I ran a marathon on Sunday. Typically when I have a terrible experience with something I’m dying to blog about it. For some reason I wasn’t that way with the marathon. Maybe because it wasn’t as terrible as I imagined. Maybe it was worse than I’d imagined. I’m not quite sure. But, there are a few things I learned from running it that I wanted to pass on.
My Advice For Running Your First Marathon
- First and foremost, make sure you understand what you’re getting yourself into. If you’ve ever had surgery I think it’s a fair thing to compare training for a marathon to. You know how when you wake up from surgery feeling groggy, super nauseous, and in a lot of pain? Now imagine feeling that way and trying to run. And repeating this same feeling every other weekend as your miles build up. (Granted, it only really starts when you get to 14+ miles and as you’re building, but that still seems to be enough times to never want to run again.) Oh, and while you’re feeling horrible on a bi-weekly basis, imagine not drinking or hanging out with your friends anymore on Friday nights. Or really Saturdays either while you do your runs and then feel like crap. If you’re really ready to make that sacrifice and you’re being honest with yourself, then maybe a marathon is in your future.
- Don’t expect that training for a half marathon is even going to be comparable to training to a full. Yes, I ran 5 half marathons before doing a full and thought I was a stud. Well, there’s nothing like an extra 13.1 miles to kick you on your ass and remind you that you’re not. I don’t remember ever having the same exhaustion, pain, or necessary discipline when I trained for the full marathons.
- Find a buddy or a training group to run with. (Or even a generous friend that’s willing to bike or roller blade alongside you.) Yes, it’s nice to have someone to keep you company for the runs, but it’s even more important to have the accountability to make sure you don’t skip your runs just because you don’t feel like it. Because you won’t feel like it a lot.
- Pick a race with a flat course. Yes, it was great to do one in San Francisco and I saved money on not having to pay for a hotel. But, when your split for the half is slower than any half you’ve ever done and your calves are burning by mile 10, you know it’s a tough course and insanely hilly.
- Don’t expect the impossible from your sig other. When they give you their blessing to train for a marathon they don’t really know what that entails because you also don’t know what that entails. They don’t realize that you signing up to run a marathon means you’re both signing up to train for a marathon. You’ll have a regimented schedule, but you can’t expect them to change their diet, their workout routines, their weekends, and their social calendar to ensure you’re successful at your training. They didn’t sign up to run a marathon for a reason.
- Get a personal trainer early on in the training to show you how to strengthen your IT band, legs, and core. Then, stick with the suggested muscle building techniques. Your knees and hips will thank you. (Yes, your knee pain is really from a lack of muscle not bad knees. Or in my case – both.)
- Always have enough water for your runs, even on the day of your marathon. Always. It’s worth carrying the extra weight to not get thirsty during a run or to drink too much water if you come to a water fountain or a water station on the course. Not having enough and having too much can make your run miserable. And a slight wind or 5 degrees can change your water intake for a long run.
- Don’t schedule anything for early in the afternoons on Saturday because otherwise when you get started later than expected or your runs take longer than expected you’ll find yourself in a predicament the first time…and then making excuses to not run all the subsequent times you have afternoon plans.
- If your second toe is longer than your first toe, determine your shoe size off the second toe, not your big toe. You’ll look much better with toenails.
- Don’t start eating crappy foods just because you’re burning loads of calories. It’s really easy to do and justifiable. But you’ll quickly learn that junk in = junk out. If you want your body to feel well during the runs you have to treat it well.
- Don’t stop exercising just because you’re tired of running. After 5 months of running it’s inevitable that you’ll be tired of running. Even if you want to skip your shorter runs during the week, make sure to still do some sort of cardio.
- Scrape up the money to get massages after each building run. It’s amazing what it does for recovery and your body will thank you for it.
- Foam roller. If you don’t have one, buy one. If you don’t know how to use it, look it up on YouTube. You’d be amazed at how many sore spots you have and you don’t realize. Oh, and it’ll hurt. But it hurts so good.
- Have bags of ice in your freezer for an ice bath after your long runs if you want to function later that day. (If you don’t, you can skip this step.) When you get home from your runs start your bath with cold water while you grab the ice. Set your timer for 8 minutes and relieve yourself from all the pain you just endured. Then wrap yourself up in a blanket to warm up and take a nap. You earned it.
- Make sure your workout gear fits. There’s nothing worse than always pulling down your shorts, chaffing, blisters, readjusting your headphones, tying your shoes, etc. during the course of your runs. You’ll be spending a lot of time running, so put forth the money.
- Figure out the food situation early on – both before your runs and during your runs. Figure out what you should eat before you run and how long you need it to settle in your stomach before you head out the door. I found apple slices were wonderful for during my runs but took up a lot of space; Shot Blocks hurt my stomach, but they tasted good and I didn’t like Gu. Can you drink a sports drink or will it mess up your stomach? Know what to pack: antacids, salt, ibuprofen, caffeine?
- Plan how you’re getting home from the race before you start the race. There’s nothing worse than finishing a race, being sore, and then having to wait for a bus or a taxi to arrive. Or, worse yet, having to walk a long distance.