The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women

Get Off Your Butt and On with Your Training


By Dawn Dais

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Anyone can run a marathon. Dawn Dais makes it a little more bearable — and a lot more fun

Dawn Dais hated running. And it didn’t like her much, either. Her fitness routine consisted of avoiding the stairs in her own house, because who really has the energy to climb stairs? It was with this exercise philosophy firmly in place that she set off to complete a marathon.

The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women is the ideal training manual for women who don’t believe that running is their biological destiny but who dream of crossing the finish line nonetheless. Nonrunners offers a realistic training schedule and is chock-full of how-to’s and funny observations, which she felt were lacking in the guides she had consulted. She also integrates entries from her journal, sharing everything would-be marathoners need to know about the gear, the blisters, the early morning workouts, the late-night carb binges, and most important of all, the amazing rewards.

Running may not seem like a friendly endeavor, but with Dawn Dais, you can tame the beast and hit the marathon trail.


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Introduction to My Introduction

When you participate in a marathon, you are given a chip to attach to your shoe. This chip registers the time between you (or at least your shoe) crossing over the start line and the finish line of your race. After I completed my marathon, I left my timing chip attached to my running shoe. The chip would click click click against the top of my foot as I moved through my postmarathon life, a constant reminder of where the shoes, and I, had been.

I wore those shoes and that timer for about two years after my marathon. I ended up parting ways with both in Honduras, of all places.

I had traveled to South America to build houses with a Habitat for Humanity group. The trip was too expensive, I hadn’t convinced anyone I knew to go with me, it didn’t make a lot of sense on a number of levels. But I laced up my running shoes and headed out on another adventure anyways.

Before we started the actual construction of houses, our group leader took us on a team-building adventure to a ginormous local waterfall. This would have been a gorgeous display of nature’s power if our tour guide hadn’t intended on taking all of us into the ginormous waterfall. The outing went from sightseeing to near-death experience as we ventured, arms linked together for support/survival, under the biggest waterfall known to humankind.

The water pounded against our bodies, the spray jumped into our lungs, our heads dipped in and out of the river and waves. It all felt very little like the building of houses, which is what we had come to this country to do.

After we barely escaped the waterfall’s fury, our tour guide led us to a cliff that overlooked the roaring waves at the bottom of the waterfall. He asked if any of us wanted to jump off the cliff. (Shout-out to the complete lack of safety regulations in foreign countries, by the way.)

Most of the drenched group said no thank you to another threat of bodily harm so soon after nearly drowning.

But I jumped.

I am terrified of heights. I don’t like the feeling of falling. The river looked less than friendly. But I jumped anyways.

I was wearing my marathon shoes, the timing chip still attached.

The jump was at the beginning of our weeklong trip. But even after seven days, the shoes never dried out. (It turns out that the H in Honduras stands for “Humidity.”) By the time I was packing up my things to return home, I knew that my marathon shoes were not going to be making the return flight. They were funky, and I didn’t want them to funkify everything else in my suitcase.

So I left them there, outside of the dorms where we stayed, with the timing chip still attached. It felt perfect, in a way, that our journey together ended after I jumped off a friggin’ cliff during a volunteer trip in a foreign country. I’m not sure any of those things would have happened if those shoes and I hadn’t completed a marathon two years prior.

Looking back on my marathon training, I can honestly say that it changed my life in ways that took years for me to truly appreciate. I used to think that my marathon taught me how to tackle a challenge in a very organized way, and it was that skill that served me best over the years.

But now I see that organization is only part of what I learned from marathon training. The other part, the part that has to come first, is the jumping.

The looking out at a crazy goal, a goal that makes no sense, a goal that seems likely to end in failure or at least a pretty loud belly flop, and still jumping anyways. Saying “F it,” and taking that first step into unsure waters, trusting yourself to figure out how to swim.

All huge goals have to start with that initial “F it.” Then comes the organization and the focus and the work. Marathon training is all of those things wrapped up in one crazy package (with quite a few more curse words to be found along the way, by the way).

