If you are running a marathon for the first time I commend you.
It is an achievement that a small portion of the world will ever consider doing and one that will intimidate a significant amount more.
I remember my first marathon well. It was the 2002 New York City Marathon and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
The only thing I did know is that I wanted to have a good time and try to finish.
I started in last place (32,189th) for charity and finished in 253rd by races end in 2.43.36.
I was on top of the moon happy with the simple fact that I finished.
If you are running a marathon for the first time it is totally normal to be nervous not knowing what to expect and hope some of these suggestions will help alleviate the stress you may be feeling.
1. Gradually build your mileage and try to increase no more then 10% per week.
There are a lot of runners running a marathon for the first time who think you have to run 80-120 miles a week to finish the race.
There are many runners, probably in your category, who run 30-40 miles a week and can still finish the marathon and run a great time.
Remember, the goal should be to finish the full 26.2 mile race unless you have a specific goal in mind and there are other factors that go into training for marathons pertaining to race pace but that isn’t the objective here.
2. Sleep well.
You can do all the training you want but if you are not sleeping properly or enough you are not getting the benefit from all your hard work.
The benefits of the workouts we do don’t come from the workouts but in the rest.
It is the other hours of the day that you have to focus on and not just on the training itself.
3. Don’t do anything different the night before or the day of the race
If you have had a set routine leading up to the marathon there is no reason to change anything the night before or morning of the race. Runners already tend to over think things but it all stems mostly from just wanting to do a great job at their performance
Don’t give yourself any reason to by trying something you are unsure of.
4. Stock up on carbohydrates the week (not just the night before) the race.
It is the food we eat the week before the marathon that is the most crucial, not specifically the night before.
Far to many times runners overstock on food the night before and feel flat the morning of the race or too full.
Focus on eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and foods that are high in carbohydrate the week leading into the marathon.
You want to be fully stocked up on carbohydrates.
Your body has around enough stored glycogen (muscle sugar) to get you to 18-20 miles into the race, your training will get you to the finish line.
5. Hydrate well leading into the marathon and in the race itself.
You want to drink between 4-6 ounces of fluid every 3 miles in the race.
Fluid intake is crucial within the race. I would also highly advise taking a gel at miles 6, 12 and 18.
This is individual so you should try this in during your long runs, see what works and doesn’t work for you so that when you get to the marathon you will be full prepared.
You don’t want to over drink in the race so much that you get cramps but if you are a running a marathon for the first time you don’t want to drink too little and become dehydrated too early in the race.
6. Arrive to the starting line early.
I have had a couple nightmare situations that I don’t even care to discuss on my site regarding the dangers of not getting to the start line in time or late, trust me on this, not a good feeling.
If you get to the start line about an hour before the race starts you will have plenty of time to relax, get yourself prepared, your bags and belongings where they need to be or with your friends and family who may have come to watch.
You will be most relaxed if you have enough time to stretch, go over your last minute strategies pre-race and not be in a rush trying to get to the start line or worse yet stuck in a bus and getting to the start line with enough time to hit your watch to start….
7. Run YOUR race
Running a marathon for the first time is an exciting time.
You will be out there with thousands of other athletes who want the same thing you do. Trust in your own ability.
If you have a pace in mind that you want to run, focus on what you want to run.
Remember, it is 26 miles, not a 5K so play it smart. If you get to the first mile 50 seconds ahead of the pace you want to hold for the entire distance, don’t freak out, just relax and ease back into a more controlled pace.
You are going to feel great in the early stages of the race so pacing is about as important as the training you have done in the months leading into the race itself. Countless runners, myself included, have made the mistake of going out too hard in races.
I am all about telling my stories of failure here on rundreamachieve.com so will point out my screw up at the 2011 Virginia Beach Half-Marathon.
I decided to take a risk and go out with my friend, Ryan Hall, bad mistake.
I hit the first mile in 4.31, hit the 2-mile mark in 9.27 and was still on 4.43 pace through 8 miles. What happened? I didn’t finish the race. Lesson learned.
What is more disappointing is had I went out at 5.00 at the mile mark I probably would have bettered my PR of 1.07.06 that day as I was in fantastic shape going into it.
Needless to say, I will never be that foolish again.
Pacing is crucial so be smart. Use my error as a guide. I have run my best races not getting too carried away in the early stages of races. Run your race and you will be fine and have a great debut marathon.
8. Keep tense muscles relaxed
What is usually the first muscles to tense up when you are trying to race? Your face and shoulders.
I usually notice my face muscles tightening when I am trying to race and doing tough workouts.
I always just internally say ‘relax’ or ‘be smooth’. Use whatever trigger word you wish. You may say ‘I am a badass’ or ‘I can’t be stopped’, whatever you need to stay relaxed, do it.
You can get yourself in a more relaxed state simply by taking a few deep breaths as your running and telling yourself to calm down inwardly.
Remember, any energy being wasted in the race is not to your benefit, especially as you fatigue so do your best to notice the muscles becoming tense.
Drop your shoulders, take a few deeps breaks, relax your face and get to the finish line in record debut time.
9. Have Fun
The name of the game in the sport. You have done all the work leading into your big race. Celebrate it and have a good time out there. It is totally normal to have those pre-race jitters leading into the marathon.
They will go away once the race gets underway so just trust your training, stay as relaxed as possible and have a good time. I was actually laughing with friends on the start line the morning I ran my 2.19 marathon PR.
Relaxation and enjoying the effort is what counts. You will perform your best when you feel as though you are on autopilot. The more relaxed you are, the faster you are going to run and the more enjoyable your marathon experience will be.