So, it’s been over a week since I completed my big goal of 2013 — to finish my first full marathon.
Since then, it’s been a crazy ride! Immediately after my marathon, I experienced a huge outpouring of support from friends, family, and co-workers which meant so much to me, especially since they were the ones who had to listen to all my talk about splits, paces, and tempo runs for the past four months!
When I took on this challenge, I turned to other food and fitness blogs to read about other blogger’s experiences with marathon training and completing their first marathons. Since I didn’t know many people who had run a marathon in my life, this became a great resource and inspiration for me. If they could do it, so could I!
I want to take some time today to address what I’ve learned and some resources for any of you out there contemplating your own first marathon! If you’re tired of my marathon talk by now, I don’t blame you…leave now and I’ll see you tomorrow for a non-running-related post 🙂
What to know before tackling training for your first marathon:
- You have to do your long runs. I followed a training plan that had me run three times per week, plus two or three cross-training workouts each week. During marathon training, you can get away with skipping a run or cross-training workout here or there, but you can’t get away with skipping your long runs. Building mileage is extremely important for success on marathon day, so whatever you do, squeeze that in!
- You need time. I’m used to getting up to run or hit the gym in the morning, so I didn’t think it would be that much of a stretch to train for a marathon. However, once your mileage starts creeping up and you’re doing mid week seven or eight miles runs plus 15, 16, 18, 20+ mile long runs, you need time. It’ll start to take you between two and a half and three hours (or more) to complete those long runs + the time you spend getting ready, driving to a place to a run, stretching afterwards, etc. If I was going to do a long run (15 miles or more), I knew I needed at least 3 1/2 hours from the time I put my running shoes on until the time I was back home after a run. And, it’s pretty exhausting to run 15+ miles, so the chances of me doing anything truly productive afterwards was pretty darn slim…
- You’re probably not going to think or talk about anything else for four months. As runners, we can’t help it…we just have to talk about running, even with non-runners who could care less that we found the perfect gel shot that fits in the pocket of our favorite running shorts and doesn’t bother our GI tract during a run. So yeah…I don’t recommend making any other big goals to achieve during this time of your life!
- You probably won’t be able to wear flip flops. I’ll spare you the gross details, but your feet will be in bad shape. And be prepared to say goodbye to a toenail or two.
- Respect the taper. After intense training for four months, the idea of taking time off is hard. I began my taper three weeks before my race, and the week of the race, I took some serious rest. I completed only a four mile run, three mile run, and yoga the week before my race…and I couldn’t have been more thankful come rest day. My legs were fresh, and having earlier 20 and 21 milers under my belt, I still felt confident.
- It’s really hard. It’s hard. It’s hard to get up everyday and squeeze in an eight mile “short” tempo run before work. It’s hard to have to say no to invitations to a party or ice cream out with a friend because you have a training run the next morning. It’s hard to be glued to your GPS watch to watch your paces, splits, etc.
- It’s really awesome. It’s awesome. It’s awesome to watch yourself move from considering four miles a solid “short” run to considering eight miles your “short” run for the week. It’s awesome to get up and run more miles before 7 a.m. than most people will run all week. It’s awesome to envision yourself crossing that finish line.
What you need to know about actually running your first marathon:
- Enjoy every second. You’ve trained for the last four months for this…don’t let it pass you by! This was some of the best advice I received, and I really took it to heart. I enjoyed the race expo, my pre-race meal, getting ready the night before with my sister and friends, and (gasp) even the race itself. When I was running over Pittsburgh’s famous bridges, I made it a point to look to my left and right and enjoy the amazing views of the city. It may cost you a few seconds, but it’ll be totally worth it.
- Know the course map. I studied the course map and knew that the second half of the race started with a big hill. (I don’t think I realized the hills never really stopped after that!) However, I was prepared for that big hill at mile 12, and that made a big difference. I also went against every piece of racing advise and purposely went for positive splits (meaning the first half of your race is faster than the second). I knew that I’d need that borrowed time later in the race, and I’m glad I took that approach or else I never would have made my four-hour goal. (Also, if you’re looking for a great pacing tool, check out Taz Running!)
- Expect momentum to carry you through the first half…expect your training to carry you through the second. One of the things that surprised me most is how difficult the last three miles of the marathon were for me. I had trained up to 21 miles, and I just assumed that adrenaline (combined with my training) would carry me through until the end. That distance is so hard on your body, and I remember seriously contemplating quitting less than two miles before the finish line. I was really surprised at the amount of people who had to stop and nurse an injury or stretch out or walk during the final miles of the race…it was a very draining experience. Worth it, but draining.
- The last few miles will be a total mental game. Just keep telling yourself you can do it! I had written Phillipians 4:13 on my wrist and glanced at it quite a few times in my final miles…at that point, your body will definitely want to quit and things that you think would help (like telling yourself “I did 23 miles, only 3 more to go!”) really don’t help. Keep pushing, keep pushing…it’s worth it.
- Expect an emotional roller coaster… You’re going to thank God it’s over. Then you might just cry (because of pain or joy or, more likely, both). You’re going feel like you’re on top of the world — you just ran a marathon! You’re going to feel like you can’t move. You might ask for strange things. (Ex. I’m never really hungry after long runs. After my race, all I wanted was a freeze pop and ended up settling for the most amazing shaved ice ever.) That’s all within the first hour.
- …for awhile. The day after the marathon was awesome for me. I was sore, but felt so blessed by all of the support and well wishes I received from family and friends. The second day after the marathon I woke up feeling like I had just been hit by a train. I was really tired and nauseous and just felt out of it. I later realized I was probably dehydrated because after drinking a lot of Gatorade, I felt much better. (Side note: Stay really well hydrated after your race! I thought I was drinking a lot of water, but I didn’t have any type of sports drinks, and those probably would have helped a lot.) The third day after the marathon, I must have forgotten about all of the pain because I was already contemplating running another one.
- You’ll feel a little lost. People talk about “post-marathon depression”…and I definitely have it. It’s difficult to describe, but when you lived your life for four months focused on a single goal and then achieved it…what comes next? You feel like you need a new goal, but you’re not quite ready to sign up for a second marathon, so what do you do? I’m still trying to figure this one out…
So, there you have it! It’s been a crazy journey, but so worth it. Thanks for being part of it with me!