How to Run Your First Marathon


You may sleep well, or you may not. Don't worry about it if you don't sleep at all. Many runners I work with don't sleep at all the night before and have the best race of their lives. Of course, don't try to go sleepless...but if it happens, it's not usually a problem.

Race-Day Checklist

Photocopy this list and pack it in your race bag so you have a plan you can carry out in a methodical way. Don't try anything new the day of your race--except for health or safety reasons. Walk breaks are the only first-time item I have heard people successfully use in a race. Stick with your plan.

More: 4 Marathon Training-Plan Tips

Fluid and potty stops--After you wake up, drink four to six ounces of water every half-hour. If you have used a sports drink about 30 minutes before your runs, prepare it. Use a cooler if you wish. In order to avoid the bathroom breaks, stop your fluid intake according to what has worked for you in other long runs (usually one or two hours before the start).

Food—Eat what you have eaten before your long runs. It is OK not to eat at all before most races unless you are diabetic, then go with the plan that you and your doctor (or nutritionist) have worked out.

Get your bearings--Walk around the site to find where you want to line up (at the back of the pack, or in a pace group), and how you will get to the start. Choose a side of the road that has more shoulder or sidewalk for ease in taking walk breaks.

More: 10 Long-Distance Running Blunders

Register or pick up your race number--If you already have all of your materials, you can bypass this step. If not, look at the signage in the registration area and get in the right line. Usually there is one for race-day registration, and one for those who registered online or in the mail and need to pick up their numbers. Pin your number on the front of the garment you plan to wear when you cross the finish line.

Computer Chip--More races use technology that electronically picks up your race number and time as you cross the finish. You must wear this chip--usually laced on the shoes near the top. Some companies have a Velcro band that is attached to the ankle or arm. Read the instructions to make sure you are attaching this correctly. Be sure to turn this in to the volunteers after the race; there is a steep fine for those who don't.

Start your warm-up about 30 minutes before the start. If possible, just walk backwards on the course for about a half-mile and turn around. This will give you a preview of the most important part of your race: the finish. Laugh and joke as you stand around waiting for the start. On your first marathon, I recommend using the first mile to complete your warm-up. During this first mile:

  • Walk for two or three minutes
  • Start your watch for the ratio of running and walking that you are using
  • During the first few running rotations, run more slowly than usual

After the Start

  • Remember that you can control how you feel during and afterward by conservative pacing and walks. Whatever energy you save in the first half will be available to you during the last five miles.
  • Stick with the run-walk-run ? ratio that has worked for you--take every walk break, especially the first one. It is always better to walk more in the beginning.
  • If it is warm, slow down and walk more (30 sec/mile slower for every five degrees above 60 degrees Fahrenheit).
  • Don't let yourself be pulled out too fast on the running portions.
  • As people who don't take walk breaks pass you, tell yourself that you will catch them later. You will.
  • If anyone interprets your walking as weakness, say: "This is my proven strategy for a strong finish."
  • Talk with folks along the way, enjoy the course, smile often.
  • On warm days, pour water over your head at the water stops.

At the Finish

  • Cross the finish line in the upright position with a smile on your face
  • Keep walking for at least half a mile after the race
  • Drink about four to eight ounces of fluid
  • Within 30 minutes of the finish, have a snack that is 80 percent carbohydrate and 20 percent protein
  • If you can soak your legs in cool water during the first two hours after the race, do so for 10 to 20 minutes
  • Walk for 20 to 30 minutes later in the day

The Next Day

  • Walk for 30 to 60 minutes, very easy. This can be done at one time, or in installments
  • Keep drinking about four to six ounces of water or sports drink an hour
  • Wait at least a week before you either schedule your next race or vow to never run another one again.
More: Finish Strong on Race Day Active logo Sign up for your next marathon race.

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