I learned a lot of things during training and running my first marathon. In order to perform on race day you will have to train. This takes a lot of time, energy and effort. Here are 26 things I now know because I took the plunge.
1. It will change you.
There is something about a marathon that is indescribable. At first I told myself I want to run at least one. I felt like it was a badge of honor and I wanted that patch. I knew the marathon would be hard and there would be one or two 20 milers that would kick my butt. Through out training I had highs – “Wow! I am awesome”, “look at that pace”, “look how many miles I logged this week!” and lows – “should I even do this?”, “yikes that was painful”. I learned how to use the good runs to fuel the bad ones. I taught myself to dig deep and how to change my thought process. I found out how cool it was to be just me, the music, and the road. During the race around mile 20 I started thinking “what is wrong with me?” “why did I decide to put myself through this?” but then I remembered what an experienced marathoner told me while i was training… “at some point during the marathon you will question everything you know but trust that you are strong. Stay with it and the ecstasy of the finish line is near. Pain is temporary, pride is forever”. This got me through the last 10k. After I crossed the finish line I felt like a champion. I realized all the people crossing with me were champions. We just did this! It was exhilarating. In the days and weeks to follow I began planning my next goal… wait I thought I said was done running marathons? Yeah, you forget about all that once the pride becomes overwhelming. My mentor was right, Pain was temporary & pride is forever.
2. The running community is awesome – people are nice!
In training I spent a lot of time on the road. Getting in touch with the local running community really helped me through some tough runs. Some how they always seem shorter when there are other people around you going through the same grueling workout. Local running groups are great to reach out to – they’re always happy to have someone new join! Also, finding a friend to run with is great. I reconnected with a high school friend. We both trained for the marathon and now can share in the experience. During the race there was so much support on the course. People coming out to cheer not only for their family but for all the runners on the course. This is SO cool!! The people running are tired. They’re pounding pavement for 26 miles and they could use a good job, a funny sign, a high five, or a cheer. After all every single person running/cheering is AWESOME. Lets celebrate that! Toward the end when I was cramping in my quad (story for another time) I was in visible pain. Multiple runners turned around and encouraged me to run with them saying “we’re almost there, lets go”! I looked to my right; my friend was next to me and these people I didn’t even know were encouraging me. I then realized how cool this was! The running community is so uplifting and supportive.
3. When you think you’re done, find another gear.
You will be tested. I was prepared to be tested. Every single race I have ever ran I was tested in some way. During a marathon the trials are magnified, running becomes SO mental. More than I ever imagined. I was tested the same way I was during the half marathon but adding another 13.1 I had to shift my thinking. Yes, I hit points where I felt done. I just wanted it to be over. I thought to myself this gear is burned out – find another one. Some parts of the course I looked around at the scenery and people cheering. When that wasn’t working anymore I would go inside my head and repeat my mantra. Part of the race, about 3/4 through, I decided to kick it up a notch and pick people off to increase my pace. The last 10k I listened to my friend and the people around me encouraging each other. Feeling done is okay, giving up is not. I trained for this and I was going to finish it – all I had to do was find another gear.
4. Proper running gear is IMPORTANT.
Now here I am talking about running gear. Not mental gears. You know – shoes, socks, belts, headphones. During a half marathon I ran previously I experienced some serious blisters on my feet. Ever since I have been running in Feeture socks – no more blisters. I bought a belt to hold my phone and fuel because having something on my arm for over 4 hours running didn’t sound like fun. Shoes are so important! Yes, read reviews and have an idea of what you want as far as style and price. However, there is no replacement for going to your local running store and checking them out. Typically they will let you run in them; then give you options to compare. Tell them anything that has bothered you. They will watch you run giving you advice and a shoe tailored to your running style. Example, I had started to experience pain in my left shin. I went to my local running store and the specialist saw that I was pronating just slightly but enough to give me pain. I bought the shoes and the insoles she recommended – no more pain.
