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Deena Kastor’s Tips For First-Time Marathoners

American marathon record holder Deena Kastor offers tips on marathon recovery and getting through the difficult moments in a tricky race.

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There’s a lot of preparation that goes into marathon training, regardless of any runner’s experience level. But especially for beginners, there exists a significant intimidation factor when it comes to tackling 26.2 miles for the first time. Am I up to the physical challenge? Do I have what it takes to make it over “the wall”? What if I don’t finish? 

Deena Kastor, the American women’s record holder in the marathon, spoke with Women’s Running to offer her advice on overcoming mental roadblocks mid-marathon and recovering once the journey’s over.

RELATED: Go From Couch to Marathon with this 24-Week Training Plan

Embrace Distractions

“The marathon is a challenging journey, which is why the finish line feels so rewarding. Always refocus and find a way to get through a moment, because a marathon rides a bit like a roller coaster. If you’re suffering one moment, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the race you’re going to suffer—it could just be a moment. Get through it the best you can with any mental tools you have, [like] focusing on a body part that feels good. Sometimes it might just be your earlobes that aren’t screaming and writhing in pain. Get through that moment by focusing on a body part that feels good, focusing on your purpose, your motivation for being out there. For some people it’s charity, for some people it’s to raise awareness, for some people it’s just to prove that they can do it, and that’s a big deal. Other people are trying to set records. Hone in on your purpose—and when none of that seems to be working, just be distracted by the crowds. Let that distract you and carry you to the finish.”

RELATED: Deena Kastor’s Best Race and How She Achieved It

Build Mental Strength

“There’s no one size fits all in any given suffer-fest. A lot of times what I rely on is, in that moment, it’s not the fatigue that’s going to define me but me defining myself in a moment of fatigue. A lot of times I find myself giving up on my goal, maybe going to plan B or C or D and working myself down that rung. When I start to do that, I think, No. This race itself might not matter, but your character matters within this race. These are the mental habits I’m creating by being out here and I always want that to be my strongest asset. That tends to pull me out of a pity party and get [me] going again. Make it a bigger deal. So much of the joy of running comes because we are transforming ourselves: [We’re becoming] stronger physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually when we’re out there. Make the moment about that and not about whether you’re staying on pace.

RELATED: Inside the Minds of Marathoners

Jump Aboard The Recovery Train

“Recovery is so big. You think, Well, I’m not going to be running for a few weeks anyway, so why do I need to get off my feet or recover? I think getting a mix of carbohydrates and protein in right away is really important. After drinking sweet drinks and Gu all morning, I can’t wait to have something salty. My protein and carbs come in the form of pizza or a burger—something that’s super salty. Carbohydrates, protein and hydrating really well [are all important].

“Walking around is also really good. It’s good to flush your legs out and disperse the damage that you’ve done, try to get your blood flowing to repair the damage that happened while running the marathon. I think it is good to get out and shop or dine; go walk to where you’re going to dine that night. Even though it might be more of a hobble, it’s good to keep moving.”

RELATED: 8 Post-Run Recovery Tools That Seriously Work