12 Things You Need to Know for Your First Marathon

This past Sunday, I ran my first marathon. It was such an exhilarating experience that I would recommend to anyone thinking of committing to running one. It seems like a handful of you are contemplating whether or not you’d like to run one too, so this blog post is dedicated to you. I’m going to be brutally honest and share what I’ve learned (both the good and bad) so you can decide if it is indeed for you and if so, how you can make the best of it.

So let’s get on the same page right from the start here.

1. It’s going to be hard. 

You’re running a freaking marathon. A distance that would take you a half an hour if you were driving 55 miles an hour on a highway, except you’re traveling on foot. Assuming you’re training for your first, expect to challenge your body and mind like never before. I don’t say this to scare you or plant negative thoughts in your mind, just understand you have a hard, long journey ahead. I can promise you however that crossing the finish line makes it all worth it in the end.

2. It’s going to take a lot of your time. 

I wish there was a better way to say this, but expect training to pretty much take over your weekends. Once my training ramped up, I would run more than a half marathon each Saturday. On top of that, I was running between 3 and 5 other times during the week. Oh, and you need to prepare for those long runs just as you would marathon day so that means your Friday nights will have a curfew and you’ll need to pay attention to your diet the night before.

Okay, we got the cold, hard truth out of the way. Onto the good stuff.

3. Before you even start training, make sure you have good running shoes.

The best piece of advice I have for you here is to physically go into a running store (In Maryland, we have Charm City Run) and have them take a look at your running form to recommend a shoe that works best for YOU. Just go with the shoes they recommend and don’t get so caught up with colors/look because all running shoes are crazy colored. You should also switch out your shoes every 300-500 miles (around 3 months during marathon training). If you feel knee or shin pain when you run, your shoes are likely to blame.

4. Say hello to energy gels. 

Energy gels will be your friend, especially for your long runs. There are SO many different brands to try and each will affect you differently. I’d recommend going to a running/sporting goods store and picking up a few of each kind to try during training. I found the Clif Bloks to be my favorite, so I used those for race day. Remember for race day… NOTHING NEW. Stick to what your body told you it liked in your training. Even if you’re getting freebies along the course.

5. And say goodbye to your toenails.

When I began training, I had no idea it was a “thing” to lose your toenails. Kind of gross I know, but it will likely happen to you. I can tell you it doesn’t hurt, it’s more so just gross and weird. The only way to try and prevent this from happening is to buy shoes one size bigger than usual so your feet have extra room when they swell up during those long runs. Forget the pedicures too.

6. Find a running buddy or group.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time hitting the pavement, you might as well find someone to do it with you. I’d definitely recommend joining a training group like I did with Charm City Run. Not only will a training group give you people to run with, you’ll get a training plan, pre-planned routes for those long runs, and we even had Nutritionists and Physical Therapists come in to chat with us occasionally.

7. It’s about the distance, not the time.

Training is just that… TRAINING. For your long runs, you should typically run them 1-2 minutes slower than your intended race pace. (We were told that we should be able to hold a conversation without getting out of breath.) You shouldn’t be killing yourself throughout training, especially if you’re training in the heat of the summer. Focus on tackling the distance and don’t get so hung up on your time.

8. Hydration will make or break you. 

When you’re running such long distances, you’re going to be sweating A LOT. Make sure you’re drinking at least 64 ounces of water daily, especially the few days leading up to long runs. Hydration is crucial while running too. For training, I HIGHLY suggest getting a hydration pack (I love my Nathan Hydration pack) to make sure you have accessible water. I was worried about a back pack getting on my nerves, but it was the best purchase I made all training and I even wore mine race day for extra water storage.

9. Learn to control your breathing.

The main reason I don’t wear headphones when I run anymore is to listen to my breathing. My breathing controls my pace. You should be inhaling for 3 steps and exhaling for 2 steps. It takes some practice to get down, but I learned how to keep a super steady pace just by listening to my breathing patterns. You’re also going to need to control it if you want to run for 26 miles.

10. Not all runs are created equal.

You will have on and off days. You’ll have days where running is the last thing you want to do. You’ll also have days where you’ll be reminded why you’re doing this. What’s most important here is to not beat yourself up if you have a bad run. It’s called training for a reason, you are not going to be perfect.

11. Listen to your body and take care of yourself. 

I mean this in every way possible. Stop for more water if you run out. Don’t skip stretching after each run. If you feel pain, take it easy. Any pain that doesn’t go away after a few days, seek medical attention. Going to Physical Therapy is the best thing I did for myself when my knee acted up. They made sure my body was physically prepared for race day so I wouldn’t hurt myself even more.

12. Most importantly, remember why you started. 

As I said earlier, it’s going to be hard. Training for and participating in a marathon will test you harder mentally than ever before. Make sure you clearly know why you’re putting yourself through this in the first place. Your why will get you to the starting line and through the finish of the race. I taped my why on my mirror so I was reminded every morning why I was insane enough to want to run 26.2 miles.

Participating in a marathon is the best thing I’ve ever done. It was hard and there were times I thought I was actually insane for signing up in the first place, but it was an experience I will remember forever. Just remember to have fun, enjoy every step of the way, and take it all in on race day. Oh… and hit the damn wall before it hits you!