Truly, 26.2 seems like a completely ridiculous and insurmountable number of miles to run. And it is, if you were to head out and try to run it today, with no training. But instead you back out from that number and start all the way down at 1 mile. Then you move to 3 miles, then 5, then 7, and so on and so forth. And then all of a sudden (and by “all of a sudden” I mean “after weeks and months of grueling training”) you get to a point where 26.2 doesn’t actually seem totally impossible.

Once you’ve successfully tackled a goal as huge as 26.2 miles, you are uniquely prepared to take on just about any challenge or lofty dream that may come your way because you know any destination is possible if you are willing to take the little steps to get there. And if you are willing to take that first big step of daring to jump in at all.

When I wrote this book, my intention was always to provide new runners with a funny guide through marathon training and to offer them a voice that isn’t normally found in books with the words marathon and training on the cover. Judging by the book’s success over the years, it appears I’m not the only one who falls under the heading of “Reluctant Athlete.” Who knew there were so many of us out there cussing under our labored breath as we navigate those running trails?

For those of you just starting out, I hope this book provides you with some laughs between the long runs, reference books, and forced PowerBar consumption you are about to take on. I hope it offers inspiration when the miles are long, the hills are steep, and your knees are wrapped in bags of frozen peas.

Marathon training is a long, treacherous journey lined with blisters on more than just feet, mile markers that seem to stretch farther and farther apart, and finish lines that lead to more beginnings than you could ever imagine.

Let’s jump in, shall we?


I bravely spent many months embedded in the marathon-training world. Much like the reporters who travel with soldiers during wartime, I barely made it out to tell my tale. What follows are my stories from the frontlines (or the backlines, as it were), as well as a training guide for those who want to follow in my recliner-to-race-day footsteps. How does one go from being a couch potato to finishing a marathon? One consumes a lot of ibuprofen.

Just like you may be starting your training, I began mine with my butt firmly attached to my recliner. After a little inspiration—and a lot of delusion—I hopped off that recliner and decided to run a marathon. Then reality set in (as it has a pesky way of doing), and I began to realize I was going to need a lot more than a little inspiration to get me through my months of training. Luckily, reality made an appearance about the same time my running buddy, Chipper Jen, did. I called her Chipper Jen because she was chipper as hell and had an enthusiasm for running that bordered on psychotic. Yet, her insane love of running and my insane running attempts somehow came together and helped us both through months of training and the marathon itself.

I’d like you to think of The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women as your running buddy. It’s here to keep you motivated and on the running trail when all you really want to do is lie on the couch and see what Netflix has to offer you. Rest assured that this book is much better than my running buddy; unlike Chipper Jen, this book will never call you at 6:30 AM on a friggin’ Saturday and go on and on about how refreshing it is to run in the morning. This book is not a supporter of Saturday-morning chipperness.

Like any good running buddy though, it will relate to your running pain and will even bitch about it right along with you. As I began training, I also began keeping a journal of my highs (and quite a few lows). I’ve littered those journal entries throughout the book so that when you get tired of all the silly advice and information, you can just skip to one of my rants about muscle aches and/or spandex rashes and know that you’re not alone in your training struggles.

While my journal entries tell my marathon story, the rest of The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women is meant to help you begin to tell yours. (Hopefully your story won’t involve as many curse words as mine.) I’m convinced that if I can finish a marathon, anyone else on the planet can, too. And I’m going to help you. I know it seems ridiculous. I know it seems impossible. I know that many cable services offer video on demand, leaving you with no good reason to ever leave your love seat again. But I also know how great it can feel to get off your butt and challenge your body to do something other than set the world record for the least amount of calories burned in a day.

This book can help you attain marathon glory because it is unlike any other running book you will come across. Other books are written by elite runners who can run a marathon in the time it takes most of us to watch The English Patient. But The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women is written by me, and I’m about as unelite as you’re going to find.

