Running your first marathon is exhilarating, rewarding, overwhelming, terrifying and life changing. After months of hard work, sacrifice, heavy mileage, sore muscles and pushing through doubts, your life will change in just 26.2 miles. Are you getting ready to run your very first marathon and struggling to push through your pre-marathon nerves? Here are 9 tips to help you rock your very first marathon.
Smiling is the best piece of advice I can give to anyone running any distance. Smiling activates the feel good parts of your brain so even if you look like you’re suffering through a smile, it’s a coping tactic that is a real game changer around miles 19-26.2. When in doubt, smile. When in another world of pain, smile. When you want to quit, smile. (And did I mention that you should smile?)
2. Trust your training
To say that I was undertrained and underprepared for my first marathon is an understatement. I went from couch to marathon in 6 short months and my first marathon was one of the most painful experiences of my life. The hardest part about running a marathon is training for a marathon and regardless of how prepared or underprepared you are, trust the training you’ve done. Give yourself permission to walk if you need to walk and make your only goal to finish.
3. Know your fueling strategy
How you fuel on your 26.2 mile journey is an important component to a successful race day. Figure out when to take energy gels or different fueling options like sports drinks, and water during your longer runs. If you’re a week away from race day and you have no idea what an energy gel is, don’t stress. Just plan on taking or eating an energy gel or some sort of fuel source like raisins, Cliff Bars, Power Bars, Swedish Fish, fig newtons, gummy bears, or pretzels every 45-60 minutes.
4. Support the runners around you
Around mile 13 of my first marathon, I had a full blown meltdown. I saw the finish line in downtown San Diego impossibly far away, pulled over to walk and started to cry. Another runner came up beside me, grabbed my hand and gave me a pep talk that I’ll never forget. Now whenever I run, I do the same for other runners. If I see someone struggling or looking defeated, I ask them how they’re doing. Keep your eyes up and if you’re struggling or if you see someone struggle, introduce yourself and support each other.
5. Ham it up!
Your first marathon is a day you are never going to forget. Even if you don’t plan on buying any race day photos (if of course your race offers race day photos to buy), ham it up for every camera you see. You will be beyond thrilled when all is said and done and there are dozens of race day pictures for you to review. (And your #TBT game will be so strong.) All joking aside, once the mile 20 fog rolls in, chances are you aren’t going to remember much. Those pictures are a testament of the work you put in to cross that finish line. Give yourself the option of having many different memories to choose from.
6. PACE YOURSELF
I’m not even kidding, I learned what “pacing” meant around mile 5 of my very first marathon. Another runner explained to me why pacing yourself is an important component of a marathon. Will you survive without a pacing strategy? Yes. Will your race be infinitely more enjoyable with one? YES. Take a minute to write down how you plan to run the race. Spend the first few miles much slower than how you plan to run the second half of the race. Remember, start slow and finish strong.
7. Play the mental game
Running a marathon is very much a mental game. The marathon is all about patience, persistence and perseverance. Break the race into small manageable bits. The way I break up a marathon is to focus on making it to 6 miles, 13 miles, 15 miles, 20 miles, 5K and then one final 5K. Those tiny mile stones within the 26.2 make the marathon feel less impossible. You’ll find what works for you but don’t focus on the finish line, focus on smaller milestones within the race.
8. CELEBRATE WHAT YOU’RE DOING
Not enough people celebrate the fact that they registered for and then trained for a marathon. Those two components right there are 75% of the battle. I’m not kidding, the hardest part is behind you. Race day isn’t the final test, it’s the final stretch.
9. Have fun
And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun. High five strangers, laugh at funny race day signs, dance along the course, and take time to really enjoy yourself. Running isn’t a form of torture PE teachers dish out to unruly students. Running is a rewarding privilege that is, at it’s core, fun. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN.
Your first marathon is a huge learning experience. No amount of race day recaps, articles or first marathon stories will prepare you for what it’s like to run your first marathon. You’ll learn more about yourself during your 26.2 mile race than you will in a decade. Try to enjoy yourself, you worked incredibly hard to make it happen.