There have been many times that people have asked me questions on training for their first half marathon or marathon. I have now run 5 marathons and seen the normal aches and pains of training as well as more detrimental injuries like plantar fasciitis and hip overuse so here are my tips on what I think a runner should know for their first endurance race!
Build Your Running Base
The best decision I made before signing up for a marathon was to be consistently running for 3-4 miles a couple times a week for a couple of months. Building a running base allows your body to get used to running both for your cardio and for your body with the impact that it goes under while running. If you are completely new to running, try Hal Higdon’straining programs to get you started building a base. I would start with the novice 5k and then move up to the 8k or 10k novice training.
Find the Right Race
Don’t go searching for the most difficult marathon out there. To get started find one that is fairly flat. I chose Chicago Marathon as my first in 2009. It was the marathon that got me hooked. It had a huge crowd and I was always surrounded by people. The energy of the crowd was amazing and contagious. However, if you are a lonely runner type of person, you may want to pick a smaller race so that you can have some more time to yourself.
Find the Right Plan
The No Plan-Plan is not a smart way to go for your first marathon. If you do this, you may end up never wanting to run a marathon again and getting hurt. Even if you are really fit, it is a great idea to follow a plan. You can adjust it to fit your schedule but using some sort of plan as a basis is a good idea. I highly recommend the Hal Higdon training plans. I used the beginner plan for my first marathon but midway through found I was able to switch to a mixture of the beginning/intermediate.
Get Fitted for the Right Shoe
The running shoe you have been using may have worked for your shorter distances, but it might be worth going to a running store to get fitted for a shoe. As I started building mileage, I found the shoe I was in wasn’t working for me and had to switch. I also bought 2 pairs. It is a good idea to alternate the shoes you run in so they equally wear.
If you train in only one pair of shoes, make sure you eventually break in another pair to use for actual race day. Keep track of the miles logged on your shoes so you know when it’s time for a new pair! If you run distance in worn out shoes, you risk injury! [Read Mizuno’s article on running shoe life here]
Find a Training Buddy or Your Motivation
I have to be honest that for my first marathon I trained all by myself. Dave would run with me for some of the shorter runs but at that time he was actually not into distance running. I found my solo runs a stress reliever and a time for me to ponder about what was going on in my life. I often ended up running the same route for my long run and it was a good thing I did because I would get lost in my thoughts and sometimes forget where I even was!
For my second marathon I decided to join a running club. This was one of the best decisions I made. Not only did they push me to improve but they became some great buddies to spend 3 or 4 hours talking to while we logged our miles for those long slow distance runs.
As I got more experienced in marathoning, I realized the importance of cross-training. Cross-training helped me not only prevent injury but also become a more balanced, stronger runner and improve my times. More miles does not always equal faster time. Be okay with not running every single day, in fact, you shouldn’t be running every day! Make an effort to fit in some cross-training! Incorporate cycling, strength training, barre, and/or yoga at least once a week–mix it up!
Try to Run Your Long Run around Race Time
If you have a 7 am race start, starting your long run at 3 PM every time may not be the best idea. Your body acts differently when you start your run at 7 AM versus 3 PM and you have to fuel differently! The best way to be confident for your race is to practice in race-like situations.
Test Your Eating and Drinking Habits on Long Runs
If you aren’t comfortable talking about bathroom issues…you may be after your first marathon. Every thing revolves around when you have to go number 2. What you eat and what you drink—you plan it so you go before you run and not have to make any emergency stops during your run. However, sometimes this takes some testing. Make note of what you eat the night before a long run and the day of. What is the right amount of time you need to eat prior to your long run to be most effective?
Fuel Properly During the Run
I am one of those runners that wears that really fashionable running belt with water bottles attached to it. Some people find the water belts to be annoying and would prefer to stop at a store to get water. For me, the water belt provides me reassurance that I have water and that I don’t need to stop. I found that my body does not like stopping for long periods of time during long runs. It’s more difficult for me to get started.
The races I try to drink water from the cups, I fail miserably and either have the water go down the wrong tube or I just completely miss. Like I said, I hate stopping so I would rather my water belt. If you are thinking of using one, test out a few different positions of the belt. I like mine more in the middle of my stomach but I know some people prefer the belt on their hips.
I also carry Gu. If you aren’t familiar with it…you will be soon. It’s pretty much what it sounds like and helps you refuel. Don’t wait until race day to try it because you may find you can’t stomach it and you need to find another type of fuel for the race.
Fuel Properly After the Run
If you want to get stronger, you need to fuel properly after. You work your muscles hard and then the next half hour to hour is the most important time to fuel with healthy foods. I often had a protein shake or banana and bagel with peanut butter after my runs or head to lunch after a long run.
Listen to Your Body
When you start training for your first marathon, especially if you are new to running, you will experience new things every day. Keep a training journal, whether it is on Daily Mile or in a notebook. Once you run the marathon, you can see what worked and what didn’t.
We all have those times we want to take over the world and sacrifice sleep to do so, but if you are going to train for a marathon and do it right, make sure you get your sleep. You are putting your body through a lot and you need that rest to ensure that you are getting the most out of your training and not getting sick.
Rest During Taper
During your first experience of the taper, you will go crazy thinking that it is insane that you are resting so close to the marathon–this is called Taper Madness! You will feel like you should be out there running to make sure that you can do your best and second guess all of your training. But whatever runs you get in two weeks before the marathon are not going to make or break your run, so relax. Your body is supposed to rest before the marathon.
Run the Race to Finish Not to Win – Have Fun!
Everyone wants to run really fast during a race and maybe even quality for another race. But for your first marathon, just run it to have fun and finish. Since your training never has you run the full 26.2 miles, you just never know what your body will do. And even after you have run a few marathons, you still never know what is going to happen at the next one! Just focus on trying to have fun at your first marathon and enjoy the experience you worked really hard for!