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Before I ran a marathon, I ran half marathons and could pin the “runner” tag to myself. I knew the basics: Beware of chafing, don’t wear brand new shoes on race day, and dinner at Olive Garden the night before a race does not count as carb-loading. But there were quite a few things I didn’t know as first marathon lessons. Here are some:
Stick to your training plan.
Get advice when you need it and train confidently. There are as many ways to train for a marathon as there are pasta sauces in the grocery store. I had people suggest that I change my training plan when I was over halfway through it. At that point? Not helpful.
Gu and gut-rot aren’t the only option.
I am a halfway hipster. I like things natural. Pretzels, grapes, bananas, muesli and Lara Bars are a few things I used to fuel my runs. Plus a Gu here and there. Find what’s right for you.
Expect to sleep more all training long.
You will have days that you forget that you are training for a marathon. You’ll wonder why the pillow is a magnetizing force trying to pull you back into bed. Your body requires and wants more sleep after all those miles.
No need to over-hydrate on race day.
You managed adequate fluid intake on all of those long runs during training. Drinking extra on race day will only give you extra trips to the port-a-potty line.
Chat with people before the race.
Easy conversation starter: “Is this your first marathon?” Instantly, someone will share about their grueling training to get to this first marathon or someone else will share that this is state number 42 in the 50 States Marathon Club. This distraction will help calm the nerves that are churning your stomach like butter.
You can’t force tears.
As bad as I wanted the emotional waterfall as I crossed the finish line, and as much as I thought my pain would vanish in the embrace of victory, my all-consuming thought was just ow. In fact, the only tears I cried—two to be exact—dripped down at mile 25, when I doubted I had 1.2 miles left in me to get to the finish.
Be smart about race souvenirs.
The shiny, metallic garbage bag—aka the mylar—you are given just after your neck is draped with a medal is not just finisher’s bragging rights. That’s what your medal is for. No matter how hot you are, your body will quickly revert to freezing. Wear the garbage bag.
The marathon messes up your body, but that’s “normal.”
If you schedule your annual physical two days after you complete a marathon, you will likely pay thousands of dollars (literally thousands!) just to find out that problems with your ovaries, heart and liver are just from being a runner. After labs, an echocardiogram, a Holter monitor and a month of concerned impatience, I was reassured all is abnormally normal.
People say signing up for another race might help the post-marathon blues.
Choose wisely. Though you may be in the best shape of your life, lower the expectation that your body is a bottomless tank with unlimited energy. I signed up for a half marathon three weeks after my first marathon. I outran the fun of running, having nothing to prove to myself. The biggest finish line was already crossed.
Find your tribe.
Find others in the running community with whom to share your marathon experience. People’s stories are so much the same, yet so different. In sharing, you will find support, laughter, relief and so much encouragement.
It is worth it to run your first and embrace those first marathon lessons. No more words can convince you; just find out for yourself.