So you want to run a marathon? Be it for personal glory, to jump start your fitness or to attract the cute girl in the local running club, you’ve committed. Most marathons will be held in the Fall, meaning that we are full swing in marathon season as I type this. As the weather warms, you’ll start to see runners hitting the trail, track and road in pursuit of their goals. Just because you’ve never run a marathon doesn’t mean you should be worried, I ran my first marathon last Fall and it was a very rewarding experience, one I want to experience again some day. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions I’d give to first time runners. Learn from my mistakes.
Seems pretty simple, but obviously you’ll have to be running. If you haven’t found a good training plan (Google Hal Higdon for starters) then you’ll need to do that in a hurry. Ideally though, you’ll have found your plan months ago, circled the day it starts on your calendar, and been building your base mileage until the program starts. If you haven’t been doing that, you’ll probably be in for a rough go. Seriously, get started now.
You’re running a marathon, not lifting one. True, but don’t believe that lifting some weights hinders performance. I hardly lifted last summer and survived the marathon. Thanks to lifting all winter and spring, when I run now, I’m putting up faster times and exerting less effort. Simple fact is that specializing in only one area, be it running or weightlifting, often comes at the expense of the other. A healthy balance will keep you feeling strong and running strong. You don’t even have to spend hours at the gym! Incorporate a few body weight exercises into your training days (push-ups, squats, pull-ups, etc.) and feel the improvement.
Cannot stress this enough, you need to have your nutrition in line. You’ll be burning through a lot of calories in your training, but replenishing yourself on empty calories is not the answer. Follow the advice that you’ve heard for years. Eat your fruits and vegetables, stay away from processed and fast foods, and drink plenty of water. Beer and wings are not an ideal diet for any athlete.
Listen to Your Body
If you’re running for months on end, eventually you’re going to start feeling some aches and pains. Overuse injuries are always a concern (especially for the untrained and heavier runners), so it is important to listen to your body. It’s not a crime to take a day off here and there. If you’re continually skipping long distance days to “recover” then you need to re-evaluate yourself. But taking a day to ice and relax is better than sitting out a whole month because of an overuse injury.
Buy Good Shoes
Don’t be cheap, buy a good pair (or multiple pairs) of running shoes. Go to a running store and get your feet measured and have your shoes properly fit. Once you find a good pair, buy another pair and switch off between them. This way your feet will not have to adjust to different sizing, material and anything else a new shoe brings.
Get Rid of Your Goal
I want you to keep this in mind for the actual race day. It’s great to have a goal in training, probably even vital, but if it’s your first time running a marathon, your race day goal should be to complete the race. 26.2 miles is a long distance, and until you’ve run 26.2 miles you don’t understand how difficult it is to accomplish. Anything can happen during the course of the race, once you’ve got one under your belt, you can comeback and focus on improving times.
There is obviously more that can be said on running, but this is a crash course, not a coaching session. You’ll notice I didn’t say anything about stretching. That’s because there is a ton of information of varying opinions on the topic. Personally, I hardly ever stretched, some days I felt great and some days I didn’t. Research the topic some more and let your body decide. As I said earlier, completing a marathon was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, following these basics will allow you to finish it a little easier.