Why take marathon tips from a woman who is the self-proclaimed “worst runner in the world”? Because it’s good for your self-esteem. When you’re in Week 10 of your training and your feet suddenly turn into brick weights that you must drag along for miles at time, do you really think you’ll find comfort and inspiration from a runner/author who could run from here to Argentina with a lethal combination of willpower and tremendous calf muscles? No, you need someone whose lack of real running talent or inclination will make you feel great about your own mediocre skills. And I am just that someone to make you feel like a star.

Your road to stardom begins with the training schedule (see here) that was devised by my marathon coaches. The rest of the book offers advice on how to avoid death while training for a marathon. Keep in mind that my only real qualification for giving this advice is the fact that I managed to avoid death while training for a marathon. Which makes my training a smashing success. However, I issue this warning in case, for some odd reason, you actually follow my advice and something horrendous happens (like you end up actually enjoying running marathons): I hereby absolve myself from any liability.

So let’s turn the page and get started on your road to the finish line. Get ready to test your limits, your drive, and your heart as you set out to accomplish a tremendous goal. In addition to this Oprah-esque stuff, you also might want to get ready to test your pain threshold, your PowerBar tolerance, and your comfort level with spandex on your butt. These are the things that will lead to the cursing I spoke of earlier. Good luck to you, soldier.…

Ode to Running

What’s the point of running?

What reason could there be?

Running twenty-six miles

Makes no sense to me.

We have planes, trains, and automobiles,

Helicopters, scooters, and boats.

And if you really, really need to

You could even ride a goat.

With all these options to move you

Why would you want to run?

Compared to running for hours

Riding a goat sounds like fun.

Running makes you sweaty

And tired and cranky and sore,

And running around in circles

Can be really quite a bore.

But the worst part of running,

What drives me out of my mind,

Are the Chipper Happy Runners

Who are Chipper and Happy all the time.

They get up at 7 AM

To run too many miles,

And whether it’s Mile 1, 5, or 10,

Their faces are covered in smiles.

I fear that I’m outnumbered,

And they’re trying to wear me down,

They’re trying to make me chipper,

But all I can do is frown.

But I’ll be nice to the Chipper People

And I’ll tolerate their smiles,

’Cause they have so much friggin’ energy

Maybe I can ride on their backs for a while.

Training Schedule

The Nonrunner’s Marathon Guide for Women provides you with lots of great advice from someone (that would be me) who has been in the trenches of marathon training and survived (barely) so that she could enlighten (or warn) others heading out to battle. But in addition to my wise advice and general sarcasm, readers may benefit from information provided by people who actually know what the hell they’re talking about and don’t gather most of their running facts while napping on park benches. That’s where the coaches jog in.

Jeff Oberlatz and Michelle Mussuto are the two patient souls who coached me during my marathon. They are encyclopedias of running knowledge, as well as kick-ass runners in their own right. As they coached me, the most un-coachable person on the planet, they offered advice, but didn’t push, and they were just all-around nice people. If I didn’t associate them with knee pain, I’d probably have them over for dinner (and if I knew how to cook).

Following are marathon training schedules for walkers and run/walkers that Jeff and Michelle created. There’s also a half-marathon training schedule if 13.1 miles seems plenty insane to you. Below the schedules you will find Jeff and Michelle’s guidelines for how to decide whether you are a run/walker or a walker. Unfortunately, given my extensive athletic history, which only included throwing a shoe at the TV to change the channel because I lost the remote, I didn’t fall into any category. So I just went with the run/walk method because I hear that variety is the spice of life. It is also the annihilator of muscles, as it turns out.

If you have the chance to train with real coaches, I hope you’ll find some who are as patient and run-happy as Jeff and Michelle. And may I also suggest that you find some as good-looking as they, because during the times when you’re lacking motivation and determination it’s always helpful to have an attractive person to chase after. And you don’t even have to worry about looking like a stalker. See, running can be fun.




