Tips for Running a Marathon

As a new runner, there are many things I wish I knew prior to running my first race.  I can always look back on what I wish I did better or what would have helped but I can’t change my first race – after all the saying goes, hindsight is 20:20.  But what I can do is hopefully help someone learn from my experience. So to do this I have come up with a list of the tips for running a marathon that I wish I followed going into training.

Preparing for the Race

  1. Learn from others experience and take it seriously!
    • I know that is easy to say now but I wish I would have given everything people said online some serious thought.
    • Some of my biggest fears were surrounding having to go to the bathroom during the race because of what I read online; unfortunately, while I read away about my fears surrounding marathon training, I paid little attention to the tips like proper strength training workouts to follow or key stretches to follow – getting hurt or running hurt wasn’t even crossing my mind.
  2. nike trainingTrain in all types of weather!
    • Our marathon poured so I was very happy to have done at least one long run in the rain and some in the snow.  Not only did it help my mindset knowing I had already done it but I was able to expose my shoes to those elements as well.
    • There were so many people I saw with bloody ankles after the race and I think a lot of it had to do with their shoes never having been wet (of course improper socks, newer shoes, etc could have all contributed) but people don’t think about exposing their clothes to the elements.
    • I also had experience running in my rain jacket, gloves, and headband so I new what that felt like and knew that I was going to be just fine wearing it for the duration of the race.
  3. Strength Train your Legs
    • Being a former college athlete I took my strength training for granted (honestly our team’s routine for maintenance during season wasn’t that great) but I would go and lift on my own especially during the off season period.  But when I started my running plan I didn’t make the time to do all the training I really needed.
    • My advise spend time on your legs.  Work on your hamstrings, quads, calves, glutes and hip strength.  You do not need to spend a lot of time nor are you trying to “bulk”, you are just trying to strengthen your legs that are about to probably take the biggest beating of their life.
  4. Work on your Core
    • It goes right along with strength training your legs, work on your core.  Your core really runs your body and because you are about to be on your feet for so long you want to make sure your core is ready to hold your form for that extended period of time.  I love doing core but I could have done a lot more.
    • My advise try and do at least one thing of core each day.  Again like the legs this is for strengthening purposes not to get ripped or have rock hard washboard abs.  You want to make sure that you are maintaining and building abdominal strength.
  5. Stretch, Stretch, Stretch
    • It can be easy to get caught up in a three hour run and then have to get on with your life. I know unfortunately I did.  Maybe it didn’t happen after a long run but I neglected my stretching during the shorter runs that I would do before work.
    • I can’t even make excuses I flat out have never been someone who stretched for a few minutes each day and just took it as inflexibility but looking back I realize how stupid of a mindset that is.  Now everyday I stretch for at least 10 minutes and try to stretch in the morning and in the evening.
    • Getting hurt changed my mindset but I hope for whoever is reading this can just learned from my negligence rather than have to suffer the consequences like I did, especially if it effects your race like it did mine.

