A few weeks ago, I ran my first marathon. It was one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. No matter how successful my training had gone or how prepared I was for race day, I’ve learned that nothing prepares you for a marathon better than actually running one. I learned so much that day that I’m most definitely going to take with me as I train for my next.
Here are some of my takeaways and tips that I gathered from my first marathon:
1. I carried my water and it was one of the smartest decisions that I made. It was hot. I was sweating constantly and my face was caked in salt. Having a water bottle to drink from consistently probably prevented me from dehydration. I also liked that I could take a sip when necessary, rather than try to choke down a full cup at the water stations.
2. Your nutrition should be easy to eat/drink.
I trained with, and ate chewable food during the race. I would strongly advise against this. I had such a tough time chewing and swallowing at race pace, yet drinking was no problem at all. I would highly recommend going with a drinkable or less-solid form of nutrition for a race (like GUs, gels or gummies that you can suck on).
3. Hire a coach – especially if you have a time goal or want to improve a previous marathon time. While I haven’t trained for a marathon without a coach, I can tell you that my training plan would look nothing like it actually did if I didn’t have one. My coach pushed me way out of my comfort zone (by introducing moderate to difficult speed work, hills, and running at pace), challenged me to try new forms of cross training (like swimming and spinning), and provided feedback to my questions, concerns and doubts. Throughout the coaching process, I PRd my half marathon time by 15 minutes!
4. Stretch and foam roll. Before training for a marathon, I was convinced that I was of the population that just didn’t need to stretch. I thought that any pains or tightness would go away if I left it alone or continued to train on it.
While I didn’t sustain any injuries during training, a few aches and pains that had been persisting for a month or two went away almost completely and immediately after I began to foam roll and stretch every morning and after every run. It can be time consuming, but it’s time well spent and it absolutely an investment in your running future.
5. Understand that anything can happen. This sounds like an obvious one, but it really helps to go into a race with multiple (or backup) goals in mind. Just as this could be your best race ever, it could also be far from it. The race will be much more enjoyable if you still have something to work towards if your A goal becomes unattainable.
6. Strength train. 26.2 miles is a massive distance for your body to cover. It will get stressed, it will get tired – and when it does, it’s likely to rely on other lesser-used (during running) muscles to aid it. Strength training will help strengthen all of your muscles, including those used during running, so that when you do get tired, your backup muscles can carry their own. In addition, training your primary running muscles will help strengthen your form and prevent injury.
7. Smile. I’m serious! You’ll enjoy yourself much more if you smile, others will be encouraged by your enthusiasm, and your race photos will turn out better. I’m sure the volunteers would also love to soak in your happiness!
8. Find a support system. Having family and friends to cheer for you along the course is one of the best motivators. Not only did I get to look forward to “big” miles (like 13.1 and 20), I also got to look forward to other miles – the ones where I would see my family. They would then jump in the car and drive ahead, screaming more support from the van! The race did get difficult, but seeing people that I loved there to celebrate me and my accomplishment was one of the best parts of the day.
While I opted to carry almost everything that I needed, I saw many other runners swap out nutrition and water bottles with their family members/friends. I loved that idea. I had handed my phone and headphones to my sister so that she could offer it to me at mile 20. I ended up foregoing the offer at the time, but I was so happy that I had the option of music for the last 6 miles.
As always, everyone’s experience during a race will be different as will everyone’s training. Remember that you’ll learn new and different things during your race. Write about your experience – that way you can reflect on it and learn from any mistakes that were made. I hope these tips are helpful to readers out there looking to run their first (or next) marathon!
Kelsey is a graphic designer, blogger, and runner from New England. She's a lover of adventure, food and mornings. In addition to running her blog Spice & Dice, Kelsey's latest ventures are designing a cookbook and training for a marathon.Stretching Photo Credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com