There's nothing in the world like running your first marathon. It's filled with the mystery of a great novel and the nerves of your first day of school. Or as my family once told me, "that's a long way to drive in your car, let alone run!"
The key to running a strong first marathon is to remember the three "P's": Preparedness, Patience and Perseverance.
Here are 13 tips to help you run your best first marathon.
Communicate With Your Family
There's something funny that happens about two weeks out from the marathon, a well-documented syndrome called "taper madness," when the training mileage decreases and you have way too much time to think. This condition creeps into your life like a snake in the grass. The symptoms include:
- Checking the weather channel more than five times a day
- Driving, walking, and living more cautiously than ever before
- Talking about almost nothing else besides the marathon
- Shopping for things you think will help you run faster (leopard tights)
- Having nightmares about getting lost on the course
Although taper madness can be unpleasant, I believe it's a survival mechanism to prevent us from doing really stupid things like dancing on the tables the night before the race. It's wise to have a talk with your family a month out from your marathon and warn them that you'll be on edge and if they want to talk to you about anything important, they should wait until after the race. Oh, and let them know that it's nothing personal; it's just taper madness.
To keep yourself on track during this time, review your training plan and have faith in the preparation—it's what got you here and what will help you reach the finish line on race day.
Set Healthy Expectations
Even the most seasoned marathoners have no idea what their marathon times will be. Think about it—setting a finish time is a little like picking the winning lottery numbers because there are so many variables that can affect your performance: wind, rain, cold, heat, humidity, etc.
The best way to go into the marathon is with healthy expectations. This means aiming for a strong finish and being open to what the day may bring. It rained, sleeted, and snowed on the day of my first marathon, and the Gatorade was frozen at all the aid stations. Had I been racing for a time or had specific expectations of the day I would have been upset—but my goal was to finish upright and I did just that.
Running your first marathon is all about conquering the distance, not beating the clock. It's a way to establish your marathon fitness, which you can continue to build on and improve in future races.
Taper Your Training
Most people think the longest miles are the toughest part of marathon training, but I believe it's the taper. At about 3 to 4 weeks out, you've run your longest run, your mileage and intensity are gradually dropping, and you find yourself with much more time on your hands. It can be tempting to add more mileage to your training plan for insurance, but doing so will only risk you leaving your best miles on the training path.
Follow a gradual taper and rest up so you can run the distance on race day with fresh, strong legs. It may seem counter intuitive, but it works, and it will leave you chomping at the bit to start the marathon (exactly where you want to be).