Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What's it ACTUALLY take to run a marathon? From a former first-timer.

When I decided I was going to run a marathon, I scoured the internet for tips for first timers.  Some of these included a training plan that was manageable for my level of fitness at the time, shoes, clothes, routes, forms of fuel, water intake, and anything else that was swirling around in my head as I was starting and even more as the weeks went by.

I followed the plan as best as my crazy schedule allowed and got the miles in one way or another each week.  I ran alone, and planned my route I would run in my Brooks near places with available bathrooms while wearing my FuelBelt and chomping my gummies and listening to my playlist.  I ate a plain bagel pre-run, got up around 5AM for long runs all summer to beat the heat since I was pretty slow and would lay out my clothes and fill my water bottles the night before.  I charged my Garmin but almost always used RunKeeper as long as my phone battery would allow.

This routine was fine tuned throughout the 30 weeks I trained and it was because of the little hiccups along the way that I fine tuned my routine.

Here's what I learned training for my first marathon:

1.  Eat before long runs.  I can't eat anything but straight up, 100% carbs pre-run.  I eat a whole, plain bagel about an hour before I run.  I tried oatmeal and eggwhites, I tried not eating anything and just fueling along the way. That was not a good plan because I was out of gas halfway through.  The eggwhites & oatmeal (and anything else I possibly tried) didn't sit well on my stomach and I had to call my fiancé to come rescue me on my route for an emergency bathroom trip.  It might take a little time but don't skip that pre-run fuel!

2.  Eat every 45-60 minutes while running.  I couldn't stomach the gel packs and settled on sports beans and Honey Stinger wafers while I ran.  On marathon day around mile 22 I got the best and most welcome gift of oranges and it really was what I needed to keep going and greatly improved my mood. I'm going to use orange slices in training for this next marathon during long runs!

3. Get properly fitted for running shoes.  My first half marathon I chose the shoes I was so graciously gifted because they were pretty and they felt okay.  I think my use of regular cotton socks with these shoes lead to insane blisters which never healed and I limped constantly for the entire training cycle.  I don't know if my feet have ever been the same!  I've run in Brooks and keep getting fitted because as I have lost weight my feet have gotten smaller too!  I've always had a wide foot but my initial pair of marathon shoes were a MEN'S WIDE.  My feet thanked me for them and I ended up with 3 pairs of shoes for the 30 weeks and I'm still in my last pair for right now which are a women's wide and a half size smaller.  Just get fitted!

4.  Invest in several pairs of spandex.  At first I wasn't comfortable wearing tights at my size but now I won't run without them.  Chafing is NO GOOD and you'll be glad you saved your skin.  Besides, no one is paying attention to your tights when you're running miles and miles.
Tights are my friend!

5.  Make a schedule.  I rotate between 12 hour day and night shifts and my weeks are never the same schedule as far as days I work each week.  I looked one week at a time and looked to see where I could fit a run in.  When I work 3 days in a row I often run before work (getting up at 3:45AM or PM depending on if I'm on days or nights!) and get one of my shorter runs for the week done.  I know I'm not going to want to run AFTER a 12 hour shift or get up that early the next day either.  So I just do it.  Schedule your runs just like any other appointment in your life and you will get them done.

6.  Be realistic.  I know I have a lot less obstacles than many of you do as I don't have any kids. But, my work schedule is crazy, I'm planning a wedding, have a husky who wants exercised (no, I don't typically run with her.  Once I'm done training for a race and back to running without a schedule I am planning to work with her on getting better at running with me.  When I first started I was learning myself about how to get through the miles without her pulling, tugging, tripping, darting, etc with me and risking getting injured!) and time I want to spend with my fiancé, friends, and family.  So maybe you've got small kiddos that need constant supervision, a job, and are a single parent or have a spouse with a crazy schedule themselves and maybe the marathon is too much of a time commitment right now.  Use your best judgement and don't be hard on yourself if it truly isn't in the cards right now for you.

7.  Trust the training.  I didn't know if ONLY running 20 miles before the big day was enough, but sheer determination and a lot of encouragement along the course kept me upright for the last 6.2.

8.  Have spectators along the way.  My wonderful fiancé was my "cheering section coordinator" for the day and I was so thankful to have someone to see at mile 9, 12, 13.1, 15, 17.5, 22, 25, and of course 26.2.  It was a lot of work on his part but knowing there was someone up ahead was a huge, huge help in getting me to the next mile(s).

9.  Enjoy the expo, enjoy the day, enjoy waiting at the start and the energy and excitement that surrounds you.  Miles behind you and hours spent training will be worth it the moment you cross that finish line.  Just have fun!

Anything I missed out on, fellow marathoners?  What would you say to a first timer?


  1. DRINK A TON OF WATER AFTER the race. Apparently I did not drink enough and paid for it direly for the past 2 days. A visit to the ER, $300 later and misery for 2 days has seriously shaken my running confidence. Its worth mentioning I finished my race strong, was doing well the rest of race day and this came out of nowhere. :-/

    1. So true! I can't believe I hadn't mentioned anything specifically about hydrating. Thank you! Glad you're okay despite the scare.

  2. Congrats on your marathon, my first is May 18th, I started a blog and I hope to inspire newbies as you are!

    1. Thanks so much! It is definitely a day to remember! Good luck with training!

  3. Getting great shoes and the spandex would be tops on my list too! My advice for first timers is, do it for you. Do it because you want to do it, not because you think it would be something cool to tell people or try. But something you truly want to do. Because if you want it, you will have little problem putting in all the mileage and training necessary, to have that amazing race day finish!
    So can I ask, now that you have one behind you, you have plans for more?

    1. I signed up for the Flying Pig Marathon on May 4th and two half marathons between now and then. Safe to say I'm hooked!