I get asked a lot from a lot of first time marathoners, what should I expect before, during and after the race. I remember vividly my first marathon. Fargo, May 2009! It was cold, I was nervous, I was excited and probably most important, I was scared out of my mind. 26.2 miles is a long way to run. What if I couldn’t finish? What if I didn’t train hard enough? What if something happened to my (insert body part here) and I had to slow down or stop completely. Did I eat the right foods the days before? So many questions and so few answers. Of course I talked to a lot of other marathoners before my first one and attempted to pick their brains and somehow find a way to use their knowledge to satisfy my craving. As we approach the fall marathon season and many many of you will be venturing out to the many different cities and states to tackle your first marathon, I figured I would provide a little guidance on just what to expect…
Before the race. For about a week leading up to the race, more than likely you are going to start getting a little nervous and questioning your sanity for even attempting something so foolish. Why would you want to intentionally push your body to the breaking point. Why did you sign up for this? Nerves are a good thing, it keeps you on your toes. Here are my suggestions. One week out from the race, start your planning. What are you going to wear (start looking at weather reports) have something for warmer weather and cooler weather, also ensure you have something in case it rains. Don’t worry about your training anymore. There is nothing you can do at this point one week out that will prepare you any more than you have already prepared. Don’t overeat. Eat a nice balance of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and then finally some good carbs leading up to race day. DON’T CHANGE YOUR DIET!!! The last thing you want is an upset stomach the day before or on race day itself. It has happened to me and it is not fun. Get more sleep than normal 2 nights before the race and at least a good 6 to 7 hours the night before. Have everything laid out so that in the morning when you wake up, you eat right away, get dressed and out the door. Try to get to the marathon start early so you can warm up, stretch, take in the experience. Soak it all in! There is NOTHING like your first marathon and the feelings you have will never come back no matter how many more you ever run! Know your route. Have a plan about where you are going to slow down or speed up. Be ready to take on the course and the only way you can do this is if you know the course. I will start studying a course up to a month out from the race.
During the race. The best advice I can give here is run YOUR race. There are going to be others that are faster than you and others that are slower than you. You dictate your pace based on what you have trained for. Don’t attempt to go out too fast even though everyone else is. You will end up crashing and burning. Going out too fast is the most common mistake first times and experienced runners make all the time. We all get caught up in the moment. Most often, this is where most of the spectators are so we have this internal desire to run hard. Don’t do it! Run your pace. Run your plan. Hydrate often and ensure you alternate between water and whatever else the race is providing. Keep your mind focused. At the beginning everyone is talking, laughing and having a great time. You will notice though by about the 15 or 16 mile point that all of the chatter has died down. Those that were having fun, are no longer having fun. In fact, those that passed you way back at the beginning, if you have been running your pace, you are probably going to be passing a few of them. Walk if you need to. There is NO shame in walking parts of the race. I have before and probably will again. Walk the water stops to ensure you get enough hydration. During the race, especially from mile 20 on, parts of your body are going to start to hurt in ways you didn’t think possible. You need to know this going in, that you are going to be in a quite a bit of pain towards the tail end of the race. At this point, the race all becomes a mental challenge. Physically you have exhausted yourself, but your mind will get you to the finish line.
After the race. Cross the finish line with a smile 🙂 This is the first and only time you will ever say you completed your first marathon. The experience is almost other worldly. You just completed something that so few have ever completed. Acknowledge your accomplishment. Go get your medal and then eat! Eat, eat and then eat some more. Your body needs food to start to recover. Immediately after the race, all of your pain is going to go away because of the moment. It will come back though. Recovering from the race is just as important as preparing for the race. Drink plenty of water, get some good lean proteins into your body. For the next several days your muscles are going to ache and your going to want to stay in bed all day. Get up and move around. Your body needs to purge a lot of stuff. Just about any movement you make is going to be hard, just smile and know why it is hard. Accept all the congratulations from your friends and family. You earned it and deserve it! People are going to call you crazy, just smile and nod your head and say, damn right I am!
Congratulations, you just ran your first marathon!