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Advice for running my first marathon

I recently got back into running, and since I just finished my bachelor's degree, my next big goal is to run a marathon. I am looking for any helpful tips! There is so much I need to learn about running, and I don't know where to begin.

Hiw do you know when your pain is something to be worried about? I have been experiencing some pain, and I was wondering if anyone could suggest some strength exercises to help prevent pain in my knees, shins, and ankle areas. Also, how can I tell if I have bad form? What does good form look like?

For long distance runners, what do you prefer, hydration packs, a waist pack, or hand held water? And what kind of nutrition or electrolytes do you bring, if any?

Lastly, I try to avoid concrete and asphalt so I don't get injured, and I am looking for recommendations on places to run. Canals, trails, parks, what do you like? I live in Arizona and I need some ideas of good places to train! I'm often in the Phoenox area like Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, and Ahwatukee.

Any additional insights would be much appreciated:)

3 Replies

I'll take a stab at this, although it has been a while since i have completed a marathon.  I used the training guidelines put forth by runners World and here is their webpage:

I am sure there are many other good sources out there but RW has been at it a long time.

Basically, start easy and gradually increase your distance, uping the length of your runs by no more than 10 per cent.  Aim for one long run, eventually twenty miles, per week.  Taper off before the event and carbo load.  You will need them.

On your first marathon, your objective should be to simply finish the event.  Don't worry about your time.  That will come later.

The day after my first marathon (run in Tempe) I was incredibly sore.  My second, a year later, was entirely different. I felt fine the next day, so practice does help.

I share your aversion about running on concrete.  Asphalt is a different matter.  I trained in Tucson, and on a warm day, I could feel the asphalt deform as I ran.  Good smooth dirt is even better, when you can find it.

I no longer run, but looking back on the experience,I am glad I did.  The experience was very helpful, both mentally and physically  There will be good training runs, and bad training runs.  One learns from each.

Running, especially marathon training and running, is time well spent, with immense, albeit subtle, rewards.

Best wishes!!!



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@Emilyharmsen it's awesome that you've set your sights on your first marathon! Similar to you, I finished grad school, moved out West, and made the same commitment - after not having grown up as a runner, it was a lofty goal and huge accomplishment when I completed the San Diego marathon! So, a few thoughts for you:

  • We had an earlier discussion here in the community on this exact topic - you might find some valuable advice here
  • So much of what you land on is going to be personal preference! You'll get advice left and right, and it's worthwhile to try stuff out as you train, but know that what worked well for one person may or may not be right for you.
  • One piece of advice I have is to try everything several times before the actual race - don't add something new on race day! Make sure you test out every type and flavor of energy food during your training runs so you have a line-up of stuff you know you like on race day (on a training run, I unpleasantly discovered that I hated the lemon-lime flavor of the energy gel). Test out different kinds of hydration strategies - I struggled with a pack (too much chafing) so wound up training with 2 hand-held water bottles, similar to these. Same goes for shoes, socks, and your surprises on the day of the race!
  • You can find lots of great marathon-training resources online - find a prep plan and follow it! Typically you'll want at least 8-12 weeks of dedicated preparation...check out this article!
  • Start building your playlist - find music that's motivating, inspiring, and gets you pumped up! I found it to be really helpful to have a predictable playlist, because I knew what song would play at a given mile marker. This is a pretty personal aspect to running, so make sure you just find what works for you! Here's a fun article about others' choices in music (or silence)!

Hope this helps a little! I imagine you'll hear from others as well...

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

@Emilyharmsen Welcome to the community! I started trail running about four years ago sort of on a whim. That turned into a 12k trail race, then a 25k mountain race followed by a trail marathon (through Oregon forests in ceaseless rain) and then a 50 miler. My advice for running a marathon? Do it! Pick one you think you'll enjoy—I choose races based on scenery and location—but for others it may be the finisher's medal, community or personality. If it's something you look forward to it motivates you to get out and train!

My second bit of advice is don't worry about pace/time. Lots of egos sprint away from the start of races only to be caught and passed down the road. Sure, train hard and set realistic goals but don't get wrapped up in finishing in x minutes/hours for your first race. Trail marathons in particular, with varying elevation and terrain, make pace meaningless. I've run 50 miles in under 11 hours, but also in just under 18 hours with long sections of knee deep snow, waist high river crossings and 60 degree temperature swings.

Where there's pain there may be problems with form. I discovered (by accident) that yoga—specifically cat/cows—provided form awareness I needed to overcome plantar facia pain that plagued me for two years. It also improved my economy and speed. The trick for me was learning to tuck my hips back and tighten my core. That altered my hip position, which altered my posture, which altered my foot strike so I land on my midfoot/toes instead of my heels. A coach or a good PT person may be able to help you there, too.

Starting out I suggest finding a local group to run with. Perhaps some running shops near you organize weekend or morning/evening runs. I think what's important is to try out multiple groups. Each will have a personality and you'll find people in each to offer advice, challenge, motivation and company. Something to be weary of is listening to one person or group. Get multiple opinions and find what works best for you. If someone insists "Brand Z shoes are the greatest" maybe smile and move on! After a while you'll find you mesh with individuals and maybe the group runs hold less value. I started with a club run of 20-40, found a group of 5-10 regulars that turned into two close friends. They've moved on and now most of my runs are solo adventures with my dog. I prefer the solitude and quiet (and liberty to go when, where and how far) it affords me.

Fanny pack or vest... Tried both, several different brands of vest. I love the Salomon vests. They fit snug without binding or chafing and I forget I'm wearing them (I own three, each different capacities). They hold things in place without any bounce and I find I can carry all my dog and I need for 6-10 hours in the mountains.

For hydration, I personally like the Nuun Endurance products. They have mild flavors that don't taste like chemicals to me. I almost always add a shot of cocktail flavoring syrup (blackberry) to my bottles and the Nuun berry mixes well. I won't drink if I can't take the taste and that combo works for me (plus the dog likes it, too). I supplement hydration with salt caps, one/hour. On longer runs I fill a bladder with clear water; the Salomon vests have insulating sheaths for the bladders that help them stay cool on long days.

Where to run? I'm lucky. I have hundreds of miles of trails accessed from a trailhead 50' from my door. My suggestion is to find someplace nearby and remove the "takes too long to get there" excuse, at least for "routine" runs. A familiar loop is great for workouts & intervals. Apps like TrailForks and AllTrails can guide you to popular trails near you, and Strava has features for discovering segments and routes where others run, and your local running shop/REI can probably help out there, too.

Hope that helps! Good luck on your marathon!