5. Proper fuel is IMPORTANT.
You will be hungry through training. On days that you’re running 10 miles you’re burning approximately 1,000 calories just through your work out. Now, I am not saying to go out and eat a tray of brownies. A common mistake is “I ran I can eat anything I want!” wrong. I have made that mistake a couple times. The goal isn’t to gain weight, the goal is to fuel your body with good healthy food, INCLUDING CARBS. Actually, especially carbs. During training make sure that you’re properly fueling. On the week of race day, carb load. With out properly fueling hitting a wall during the race is imminent. Although hitting a mental wall is going to happen if you’re starving on top of it – OUCH. My husband looked up how I should eat the week of the race and held my feet to the fire like no ones business. I am thankful! I got hungry and wanted to eat everything in sight after (as always waffles from Taste of Belgium) but didn’t feel like I would pass out.
6. Never run with something new on race day
If you don’t know how something feels when you run – do not use it. Test the outfit you will run in on race day. I tried a couple shirts that I thought were so cute but they rubbed my arm and over 4 hours of constant rubbing = chaffing. No bueno. Try your fuel on a long run, if it hurts your stomach that is not the one. On the course I was tempted to take a GU before the end of the race but I resisted knowing the pain that it could cause.
7. Have new shoes but not new new shoes
I went to purchase new shoes about a month before. For me, I like to have at least 100 miles on my shoes before I race in them. I feel like at this point I have broken my shoes in and I am used to running in them. If they are brand new you risk not having experienced all kinds of runs and there is a little unknown. Make sure to take these with you on your 20 miler if you’re rotating shoes – if they hurt that is a warning sign! My feet hurt any way, don’t get me wrong, but they didn’t and shouldn’t feel injured.
8. Train for what you’re training for
If you are training for the goal of finishing then running at least 3 times a week easy runs with one long run is okay. However, if you are running to PR or to get a specific time I would recommend following a preset plan that includes hill repeats, tempos, long runs, and easy mileage. I really like Hal Higdon’s plans which can be found here: https://www.halhigdon.com/training/marathon-training/
9. Don’t fluff off the taper.
I tapered for 3 weeks. This means at T-3 Weeks you start backing off. I did my last 12 miler exactly 1 week before the race and felt great. I started to get nervous about losing fitness 4 days before the race and told myself I was going to just do one more 12 miler. NO, TRUST THE PROCESS. My husband reminded me to trust my training. I had practically read every article on the internet and they all said the same thing. I was so nervous but having a fresh body on race day was worth it! I ran a 4 miler 6 days before, a 4 miler 4 days before, and a super duper easy 2 miler the night before just to get out pre-race jitters. This worked for me.
10. Rolling your legs is so important!
Muscles get tight, inevitably. Rolling out my muscles was something I originally didn’t pay attention to. Until I got deep into my training and was waking up with cramps every night in my calves. I went to my local running store and they showed me how to use a massage stick. I bought one and haven’t had issues since.
11. Stretch, Stretch, Stretch.
I have always stretched but more just because I knew I was told I should. I didn’t know how long to stretch for or how to actually do it. Properly stretching will help loosen up your muscles and make your legs more fresh for running and race day. The 10 minutes before a work out will be well worth it. Also, spend 5 – 10 minutes every night and this will make a big difference.
12. Every 10k new thoughts emerge.
1st 10k: I am stuck in the middle of people, there are so many people here. Wow, this crowd is driving me nuts but it is still fun, cool we are all doing this!
2nd 10k: Look at all these people cheering! Running through my city is awesome! The signs are so funny. High fives for the little kids holding out their hands! We are strong!
3rd 10k: I am a little tired… but look my family! second wind.
4th 10k: WHY. WHY DID I DO THIS. This is painful and I am donezo. Find another gear.
Finish: Lets do that again, wow I am a champion. These people are champions. Congratulations champions!! We are strong!!
13. Our bodies are amazing.
Think about it. 26 miles. Over 54,000 steps. 138,336 feet. 4h 30m. 270 minutes. That is running my 15 min work commute almost 4 times! It seems impossible until you do it.
14. Support systems are vital.
During training you will be dedicating a lot of time to running. I have a full time job, 2 kids, a house, and a husband. All these things take hours out of the day. Relationships, cleaning, helping with homework my husband steps up to the plate every time. Sometimes I had to run when I really really really didn’t want to. My kids would ask me if I was running and this would remind me of the example I am setting. You don’t become a champion by sitting on the sidelines!
