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A journey of a thousand steps: Surviving your first marathon

It’s common to hear that the hardest part of a marathon is committing to the training, or maybe it’s the last 6.2 miles after you’re 20 miles into the run. For me, the toughest part of my first marathon had more to do with the fact that I took a free, untested GU pack from an aid station: my stomach went sour quickly and, after that, every aid station with a port-a-potty became a “finish line” in my mind! I’ll leave my description at that - I did finish the race, but I would not recommend this tactic as a viable tip. Instead, here are a few of my tips for surviving your first marathon:

  1. Commit to a race that’s several months in the future, then use a calendar to carve out time for the long prep runs. Your speed work and higher-intensity short runs require less time and can be moved around a busy schedule, but pick one day a week that is your time to unplug and run long.
  2. Test your nutrition supplements ahead of time (trust me, the ‘surprise’ food factor is not fun when trying to grind out your first marathon!). Buy individual packets, find what you like and what agrees with you, and then buy in bulk to save money. Your local REI offers a nice discount on performance foods when you buy 10 or more.
  3. Don’t decide immediately after your race if you’ll ever do another! It’s been said that it’s both the beauty and bane of humanity that we forget. When you cross the finish line, the pain you feel might make you question ever signing up again, but my advice is to give it a few minutes. The runner’s high will kick in while you’re in the beer garden, you’ll forget the pain, and you just might be ready for another.

So, those are my best 3 tips. I’m curious, what tips can anyone else in our community recommend for someone looking towards their first marathon?

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.
3 Replies

Trust the process and consistently follow the 16-20 weeks of training. Do the “little” things like post run drills and recovery as well to stay healthy. 

No. 2 above and my other two tips would be, 1) do one training run of at least 22 miles. The wall comes and you need to know how to get through it. Better than doing it on race day; and 2) This is a lot mental too. Give yourself challenges through to keep motivated and dont compare yourself to others.

Couldn’t agree more, especially with (1). After running my first marathon a few weeks ago (3:46) I’m convinced more than ever that it’s hugely a mental game. My longest run had been 16M (not intentionally; an earlier injury was a huge setback) and my weekly mileage was pretty bleak (never more than 35M). I was close to calling it off, but was too late to defer and decided to go for it. 
1. If it’s your first, start off conservatively (if it’s not your first, you know your ability and better). Starting off slower than you want/can is very difficult for me, but paid off at the end!

2. I was dreading “the wall”. Once I ran past Mile 18, all I could think of was “the wall will come now”. Well the wall never came. Mile 20 came, and that’s where I did a mental reset of “hey, it’s another 10K to go, you can always do a fast 10K”, so my 10K was in fact my fastest split by far. I learned the “mental game” at yoga and hills running - strongly recommend practicing it on your runs and other activities. Mental reset for the past few miles does wonders!
3. It’s ok not to follow a training plan exactly. Don’t get discouraged by it. Focus on getting one long run and total desired mileage and see what training plans works best for you (some suggest your longest run being 16M but insane weekly mileage, others recommend longer runs). Ah and make sure that your easy runs are in fact easy... I got a serious hip injury by going too heavy on my easy runs...