Running your first marathon
10 tips on how to prepare for running your first marathon
A few weeks ago, on 12th March 2017, I ran my first full marathon, in Barcelona. That’s 42km! For anyone running that far it’s a huge achievement. I never imagined that I could ever reach that level of endurance running, I never thought I could physically and mentally prepare myself for such a distance. However, even after all the training, 7 days before the race I was suddenly overcome with panic and fear over the sheer intensity of what I was about to take on.
In the lead up to the big day, I found myself experiencing a multitude of emotions; anxiety, worry, stress. And I struggled to sleep. After a bit of searching around online for advice from running sites I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone, phew! My feelings of apprehension, I discovered, are completely normal, pre-marathon paranoia as it’s otherwise known is common among first timers and even experienced pro-runners.
After reading A LOT of the advice online from experts and elite runners, I realised the only way to focus on a marathon is to push the negative doubts to the back of your mind. I began to concentrate more on my training and remember how hard I’d worked towards achieving my goal. Whether you’re also training for your first marathon or even your second or third one, you need to be prepared. Here are the best tips that helped prepare me:
1. Drink lots of water. The week before the race I carried a water bottle around with me to make sure I was keeping myself hydrated. It’s important to not just think of your water intake on race day but in the week leading up to it too.
2. Rest lots. You’ve trained hard and the final week is all about resting. You could try some short easy runs to stay supple if you prefer, I chose not to run the day before the race, but this decision is entirely up to you. Four days before the race I ran an easy 5km, then I kept myself active through walking and yoga.
3. Don’t change your usual routine. Don’t attempt any new exercises, don’t try anything that could cause an injury, stick with your usual foods, and now is not the time to be trying out new running clothes or trainers — keep to what you know.
4. Get a good night’s sleep. Not just the night before the race but in the final week too. Early nights should help prepare you for the race, and help to look after your immune system too. Go to bed early the night before the race, if you can’t sleep don’t worry, stay in bed and rest, try reading to help with relaxation.
5. Eat normally. Now is definitely the wrong time to be trying new foods that your body is not used to. Eat predictable or bland foods that won’t cause any upset to your digestive system. Load up on carbs and try to avoid fatty and high fibre foods. Don’t overeat the night before the race, or it could leave you feeling bloated and lethargic, avoid eating too late the night before, your body should have time to digest the food.
6. Check the course map and try to become familiar with it, make a mental note of where the water stations and toilets are, get to know where the easy parts are and the harder parts — the hills! Arrange where your family or friends can come and watch you run — there’s nothing more motivating than seeing a familiar face in the crowd to cheer you on.
7. Plan your pace. Know in advance how fast you’re going to run and the realistic time you’re aiming for, or whether or not you will run with a pacer. It’s good to get a rough idea of this is your head and then readjust it on the day if need be.
8. Plan your travel. How will you get to the marathon starting line? Don’t leave this until the night before. Plan how much time you will need to allow for this. The last thing you want is to be late.
9. Get your stuff organized the night before. Check the weather forecast so you can plan what to wear. Pack up your post-race bag with the things you’ll need immediately after; warm clothes, snacks, fluids etc. Remember safety pins for your race number. You don’t want to be stressing about all of these things on the day. Set your alarm early for the day of the race, give your body enough time to wake up properly.
10. Don’t worry. Nerves will start to take over at some point and that’s natural, remember all of the training you’ve done to get to this point and the hard work that you’ve endured.
“Always concentrate on how far you’ve come, rather than how far you have left to go.”
Finally, try to relax. Make sure you’re surrounded by people who support you and the challenge you’re about to undertake. Positivity is what you need most. Remember, you’ve trained for this, you’ve worked hard and you can do it! Whatever the outcome on the day, it’s important to take time after the race to reflect on what you’ve achieved and be proud of it, it’s a huge distance to run and you’re putting your body through a lot physically.
I’ve just started running again after post-race recovery and I’m already setting a training plan for my next race. If you‘re running your first marathon, good luck and don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the race! If you have more tips, I’d love to hear from you!
I’d like to add that I’m no marathon expert, all of the information above is what I’ve gathered from other marathon runners and what worked specifically for me. No two runners are the same and what worked for me may not work for you (and vice versa). I recommend seeking expert advice if there is a particular aspect of your training/diet you are worried about.
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Davina lives on the Mediterranean island of Malta where she works as a UX designer. Originally from the UK she has also lived in Barcelona. See some of her work here: www.davinaspriggs.com