Running a marathon has always been one of my biggest running goals, my holy grail. This October, I finally accomplished that goal via a virtual race. While I had hoped that it would’ve been an in-person race, I had a great (and emotional) experience. As with all new race experiences, there were things I felt I was prepared for and things that in retrospect, could’ve been done differently.
As a new marathoner (and new-ish runner), here are some words of wisdom for anyone else considering a first marathon.
The importance of training
Regardless of whether your goal is to finish a marathon, run the whole marathon, or get a PB, it takes training and time. While it might seem like a doable distance (and it is!), commitment to running the distance needed each week leading up to the race is important to stay injury free and have an enjoyable experience. While I had to alter my training to avoid injury and to accommodate all that goes on in life, it definitely involves discipline and sticking to a schedule to (at the very least) get long runs complete. During certain points of training, I often found this difficult and had to alter my weekly mileage. Given that marathon entries usually happen months before the race, give yourself ample time to both accommodate life events and training.
Train both mentally and physically
A marathon is not just physical endurance but mental endurance as well. Before I started, I was always confused by the statement people made of wanting to finish a marathon. How hard could it be to finish 42.2km I thought? It turns out, fairly hard. There were times where the environment (rain) and circumstances (blisters, stiff muscles and having to slow down) made me want to quit or stop. Even if you decide to walk the whole way, it is a long distance especially if you do not have support. I opted to complete a virtual marathon and so there was no cheering or other runners along the route. While it made a huge difference to check my phone once in a while and gain a boost of confidence from the running community, it’s definitely beneficial to have someone on the course with you to keep you going.
Know your route
Since I ran a virtual race, I had to create my own route. It ended up, that I had to alter my course the day before to include a route I hadn’t ever run. I ended up having to go up a lot more hills in the latter half of the marathon than anticipated. In retrospect, it would’ve been wise to at the very least drive the route so I knew where to turn and what to expect. Even in an in-person race, it’s still worthwhile to check out the race for elevation, where the turns are, and of course peace of mind.
Bring more fuel and hydration than you need.
During in-person races, I always carried with me a small amount of water and fuel “just in case”. When I ran my marathon, it was no different. In fact, it was unseasonably warmer than expected. Combine that with the fact it was a virtual race with no aid stations and it was the perfect storm for needing more water and having to carry fuel with me. I ended up running out of water earlier than my planned and calling my support person to meet me earlier in my course. While I can’t comment if this is needed on an actual marathon course, because I’m a slower runner and my goal is not to obtain a PB but rather to be comfortable , I found it worthwhile to have some extra fuel and water with me.
Use your supports
I wouldn’t have been able to complete this marathon without support in all facets. I was fortunate to have massage and physio sessions to prevent injury. I had family to watch my kids and to come support me while I was on the course and afterwards. I had moral support from a running community cheering me on when I felt like I couldn’t do it. With many things in life, you’ll go farther when you embrace those who want you to do well and will help you get there. Running a marathon is no different.
There will always be something you’re unprepared for
While these were some of the factors that affected my first marathon, there will always be something you’re not ready for. My best advice is to prepare for what you can prepare for and have fun. It may be your first 5K, 10K, half marathon or marathon but the experience will be brand new and unique. Remember why you decided to run and all the things you enjoy about it. Most importantly, have fun!
What are some of the helpful tips you’ve learned in running a race?