Race Weekend

  1. Practice what you want to eat during race day!power running breakfast
    • This is one of the facts that kept coming up on runner’s blogs that I would read during my training.  I agree with it to a certain point.
    • First, don’t be stupid and go have some strange exotic new food the day before the race – that is just silly by anyone.
    • Second, try out different foods for your breakfast or your pre-run meal during training.  I went back and forth between my pre-basketball-game meal of peanut butter, bananas, honey on 2 toaster waffles and oatmeal.  Ultimately on race day I went with oatmeal, Greek yogurt, a banana with a little bit of peanut butter, and half a cup of coffee.  I don’t think my training meals even included yogurt so that was a risk I took on race day.
    • Third, try out what energy you want to eat during the race.  Just having tried things will give you confidence.  If you have a sensitive stomach you should probably read many others blogs about testing out different products because I have a pretty good stomach I would say and ended up trying new things on the course like the GU gels and drinking gatorade.  Once I was in the race it didn’t matter to me.
  2. Don’t sit around the day before the race.
    • I recommend as you are walking around, whether you are in your own city the day before a race or exploring a new city don’t spend hours on your feet! We walked around for a good chunk of time and before we realized it we had walked something like 6 miles the day before we were set to run 26.2.
    • Also, be careful at the expo.  The way it is laid out if you do more than one lap you are going to be taking a lot of steps.  We tried to limit our time at the expo to half an hour.  We took one lap and we were out of there (it helped that I didn’t think this expo was all that great).
  3.  Stay hydrated the day before the race!
    • I have a friend who has run several marathons and she and her mom go to the gas station and buy gallon jugs of water and carry them around the day before the race.  This way they know how much water they have drank; as well as, make sure they get enough.
    • When you are walking around if you don’t go with the gallon jug make sure you are always carrying a water bottle that is full.  You want to be as hydrated as possible going into the race (not over hydrated but definitely not even close to dehydrated).
  4. Do not wear anything new on race day!
    • The day of the race is not the day to break out something new.  This goes back to train in all types of weather, how can you wear new items that you have never broken in during your marathon?
    • We saw so many people at the expo buying new shoes, running gear, having their knees taped with KT tape and then we saw those same people wearing their new products the next day.  Being a former college basketball player I know that my shoes take at least a solid month to break in and adjust to my feet.  I wouldn’t even think about wearing something new for anything longer than a light three mile training run at least a month out from the race to prevent blisters that do not have time to heal.
    • On race day we also saw a lot of men with bloody nipples.  Apparently this is a thing for guys but I think in the rain it became that much worse.  People wearing new t-shirts and wet clothes for extended periods of time just caused them to bleed a lot more.  Thank goodness I am a girl!
  5. Give yourself time to digest on race day!
    • I woke up at 345 for my 730 race to give myself time to eat and digest a little bit. When I woke up I ate in 15 minutes and then went and laid back down to try and get some sleep until 515.  In all honestly I didn’t really get much additional sleep but I also didn’t feel tired (thank goodness for adrenaline!).
    • When I got out of bed I made myself a half cup of black coffee and drank that along with more of my water. Then hopped in the shower.
    • By the time I left the hotel at 620ish I was all set (runners use your own inferences).
    • Honestly having to go during the race was one of my biggest fears and I was in the clear and left the hotel knowing I would be.
  6. race hydration stationsTake a little bit of water or Gatorade at every station during the race.
    • Even when you don’t feel like you need it, down the line you are going to wish you had especially because you can’t chug water when you need it and keep running.  I made sure I took a glass of something while running from every station (sometimes I took both the water and Gatorade).
    • By the end of the race my hands were so puffy from being dehydrated and soaking wet for over 5 hours that I could barely close them but I guess that comes with the territory.
    • I also recommend having some kind of nutrition whether it is the course offerings of gels or jellybeans and you take a few from the volunteers when they have them or you bring your own PowerBar, gels, granola bar, beans, whatever you use, it will make a difference because you are burning so many calories throughout the race that your body needs to know it isn’t going into starvation mode.  It needs carbs and sugar (in moderation).  I ran with just my sports beans while Brian ran with a protein bar and sports beans.
  7. Bring a change of clothes for after the race!Change of Clothes
    • After the pouring rain, running through puddles, sweating and just being in my clothes for over five hours I was so happy to have dry clothes to put on.
    • I recommend bringing a change of everything including underwear, sports bra, socks, shoes (I had recovery crocs), sweats or shorts, shirt and sweatshirt (depending on the weather).  I forgot underwear and a clean sports bra which was silly on my part but just wasn’t something I even thought about.
    • Brian didn’t bring an extra pair of shoes and socks so he had to stay in his race shoes waiting for me.
    • There also aren’t a lot of areas to change so be prepared to change in a port-a-potty.  I ended up changing in the handicap one so I had more room.
  8. Be prepared there are very few places to sit down!
    • I grabbed a chair from the med tent to put my shoes and socks on because I refused to do that in a port-a-potty.
    • Races really want you in and out of the space, plus I finished about an hour before the race was scheduled to finish so they were almost in pack-up mode. But even when Brian finished there was no where to sit down aside from the med tents.

I hope that my crazy list of things I wish I knew or things that I think are important when training helps out some first time runner or even helps out an active runner.  Running isn’t an easy sport but it is a sport with a huge community and I recommend joining a running community whether it is in person or online!

Stay tuned for my next post about the running blogs and community I chose to join – remember you aren’t going through it alone!

Races are about the Experience

marathon quotesTo say that marathon day was ideal would be stretching it to the extreme.  It wasn’t that it wasn’t an experience because I think anytime you set out to complete your goal of finishing something that you have been working towards for 18 weeks or more, you will have an experience and it will mean the world to you, whether your goal is to become a full marathoner or a half marathoner, regardless of outcome you will have accomplished your goal whether the result is perfect or not.

Looking back now there were a few variables that were not perfect but they were also outside of my control and couldn’t be avoided.  So on race day I just rolled with them.  As a new runner I learned you cannot control the weather.  It rained nearly the entire time I was on the course, was windy and was cold.  That was an element that I could not control so I stopped stressing about it once I knew it was going to be that way.  I also could not control the weather during my training.  We had one of the worst winters in Buffalo’s history and most of my training was done indoors to keep from freezing or risking injury.  I think I did 2 runs out of the whole month leading up to the race outdoors.  All of my long runs beyond my first half marathon training run were completed inside on the treadmill. You can control what time of the year your race is but once you have done that, you can’t control what you train in.

During the race my knee gave out around mile 7/8 and though there were things I could have done to prevent it during my training, I could not go back and change them at that point.  So even though I couldn’t run I did make up mind that I was going to finish the race – that was in my control and I was determined.  A marathon is a distance regardless of how fast you complete it.

There were things that were in my control that I should have done better but come race day you can’t go back so it is best to look directly at the task ahead.

  • I should have done a lot more strength training.
  • I should have done a lot more core work.
  • I should have done a lot more stretching.
  • I should have taken more than 18 weeks to become a “runner”.

These are all phrased with the term I should have done, but in the end I learned from this experience and if and when I do train for another race I will know better for next time.  I will take the time to just build a more consistent base and platform that includes running muscles which are really different compared to the muscles needed to make it through a basketball season. It is crazy to think that I was playing a different sport one year ago and now I have done something that I never thought I would. Remember this post? Well I have certainly come a long way since then and even though I didn’t run that half in Buffalo I ran a full in DC.

MarathonerWhat I have realized coming off of the marathon, now as a “marathoner”, is that you have to go in with few expectations and be willing to just roll with the whatever happens.  I didn’t plan to have my knee start to hurt during the marathon but I also didn’t let it stop me from finishing.  There was an awesome quote I read and I want to leave you with it – especially if you are training for your first marathon.

“You can keep going and your legs might hurt for a weak or you can quit and your head will hurt for a lifetime” -Mark Allen