Due to popular demand we have included a new schedule. For those who would like to stretch their training out a little bit longer (a.k.a., those who would like to spend their golden years with their original kneecaps), we have included a six-month schedule. Please review “Where Do I Begin?” here before tackling any of these schedules, even this long one. It’s a good idea to ease into such a big athletic undertaking. Heed the coach’s advice about building a foundation of endurance before you set off on your crazy marathon adventure. This will lead to a much happier end to your story than if you just throw on a headband and your iPod and head out hoping to turn yourself into a running machine overnight. That machine will end up in the shop rather quickly.




This program is not for someone who just popped off the recliner and decided to train for a marathon. This program is for experienced walkers, which means you should be currently walking 30–45 minutes 3–4 days a week, and you should have already been doing this for the past six months to one year. This will give you a foundation of endurance to build upon. Otherwise you will force your body to adapt to distance and intensity, which is a recipe for injury.

If you just came off the recliner, then I recommend that you start with a half-marathon training program.


To be in this category you should have some running experience (yes, jogging is considered running).

You should be able to walk/run a mile in 12–15 minutes.

If you don’t meet this criteria, then consider doing more walking.

Examples of walk/run:

Start with 3–4 minutes of walking followed by 1–2 minutes of running.

Gradually progress to 1 minute of walking followed by 3–4 minutes of running.


You should have six months to one year of running 10–25 miles a week as a foundation to be in this category.

You should be able to run a mile in 8–12 minutes comfortably (no huffing and puffing), or at what’s called a “conversational pace.”

There’s a big difference between being in good aerobic shape and being in running shape.

If you don’t meet this criteria, then consider starting with the walk/run program.


Every marathon has a different cutoff time when the course closes and you’ll be sharing the road with automobiles. The good news is that in that scenario someone may offer you a ride. But if you’re looking to actually cross the finish line on foot, make sure you pick an event that still has the finish line marked by the time you get to the end.


Consistency and low, incremental progress. Remember: The program is months long to allow for adequate time to go from zero to 26.2, or 13.1!

On shorter days, think of increasing your speed.


Whether you run, run/walk, or walk, form is vital to staying healthy and helping to avoid injury.

Keep your shoulders back.

Keep your arms at ninety degrees—swing them like ski poles. Avoid crossing your chest.

Open your chest (you want the maximum amount of oxygen available).

Look toward the horizon.

Keep your hands in lightly clenched fists.

Now, enough with all this educated and professional advice, let’s move on to the rest of the book!


The Decision

Marathon training begins with making the actual decision to begin training. This involves differentiating between “I want to” and “I will.” We all have lists, whether they be on paper or in our heads, of things we want to do: I want to visit all Seven Wonders of the World; I want to have a big family someday; I want to be bestest friends with Oprah Winfrey. Some wants are more attainable than others. I mean, if I asked Angelina Jolie, she’d probably tell me I can actually visit the Seven Wonders and get the kids at the same time. Of course, if I were to adopt a kid with Angelina Jolie, I might have a chance at the Oprah connection.…

The difference between “I want to” and “I will” lists usually lies in the amount of work inherently involved with the latter. Sometimes that work can quickly morph “I will” lists into “To hell with it” lists. Your job is to decide whether you’re up to the work it takes to move marathon training to the “I will” list. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. This is the first “I will” in what will likely be a series of “I wills”: I will go the entire day without being able to bend my leg; I will begin to dry heave at the mere mention of Gatorade; I will wonder if it is physically possible for my breasts to bounce off my body; and so on.

To help in your decision-making process, I offer some easy-to-follow steps (none of which will answer the breast question—I leave that one up to you).


