Training and running your first Marathon can be one of the scariest and most intimidating projects you undertake in your adult life. There are so many questions about the training program and the race that you can’t know without the benefit of hindsight, so I want to impart some of the wisdom I’ve gained through the years or running and obsessing over way too many articles about running.
Use a training program and choose the right one
It all starts and ends with the training. This is what will power you through the race, so please use a training plan. Also, be realistic about your time and effort. Do you want a 4-day a week program or a 6-day a week program? Can you fit in 10+ mile runs on a weekday and at least 40-45+ mpw (miles per week)? Consider these factors and pick a program that you can feel confident about completing. If none of the programs look realistic, maybe a marathon is not right for you at this time.
For my first race I picked a 5-day a week training program with very low mileage and NO speed work. It seemed very manageable PLUS I didn’t want the guilt of choosing a 6-day a week program and missing runs. There are tons of resources like Hal Higdon that have a number of training programs that you can pick from!
Create multiple goals and be open to modification
Most people are just striving to cross the finish when they sign up for their first Marathon. However, it helps to have a goal pace in mind so that you can adequately pace yourself during the first few miles when adrenaline and excitement may want to carry you faster.
My first goal was to finish, and I know I’d be happy finishing no matter what the time, but I wanted to have some idea of how long it would take me. I thought a 4:30 finish (10:18 pace) would be realistic based on my treadmill runs at a 6.0. After a few weeks into the program I revised it to 4:15 based on my runs, and after I ran my last 20-miler at a 9:00 pace, my cousin (a Boston Marathoner!) heavily suggested I attempt a 4 hour Marathon.
I was terrified I would go out too fast and pay for it in the end, but the proof was in my training runs and she told me so. Turns out she was right, and I’m so grateful she encouraged me to modify my goal – I wouldn’t have had the courage to do it on my own!
Likewise, if you haven’t been able to do all your training and/or complete all your workouts, revisit your goal. It’s way more enjoyable to start out conservative and finish a race strong, than overestimate your abilities and suffer, walk, and limp the final 6 miles. Trust me! 😄
Believe in the training
Most Marathon training programs don’t make any sense, especially if you are a novice. Why do you only run up to 20 miles when the race is 26.2? Why are you supposed to run some runs slower than your race pace? These are all REALLY GREAT questions that I wondered myself. All I can say is some really smart people who know a whole lot more about running create these programs and somehow they work, so trust them!
Your training and adrenaline will carry you the last 6 miles and your legs will be rested from taper. Running more than 20 miles creates a higher risk of injury than any fitness benefits. Also, you should run your long runs slower than your race pace (something I did not adhere to as noted above). You need to train your body to use your glycogen stores for energy and practice being on your feet. Slower paces help train your body for these physiological benefits. Doesn’t make sense at first, but trust me, it works.
If you need more than my horrible explanation of the science, I highly recommend reading the book “Advanced Marathoning” by Pete Pfitzinger. I read it after my second Marathon when I was attempting to run my first-ever BQ (Boston qualifier). Understanding the science and the why behind all the workouts helped me feel more confident during the training and on race day.
For the love of all that is holy, FUEL AND HYDRATE!!
Many articles written by experts talk about how to do this. Please read them! This is the #1 mistake I hear people make when they have poor race experiences. Your body needs water and fuel every day! Now make it run 26.2 miles – it needs it even more!! “I don’t like drinking or eating while running” is not an acceptable excuse. That is what the training is for. Practice it so you like it OR become good enough to tolerate it.
Reward yourself after long runs
Ribs for lunch and dinner? Shamrock Shake from McD’s totally guilt-free? Or, my fav, a pre-race mani-pedi? All of these are great options. When your entire body is telling you to stop running during your first 20-mile training run (or for me, it happened on my first-ever 12-mile training run!), having a great treat in mind always can help you power through the struggle.
Even with these rewards, nothing is like your first-time training for a Marathon where every weekend you are running the farthest you’ve ever run in your whole life! For me, running a Marathon was something I never imagined I would accomplish, and reaching the finish line is a feeling I will never forget! If you do decide to tackle your first Marathon, I hope these quick tips are helpful. Don’t forget to join us for weekly motivation and information on #BibChat every Tuesday at 6pm PST/8pm CST where we also talk about anything and everything running!