12 training tips for your first marathon
When I was on the brink of turning 30, I knew I wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Rather than take a nice relaxing vacation, I chose to do the opposite. I decided I wanted to run a marathon. Here’s the caveat: I wasn’t a runner. Ever. The only running I was doing involved chasing my two-year old daughter around the house. The more I thought about my crazy, hair-brained idea, the more I realized that with the right training and enough time, why not me?
It wasn’t easy. Often, I had to convince myself this was fun, and, in the end, it would be worth it. If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it. Over the course of seven months, I learned about running and training properly. Here are a few tips for the newer couch-to-marathoners.
1. Time it right. If you’re new to running, give yourself plenty of time to train. If you haven’t worked up to running, give yourself a month or two to get there. Starting with a Couch-to-5K (C25K) program is a great way to build up your running stamina.
2. Location, location, location. Choose your race wisely. If you love the mountains, but the only elevation in your vicinity is an overpass, you may want to choose a race with few hills. Most races have course details listed online, so be sure to check them out before you sign up.
3. Increase your mileage slowly. Once you start moving up your mileage, the rule of thumb is to increase it by no more than 10 percent each week. This can help reduce the risk of injuries.
4. Use a training plan, and chart your miles. When I trained for that first marathon, I used a plan in the “Non-Runner’s Guide to Marathon Training.” It was great for beginners. Since then, I’ve also discovered Hal Higdon’s training plans. He has a myriad of plans, including one for those who want to incorporate more walking and less running. I wrote down each run on my calendar. It helped with planning and held me accountable. After I finished each run, I wrote a post detailing how I felt, what worked and what didn’t.
5. Rest, rest and more rest. When you start to get the hang of the whole running thing, you’re going to want to push yourself. You may even think that sneaking in extra runs won’t hurt. Trust me, it can hurt. You need that rest day to help heal your muscles. If you feel like you just HAVE to move, jump in a pool or do other low-impact cross training.
6. Invest in the right shoes. I have ridiculously flat feet with no arch, so I went to the local running store for a gait analysis and shoe fitting. I found a pair of shoes that fit like a glove. My shin splints disappeared, and I was able to improve my form. On the other hand, I’ve tried a pair that hurt so much I ended a four-mile run barefoot. Tip: Never run a race in shoes purchased the day before at the race expo.
7. Chafing is real and ridiculously uncomfortable. Cotton is a wonderfully soft fabric. Unfortunately, it is NOT the best fabric for running. It can cause uncomfortable chafing in places that you don’t realize exist until you jump in the shower. Wearing clothes made with wicking fabric and a little Body Glide can make a world of difference.
8. “Hydrate or die.” Camelbak’s slogan is a little on the extreme side, but proper hydration and nutrition are key. When you sweat, you lose water and electrolytes. Rehydrate with water, Gatorade, or some other electrolyte drink. Since you’ll need to fuel up, there are many different portable options: gels, gummies, energy bars, etc. Experiment during your training to figure out what works best for you. For me, Clif Shot Bloks and Propel worked the best.
9. Race as you train. During my long runs, I carried a Camelbak pack. It was great because it held everything, and I had water at my leisure. Since I was used to carrying it, it made sense to have it during the races. There will be plenty of water and Gatorade available on the course, but it will be spread out and may not be there when you need it.
10. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s race day. You’ve trained for months and you are READY! Slow down, turbo. You’ve got 26.2 miles ahead of you (and you will feel every bit of that .2). Take your time and establish a pace that you feel comfortable with. You should be able to hold a conversation without being completely out of breath.
11. Just finish. If this is your first marathon, you’re only goal should be to finish. It’s easy to become wrapped up in times, pace and the other technical aspects of running. Stop and remember why you decided to make this your goal. You’ll want to savor the moment you cross that finish line, regardless of your end time.
12. Respect the distance. Out of all the wisdom I can impart, this is probably the most important. Respect the distance. You are pushing your body to perform a feat that less than 5 percent of the U.S. population has attempted. When you step on that starting line, you are doing this for you and no one else. Months of training have led up to this. Don’t let your ego get in the way; you still have to traverse 26.2 miles to cross that finish line and get that coveted medal.