What I Wish I Knew Before I Ran My First Marathon

February 26, 2018

As I finished my last long run in this long, long training session towards my third marathon, I had so many thoughts and emotions over the process. Part of me still can’t believe that I (1) did a marathon in the first place, and (2) that I’m crazy enough to do it again… and let’s be honest, will probably enjoy the heck out of it when all is said and done. The training has been long and grueling. We started in early Fall and have worked our way through what felt like every season in North Carolina. Work has been busy, our kids activities have been even busier, and life just doesn’t stop to train for a marathon! So I put together some of these thoughts, and some things I wish I knew before I ran my first marathon…

1. You can’t control Mother Nature

After our last 18 mile long run in the pouring rain, my running buddy in crime, Stephanie, said: “marathon training has been hazing us.” We have run in absolutely everything in terms of weather: heat and humidity, snow and freezing temperatures that actually froze up Stephanie’s eye lashes. We have run through rain. Not just the light misty stuff, but the down-pouring, soaking-through-our-shoes-and-blister-inducing rain. We started training back in the Fall and thankfully had some extra weeks built into our schedule. But that being said, you can’t completely run with perfect conditions in mind. You don’t know what race day will bring. It could be a freak heat wave in the middle of winter (yes, that does happen #globalwarming). And marathon training takes time, so chances are, you will be running in overlapping seasons. Be ready to embrace every type of condition Mother Nature might throw out at you, and be prepared to dress accordingly.


Wringing out my clothes post long run.

2. Don’t underestimate the need for fuel

I think it was our first big run after 13 miles where my running buddy and I realized that we had forgotten any sort of fuel. Gu’s, gummies… a pb&j. Nada. We had passed the half marathon point and were feeling a little weak. I always do long runs with a hydration pack, but I hadn’t remembered to replenish my fuel options. We had nothing and were at an out and back trail of mostly woods. We stumbled our way to the finish which thankfully was next to a local cafe. Our hands were shaking as we ordered food and drinks and we swore that we wouldn’t make that mistake again. When you’re running longer distances, you need to factor in the proper fuel to get you through it. From the start of your run to the middle and end. Try a few different options over the course of your training because you don’t want to be surprised with an upset stomach on race day! Know what your body responds the best to ahead of time. Seems obvious, but its a logistic that can easily be overlooked.

3. Training runs are hard. And long.

That’s what she said. No, but really, training for a marathon takes a ton of time! It seems like a given, but it’s actually something I didn’t put too much thought into when I started training for my first (and subsequent) marathons. But think about it. When training for a marathon, you ideally need to run 3-4 times a week, one of which is a long run that gradually increases in length and duration. Unless you’re freakishly fast and happen to live next to an area where you can run up to 22 miles, you need to account for drive time and the actual time it will take to run whatever distance that may be. This can mean that you will be out for hours at a time. Obviously necessary and worth it for race day readiness, but plan on preparing your family or significant other, and social life accordingly. There have been many a Saturday night out with friends where I’ve had to call it an early night because of an early long run the next day.

4. Don’t be afraid to taper

No, I still don’t completely understand the science behind the taper, and yes, I’ll admit the thought of tapering scared the heck out of me for my first couple of big races. But now that I’ve practiced running both with and without tapering, I’ve come to appreciate a good couple of weeks of tapering, especially before a full or half marathon. I do know it has given me that time to recover slightly, especially from all of those really long training runs, and build up my strength and energy for the big race day. I’m not going for any major placements or record timing per se, but I do know that I feel fresh on race day when I’ve done a proper taper. Here are some articles that I’ve found on the topic if you want to understand more about it:

It’s Taper Time
Tips for Nailing Your Marathon Taper

5. Take advantage of gear check

I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to check luggage when I’m traveling. I want to keep things as minimal as possible if I can, and not carry more than necessary around. However, I have found that utilizing the gear check at a race has been a life saver when it comes to post race comfort. I am no longer envious of people who have a fresh shirt or change of shoes (the feeling of shedding your running shoes after a race is HEAVENLY). I don’t consider it high maintenance, but it just makes me want to stick around a little longer after a race, especially if they have a good finisher’s area or live music… vs rushing to get home and then having to deal with an uncomfortable, stinky self on the drive home. So my regular practice for a half marathon or above now includes packing a fresh shirt for post-race enjoyment (perfect time to don that free race shirt), and a pair of comfy shoes or flip flops. I love to slip on my Oofos after a race. They may not be the prettiest but they feel like I’m walking on clouds after 26.2.

6. 75%* of it is mental

*Not a scientific number, but you get the picture.
As my wise friend Rachel likes to say, “running a marathon is all about time on your feet.” It’s hard work, but like studying for a test, if you do the proper training you should have the general faith that you have at least the foundation of what you will need for race day. You’ve just gotta keep moving forward.

Talking to my friends before a race, I hear so much (coming out of my own mouth as well) of ‘I don’t know how I’m going to do this’ or, ‘I’m worried I’ll fail’. We are our own worst critics, but we also have to trust in ourselves, our bodies, and set our expectations. I know I’m not going into my next race for a sub 4, or heck, even a sub 5 marathon. But I want to cross that finish line with my friend by my side. I’m sure there will be cursing and tears, but we’ll be spending that time giving each other pep talks verbally, and going into our own head and pushing ourselves to DO THIS. And we will.

7. Don’t forget to stretch!

There’s no feeling worse than finishing your race, and flopping onto the ground… only to try to get up afterwards. Make sure you stretch! Your legs, and body overall will thank you. Drink your water, chocolate milk, or whatever other goodies they’ll offer you as you travel through the finisher’s chute, then find a spot to park yourself to get a good stretch in. You’ve just made your body do a whole lot so treat it well.

All of the above are thoughts I’ve had or conversations I’ve had while doing these long runs with a rotating group of friends who are also at all experience and ability levels. I am nowhere near an expert in this area, but all this time running certainly gives you time to think through life’s mysteries!

As I get ready to approach the start line next week, I have to admit that finishing this training is bittersweet. While in my mind I say ‘I’ll never do that again!’, let’s be honest, if I got into the New York Marathon, I’ll be all over that in a hot minute! It’s been an incredible ride with lots of ups and downs, but I’m pretty sure all runners are at least half crazy in their love for the sport. Ask me in two weeks how I’m feeling and I’m sure I’ll have a different answer, though with enough convincing, and the right amount of race swag, I’m sure I’ll be ready to sign up for another.





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