s the same general principle: we get out of it what we put into it.

Many runners, me included, sometimes pigeonhole ourselves into thinking that I can’t run that distance because _____ or I can’t run this pace because _______ or any other number of outright lies. The truth of the matter is simply that we become comfortable and complacent. For example, if you know without a doubt that you can run a 5K, there’s safety in that. Training for a half marathon becomes scary and intimidating because the jump from 3.1 miles to 13.1 is enormous; it’s definitely doable, but at first glance, it’s pretty damn daunting. Going from 3.1 to 13.1 makes you realize (perhaps for the first time) that there’s a chance you might fail, or that it might be tough, or that you won’t finish. The same goes for jumping from the half marathon to the full marathon (or ultramarathon) distances. If you’ve already run tons and tons of 5Ks or half marathons in your day, you obviously know you can do it. You probably feel a sense of security and belonging in that distance and simply can’t fathom going to the next level, the marathon or ultramarathon.

My take? Precisely because you think you might fail, or you think it’ll be tough, or you think you might not even finish the thing: these are the reasons why you should take the plunge this year and tackle a new (read: longer) distance at the 2017 San Francisco Marathon events.

This isn’t me sabotaging you; this is me imploring you to make 2017 the year that you start to believe that you’re capable of more than you’ve given yourself credit for. Make 2017 the year that you finally start to venture out into unfamiliar territory — precisely because it is scary and intimidating — because as any marathoner can tell you, there is an immense amount of joy, satisfaction, exhilaration, and hard work in the process. If the shorter distances are where you find comfort, you’re shortchanging yourself the opportunity to grow, to be challenged, and to see how you can liberate yourself from your self-imposed restrictions. Give yourself the opportunity to try, and if I were a betting woman, I’d bet that you will be pleasantly surprised by what you’re capable of doing.

RUN365 - The Official Training Program for The San Francisco Marathon

One more logistical note worth mentioning: surely, there are important considerations that you should take when transitioning from training for shorter distances (5K, 13.1) to the longer distances (26.2, 52.4), including ramping up your mileage. Don’t sabotage yourself by going through your training willy-nilly; instead, consider using a custom training plan designed for you (or even working with the RUN365 team here in the San Francisco Bay Area). Similarly, if you’re not local to the Bay Area, find training groups near you that’ll help get you through the long runs. Just having the company of other runners each weekend, who are all committed to running double-digit mileage, can be the difference between you skipping a run and you showing up (and totally rocking it because that’s what you do!).

Realistically, in order to cross the finish line at The San Francisco Marathon with a smile on your face, it’s imperative that you put in the months and weeks of training first. The long run is arguably the most important component of marathon training, and it can (understandably) be the most intimidating, especially if you’re doing this stuff for the first time. However, as someone who has run over 30 half marathons and nearly the same number of full marathons (including SF twice), I can assure you: don’t be intimidated by the long run. Working under the expertise and guidance of a knowledgeable and experienced coach or training program will make all the difference in the world for you, and as a bonus, if you run with a local training group (wherever you are), you’ll make many new friends and have great company for your long weekend jaunts. Right now, you may not be able to wrap your head around running 15, 18, or 20+ miles, but let me assure you that the miles really do fly by. Dare I say that you might even come to look forward to your weekly long runs. (no, really!)

It’s my dearest and sincerest hope that perusing this post has lit something of a fire under you and has got you reconsidering your plans for racing at SF this year. I firmly believe that we write our own stories and tell our own narratives, and as such, whatever we tell ourselves we can (or can’t) be, that is the case.

If you’ve gone your entire life telling yourself that there’s no way I could ever run a marathon, make 2017 the year that you tell yourself — the year that you prove to yourself — that you can accomplish more than your wildest dreams. At the 2017 San Francisco Marathon, give yourself the permission to try something new, different, scary, and intimidating — and more importantly, the opportunity to go forth and kick ass! — and you’ll be amazed at the outcome.

Remember: If you’ve run The San Francisco Marathon (full or half) before, and you’re planning to run again this year, you can earn the 40 for 40 Challenge medal by registering to race by April 30th. If your two combined races add up to at least 39.3 miles, you’re eligible to complete this challenge!

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