I never thought of myself as someone who would run a marathon.
I have always been relatively good at running. In school, I did really well in cross-country, and growing up as a competitive swimmer, I had excellent aerobic capabilities. But good enough to run a marathon… not likely.
But as it happened, I started a new job, in which I sent runners of all sorts of capabilities and walks of life to run cool marathons all over the world.
Being competitive and curious as I am, I wondered what all the fuss was about.
And so, I got sucked into running a marathon at the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival in September 2019. Here are thirteen keys tips that I learnt along the way…
#1 — You Need a Plan!
Antoine de Saint-Exupery once said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish”.
This couldn’t be more true for running a marathon.
You need a plan. A training plan, a nutrition and hydration plan, a recovery plan, and a race-day plan.
Stay with me now. Focus on the training plan first, and the rest will follow.
I can guarantee that if you just start running one day, with the goal of running a marathon, and without even a rough plan in place, you’ll get bored pretty quickly and give up.
Set yourself up for success from the get go, and create a plan.
#2 — Simply Running Isn’t Enough to Run a Marathon
Sure, there are many people out there who have run a marathon without any training whatsoever. Others simply run, and don’t consider any other aspects of training towards a marathon.
But my argument is, if you’re going to do it, then do it.
Once you get into the groove of running a few days a week, and you’re committed to your marathon, it’s time to consider those other plans.
Create a training regime that includes both running and cross-training. Consider your sleep patterns. Think about your nutrition and hydration strategy, and play with it on your long runs. Don’t forget about your mental and general physical health either.
I know there is a lot to consider.
The important thing is to not worry about implementing everything all at once. Introduce a new aspect of your regime every fortnight and watch your training flourish.
#3 — Everyone Will Have an Opinion About What You’re Doing…
And how you should do it or why you shouldn’t do it.
This goes for both what you’re doing in your training and what your plan is for race day. Runners love to give out advice!
Take on board what you like the sound of, and ditch the rest. It’s your first marathon… Learn your own lessons!
#4 — Setbacks are a Part of the Journey
If you don’t get injured while training for a marathon, did you even train for one?
Even the perfect training plan that eases your body into running harder and longer than it’s used to, won’t be able to prevent you from acquiring some sort of niggling injury.
If you’re lucky, it’ll happen early on so you have time to rest and recover. For me, it didn’t happen until 3 weeks before race day.
You won’t be alone, trust me. When you line up at that start line, you’ll notice half the field is carrying some sort of injury, and are there to get the job done anyway.
You’ll also face setbacks in your training regime that come from work or family commitments, or illness. It’s okay! Just take it in your stride and carry on with the plan as soon as you can.
#5 — Rest Days Really are Important
Never underestimate the power of a rest day.
It’s so important to step away from pounding the pavement at least one or two days a week to refresh your focus, and your body.
Rest days can be anything from doing absolutely nothing at all, or doing some cross-training in the pool or gym. Schedule your rest days into your training regime so that you remain accountable to stick to them.
#6 — Stretching is Your Friend
If you’re not a big stretcher, become one!
I recommend spending 10-minutes every evening in front of the TV stretching, rolling out your muscles with a foam roller or trigger point ball.
As soon as I implemented this ritual into my regime, I noticed my muscles recovered quicker, and my training became more enjoyable.
#7 — Your Longest Run Really Should Be Left for Race Day
You may think that to race 42 km, you must have reached that distance before race day.
When I heard that the longest distance most marathon runners complete during training is usually between 32 km and 34 km, I was floored.
I couldn’t fathom running up to 10 km further than I ever had before under race conditions. Not to mention, when I did complete 32km’s in training, I felt like I couldn’t go a single further step.
But you can and you will. Trust the process and follow your plan!
#8 — It’s Okay to Have a Time Goal for your First Marathon
Every other person told me not to worry about the time. “It’s about finishing” they’d say.
While I do appreciate where they were coming from, I’m a very competitive person. It was always about hitting a time goal for me.
If you’re the same, don’t let anyone take that away from you (trust me, they’ll try). But also remind yourself that it is your first marathon, and it is mostly about crossing that finish line. You’re going to run a Personal Best regardless of what your goal is.
#9 — Leave Enough Time at the Start Line for the Porta-loo
It’s true what they say about runners and porta-loos at a start line of an event… there are never enough.
I honestly thought I wouldn’t need to go before the start of the race, but sure enough, as soon as I arrived at the start line, I was nervous.
Make sure you leave plenty of time to use the bathroom, as the lines can get 10 people deep real quick.
#10 — Wear Old Clothes to the Start Line to Stay Warm
Most marathons take place in the cooler months of the year, and start bright and early. This inevitably means you’ll most likely be cold while waiting to start the race. The last thing you want is to be both freezing cold, and super nervous, at the start line.
If you have an old sweater or coat, that you’re willing to part with, wear it to the start line, and ditch it right before the gun goes off.
Any clothes that are discarded in the start area, or at drink stations along the course, will be donated to charity.
#11 — You’re Going to Meet ‘The Wall’
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression before of ‘hitting the wall’.
Often used in sporting terms to describe the completely unavoidable bout of pure pain you’ll eventually come across during the race.
I say eventually, because there is no telling exactly when it will happen, only that it definitely will.
For me, it was around 34 km. 2 km further than I had ever run. It was only 5 km before this that I was feeling amazing, and absolutely loving running the marathon.
Luckily, the wall usually greets you close to the end of the race. So hang on tight, and push through. You will get to the end!
#12 — The Finish Line Really is an Emotional Place
In some races, you can glimpse the finish line from a few kilometres out. For me, it was about 2 km away, and boy, did the adrenaline take over!
For someone who was aggressively cursing ‘the Wall’ only a moment ago, my legs were moving quickly!
I didn’t think I was going to get emotional towards the end, but I did. The atmosphere in the last 2 km was just electric. Everyone is cheering for you. The adrenaline has taken over. And hopefully, you get to see the faces of your support crew for that last little push across the line.
And when you reach the line, the pain will vanish and the emotion will come. Having a medal put over your head and everyone congratulating one another is such a cool experience.
Be proud of yourself, and wear your medal with pride. You just ran 42-freaking-kilometres!
#13 — The Journey is the Best Bit
Training for a marathon requires a lot of time, dedication, and physical and mental strength. It’s not an easy feat, no matter how fit or capable you are when you start your journey.
But, as cliché as it sounds, the journey really is the best bit. From the moment you start entertaining the idea of running one, all the way through to crossing the finish line, it’s an incredible ride.
So… if you’re still wondering whether or not you should do it, you should! What are you waiting for? It’s time to get to work!