10 Tips for Running Your Virgin Marathon
The idea of running a marathon may seem daunting or maybe even impossible. But the reality is that any healthy person that is uninjured can run a marathon if they decide to do it and follow through with the training. There are sacrifices for sure. You may have to skip a Happy Hour or two to get in your training, but if a marathon has been on your bucket list here are some great tips to help you achieve your goal.
Choose a marathon designed for you. There are 570 marathons in the US each year. You have options. If you have the means to travel, make it a destination and chose an iconic race like the Walt Disney World Marathon in Orlando or the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Marathons, such as these, with no lottery, in one of America’s great cities is a good place to start. The courses are usually interesting, relatively flat and will allow you to put in your best time if the weather is on your side. Once you have the marathon bug and you desire a greater challenge like high altitude, unpredictable weather and more elevation gain and loss you can check out The Big Sur or Pikes Peak Marathons.
Get fitted for shoes. Neutral? Pronator? Supinator? One style does not fit all. There are reputable running stores in every city that will fit you for shoes. They will have you answer some questions about your own assessment of your running gate and they will watch you walk and run on an in-store treadmill. Then they will select various shoes for you based on their assessment and put you back on the treadmill to see which one works the best. When it comes to your shoes, skip the online shopping and go local.
Stick to the plan. This is crucial to your success. There are some great first-time training plans ranging from 16-20 weeks on the web that will sufficiently prepare you to complete your marathon with a reasonable time goal. Follow your plan to the letter. Hal Higdon is one of my favorite free online resources for successfully completing a race. When you really want to meet your friends for Happy Hour, but you are supposed to be doing a short 3-mile recovery run, choose the run. At mile 23, you will thank me.
Race before your race. "Race" is a relative term. You will most likely not be trying to win your first marathon, but usually you are racing to meet your own time goal. If you have only run in a few shorter races prior to your marathon, it is great to get out and choose a half marathon to run half to two-thirds of the way through your program. Replacing one of your long runs with a half marathon will allow you to see how you handle adrenaline. It will help you work out some race day questions like, "how far in advance to start time should I eat?" "What should I eat?" "When should I pee?" "Should I hydrate more?" The best part is that your post-race high will give you confidence and carry you through the rest of your training program.
Speaking of time goals… Having a time goal is a great way to keep yourself focused throughout your training. However, if this is your first time training for a marathon it is difficult to predict how fast you will be able to complete the 26.2 miles. A great resource is the McMillan Running Calculator. You can enter your times from shorter races and it will predict how fast you will run your first marathon. Is it always correct? No way, but it is a great place to start. As you get further into your training you will be able to adjust your time goal based on your long runs and that half marathon you have hopefully signed up for.
Pay attention to hydration and diet. You are not only training your body to run long distances over the 16-week program, but you are also using this time to learn what hydration and food works best for you. Not only is this for pre and post race but also during your race. Be over prepared on your long runs. Take more water than you think you could ever drink and extra food. As you get closer to your marathon, eat and drink exactly what you think you will eat during your marathon while doing your long runs.
Taper. This is written into most beginning marathon plans. Just when you start to feel like a running machine, your plan will have you back off and may give you extra rest days. This may seem weird, but your body needs this time to rest before the big day. Keep up your running, but follow your plan even when it may seem counterintuitive.
Wear proper clothes. I have seen runners overthink the clothing situation when faced with 26.2 miles of running to conquer. You may be really chilly in the morning, but I can predict once you start running you will not need those spandex pants you traded for your shorts. If the weather is dire, bring some layers you can ditch. You don’t want to spend 26.2 miles with your $80 jacket tied around your waist. Also, run a couple of long runs in the same apparel you will wear on race day. Make sure there is no chaffing and that you are completely comfortable.
Put your name on your race day shirt. This is a funny tip, but, again you will thank me at mile 23 when you are feeling tired and you come to realize it is the farthest you have ever run all at once. You might begin to doubt that you can keep it up for another 3.2 miles until the crowd starts to thicken and someone yells “GO BETTY!!” A stranger yelling at you to keep going and reminding you that you are almost there is the perfect remedy for your self-doubt.
Have fun and crush it. It is supposed to be fun. Yes, it is not for the faint of heart, but you have worked hard and if you follow the plan, you will reach your goal. Only 0.5% of the US population has run a marathon and now you belong to this pretty cool minority. Enjoy!