15. When you see your family/friends you will get a second wind.
My friends mom was at mile 4 cheering and taking photos. What a nice start! My mom was at mile 6. She is a runner and she had been here before, knowing I am following in her foot steps kept me going strong. 1st 10k DONE! Then I saw my dad, husband, and kids after I was over half way through around mile 18. This gave me a very necessary second wind. Seeing them reminded me of all the effort I had put in. They reminded me how much love and support I have behind me.
16. There will rarely be good professional race photos.
Wow, yeah no burn mine.
17. Do take photos!
My best pictures always come from my family. Instead of taking one or 2 they take A BUNCH which helps to catch you in a good stride looking strong with your eyes open. Also, take some photos before the race with people you know at the start line. I like to have some before I am all sweaty and exhausted. Also take advantage of the photo opps at the finish line. After working so hard you should enjoy it!
18. You will be your best friend.
There is one person you need to count on. YOU. Support is important. Running buddies are important. The running community is awesome. However, one person is guaranteed to stick with you the entire race and on every single training run- yourself. Through out training I talked to myself more than I should admit. Sometimes out loud, sometimes not. I learned who I really was. I spent countless hours on the road and I took this time to try and focus on me. How do I become a better person? What are my goals? How can I help people?
19. I will wear my medal for the entire day.
Always. Every marathon from now until infinity I will wear my medal on race day until I go to bed. Going out to eat? Medal still on. Grocery store? Medal still on. Sitting on the couch? Yes, medal still on.
20. Find the positives and highlight those.
There are things I can pick apart of my first 26 miler. This is inevitable. I cramped at mile 20 making the last 10k a grueling finish. Instead of being mad about having to stop every mile from 20 – 25 to rub out the cramp I focused the fact that I FINISHED MY FIRST MARATHON. Things are going to go wrong, but focus on all the awesome things that went right!
21. Bring a change of clothes
My clothes were anything but dry. I didn’t bring a change of clothes, but man did I wish I had. There was an awesome post- race party that I went to. There were celebratory drinks and food, no way was i going to leave! I would have had a better time had I been dry.
22. There is usually a bag check
What is a bag check? I was clueless. Come to find out there are usually buses at the start line that will take your bag to the finish for you. I found out about this AT my first marathon, so I didn’t use it. However I used it for a half that I have run since and it was very simple.
23. Learn what you learned
Often times we tell ourselves something in the moment, but end up making the same mistake again. No, no, no. Don’t put yourself through that misery. If you learned that you get blisters in your cotton socks (like I did) don’t use them! Yes, running socks can be more pricey but making a small investment will save yourself the headache.
24. Be HONEST.
If something hurts to the point of injury STOP. If something hurts because you are increasing your fitness, keep going! You will be a better runner for it.
25. Running on the treadmill is (gasp!) Sometimes necessary
Sometimes it was icy out during my training for the Flying Pig which is a spring race. My long running routes center around a couple busy roads. When the weather was really intense I didn’t feel comfortable running outside, for safety reasons. Instead of calling it quits I took it inside to the dreadmill and although boring I worked through the mundane work out. Sometimes I would watch a TV show on my phone and the time would pass pretty quickly. Sometimes I would just run reminding myself that during the marathon there were going to be boring times. Either way not every run is going to be enjoyable and I was going to have to just suck it up. Just remember that when using a treadmill you need to increase the incline slightly. This accounts for the treadmill being a the lack of wind resistance and treadmills assist in leg turn over making it a little easier. I usually run at a 1 incline that I consider flat and move it up and down mimicking hills. Also, it is a great way to do hill repeats!
26. A little corny I know but… HAVE FUN!
Enjoy the people cheering and the excitement of race day. Have fun playing with your work outs figuring out what works and what doesn’t. Running may have its ups and downs but what I love most about it is the fun that comes a long with it. Notice the people dressed up in costume as you run by – wait is he in a shark costume? Notice the people on the side lines with signs reminding you not to poop. Listen to the local cheer squad laughing and handing out high fives.
Overall, this is an experience you don’t want to miss!