How to Run Your First Marathon

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when preparing for your first marathon—and I'm not talking about the months of training you already have planned and in some cases, finished. I'm talking about the race itself—the actual day (and week) in which you are going to run those 26.2 miles. Once you have followed through with your marathon training, how do you make sure all of the other factors are in order?

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You have a great deal of control over how positive your race-day experience will be. Here is what I've learned during my 49 years of running and coaching over 250,000 runners.

Rehearsal

If at all possible, run one or more of your long training runs on the race course. You'll learn how to get there, where to park (or which rapid-transit station to exit), and what the site is like. Run over the last half-mile of the course at least twice. This is the most important part of the course to know. Many runners will run segments of the course on several different long runs.

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Visualize your line-up position. First-time racers should line up at the back. If you line up too far forward you could slow down faster runners. You want to do this first race slowly and have a good experience. Because you will be taking your walk breaks as you did during training, you will probably need to stay at the side of the road. If there is a sidewalk, you can use this for your walk breaks.

The Afternoon Before

Don't run the day before the race. You won't lose any conditioning if you take two days off from running leading up to the race. If the race has an expo or other festivities, walk around, but don't walk for more than two hours. Some races require you to pick up your race number and your computer chip at the expo the day before. Other races allow you to pick up your materials on race day. Check out the information materials or the event website for instructions.

The Carbo-Loading Dinner

Some marathons have a dinner the night before. At the dinner you can talk with runners at your table and enjoy the evening. Don't eat much, however. Many runners mistakenly assume that they must eat a lot the night before. This is actually counterproductive. It takes at least 36 hours for most of the food you eat to be processed and useable in a race. But eating too much, or eating the wrong foods for you, can be a real problem. A lot of food bouncing up and down in your gut when you race is stressful. Carbohydrate "loading" the night before can lead to carbohydrate "unloading" on the course itself. The evening before your long training run is a good time to practice your eating plan, then replicate the successful routine for the race.

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