Marathon training isn’t something to jump into on a whim. If you do, you’re likely to crawl out of it on your hands and knees. Before you begin, be sure to get as much information as possible about what it entails. Well, actually, let me save you some time and give you my CliffNotes guide to marathon training: “Oh my god, finishing a marathon will be so much fun!!” Fast-forward to the first mile,“Ouch;” run ten miles, “I can’t breathe;” run fifteen miles, “My sports bra is slicing my body in half;” collapse on a bag of ice at a race-day water station. The end.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If you’re considering training with a team, go to the informational session offered by the organization. Ask questions. Listen to the answers to other people’s questions. Check to make sure the coach is cute. You know, get all the important information.

To really get an idea if you’re ready to train for a marathon, take a look back at the training schedules (here). Then look at them again. Don’t just look at the 26.2-mile goal at the end of the training program. Look at the 300-plus miles you will have to run to prepare for the 26.2 miles. That’s what’ll getcha. The real miracle of training is not that you will have finished a marathon, but that you were even able to start the marathon after so many months of brutal training.

Now let’s stop looking at the marathon schedule and start looking at some facts. The fact is that millions of people just like you have taken on the challenge of completing a marathon. They have looked at a schedule similar to the one you’ve reviewed, and they too wondered how the hell they’d make it past the third week without ending up on a stretcher. But somehow they did it, and somehow you will, too. So as you are gathering all of your information, and you are feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed by it, remember that every marathoner felt the same way at some point. If you’re training with someone who isn’t overwhelmed, then they’re most likely delusional and/or extremely high. In either case, they probably aren’t bad people to know around Mile 20.


Before I began my journey to marathon glory, I had to decide whether it was something I really wanted to do. This was a long process for me. I was excited and pumped about the idea of completing a marathon, but sometimes “excited and pumped” can quickly be replaced by “hyperventilating and sore.” And that could happen during the very first mile of the very first training run.

I have a checkered history of starting things and not finishing them (college, my great American novel, that broccoli on my dinner plate). I grew tired of being the kind of person who talked about doing things instead of actually doing them. I really didn’t want a marathon to be just one more of those things.

So when I got a postcard from the American Stroke Association trying to lure me into marathon training, I thought about it for a little while before I made my decision. I didn’t talk it over with anyone, didn’t get other opinions. I simply sat with the idea. I didn’t want to utter the thought out loud until I knew it was something I really wanted to do and not merely a momentary surge of enthusiasm.

I’m not saying you need to be as Secret Agent as I was. But I recommend letting the idea settle a bit before making your decision. As with any major choice, it’s a good idea to sleep on it first. In fact, yes, do sleep on it. Because if you decide to train, that sleep is going to be your last ache-free slumber for a few months.


I’m sure there are some people who decide to train, read a how-to book, and a few months later cross the finish line. These people are not normal. Normal human beings are not equipped to endure chafing without the moral support of a fellow blistered being. It’s just not in our nature.

As soon as you make your decision, I recommend finding a friend or group to train with. Fundraising groups provide lots of support and guidance along the way, as well as the opportunity to raise money with your insane training. (See the Resources here for a listing of fundraising and training groups.)


  • "Dawn Dais is your average nonrunner who experienced firsthand what it's like to shake up the routine and train for a marathon--and finish it! This is a funny guide that provides needed motivation for a journey that can change your life for the better."—U.S. Olympian Jeff Galloway, author of the bestselling book Marathon
  • "This is the funniest book ever written about marathon training-an essentially absurd process that is taken too seriously by far too many runners. This is a must-read for couch potatoes who accidentally sign up for this ambitious athletic event and then think, Oh my god, what have I done?"—Jayne Williams, author of Slow Fat Triathlete: Live Your Athletic Dreams in the Body You Have Now

On Sale
Sep 10, 2019
Page Count
272 pages
Seal Press

Dawn Dais

About the Author

Dawn Dais is the author of The Sh!t No One Tells You… series, The Nonrunner's Marathon Guide for Women, and more. She has been featured by countless TV and print media sources. She lives in Roseville, California, with her two kids, one dog, four chickens, two cats, and the occasional mouse brought into the home by said cats. She is tired. 

Learn more about this author