Thursday, March 13, 2014

Top 10 Tips for your first marathon

I have a few friends making their marathon debut this weekend. I made mine almost exactly five years ago (March 21, 2009) at the National Marathon (now the Rock and Roll USA Marathon) – and had a race beyond my wildest dreams.  One friend asked me for some last minute tips, and while I was writing back to her, I realized that I’ve been giving these tips more or less pretty much since I did run that first marathon. I’ve learned more along the way, and it is my hope that you can use this list as you prepare for your first half marathon or marathon. None of it is rocket science – just things that work. I wish you the best as you get ready for this big day.
    1)   Go to the expo early. You don’t want to spend too much time on your feet. Yes, there are great deals on shoes and clothes, but give yourself an hour (max two hours if you are going to a clinic/seminar/meeting an elite athlete) to walk around. If you do take advantage of those sales, don’t wear the new shoes/clothes for your marathon. Those hot shorts may be awesome, but if they happen to cause chaffing, you don’t want to find out on marathon morning.   
2)   Drink a lot of water in the days leading up to your race. You already carbo-load – why not hydro-load? This is you filling the tank. Don’t drink so much that you wake up in the middle of the night (which still may happen), but you want to be well-hydrated. At dinner, I have a bottle of Gatorade the night before. That morning, I just drink a cup of tea with my breakfast. I have carried Gatorade with me, but you can also just take in the water/Gatorade at the aid stations.
3)   Use the energy gels (GU, Jelly Beans, etc) that you’ve been using – don’t try anything new that they have samples of at the expo. Again, you don’t want to discover in sampling (or marathon morning) the new chews that it bothers your stomach.
4)   Leave early for the start, particularly for big city races. Yes, you have to get up earlier, but it is better to be chilling at the start than worry while you’re en route whether you’re going to make it or not.
5)   Bring a clean trash bag. After you’ve checked your warm-up clothes (pants, jacket, etc), you may still have some lag time before the start, and it can be chilly. This may seem weird, but you’ll actually see a lot of people do this. Cut a hole for your head, and your arms, and this will be your outer layer until the start. It blocks the wind, it’ll keep you warm, and then you can throw it out before you start.
6)   Go to the bathroom as soon as you get there. Particularly with races like Boston, where there are hundreds of porta-potties, there are long lines, so jump in one immediately. And then go again if you can – you spent all of that time filling the tank – just make sure you’re clear and ready to go.
7)   Go out SLOW. It will be crowded, but do not jockey around for a better spot once the gun goes off. It is a waste of energy – you will see people do this and it is not worth it. The excitement at the start is incredible and you will want to go out fast. Don’t. In my first marathon, I ran the first half in 1:52, and the second in 2:00. This is not advisable – I was too excited.
8)   Have a few goals (A, B, C) in mind – one of them should be to finish! This will allow you to not have an all-or-nothing approach, and will take into account numerous factors (GI issues, bonking, etc) and still will ensure that mentally you are working to reach those goals.
9)   Don’t think of 13.1 as the halfway point – mile 20 is halfway. Yes, the last 6.2 is hard, so start thinking of strategies to get through it. Maybe it’s thinking of someone you love for each mile. That’s what I did for all 26. And with each mile, I thought about them, and it helped me focus. I told each person in advance and I didn’t want to let them don’t on “their mile.”

10)                   Lastly, and most importantly, take it all in. Whether you decide to do another one or you are one-and-done, your first one is an amazing experience and it is a life-changing moment. It sill ranks as one of the best days of my life. Take in EVERYTHING. No matter how it goes, it will be amazing.

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