what you need to know before running a marathon

Brief History:

My first race ever was a 25k (15.5 Miles) in May of 2010. After completing that race, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would run my first full marathon. Five months later, that dream came true. I trained hard and studied everything I possibly could regarding what one should do before attempting to run their first marathon. And after sixteen weeks of training and studying, I still hit the wall at mile 22 and struggled to finish.

Below is a general outline explaining some of the major mistakes I made during that first race, along with some great advice on what you can do to avoid them. Enjoy!

Before you even begin training:

  • First and foremost, if you are like me and you sweat a lot, read this article on how to sweat proof your running workouts.

  • Before you even think about whether you should run a marathon or not, you must commit this nutrition information to memory! If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Set yourself up for success by first taking the time to understand exactly what you are putting into your body and what it does for you.

  • Follow Hal Higdon's Marathon Training Guide to the letter! If this is your first marathon, the sixteen week training plan will probably be a little intimidating at first glance, and that's okay! Just take a deep breath, choose which training program you feel is right for you, and print it out. When the day finally comes to get started, do not fuss about week 5 or week 10, just focus on Day 1! If you take it one day at a time, before you know it you'll be race day ready and raring to go!

  • You'd be doing yourself a huge disservice if you embark on your first marathon training program without first reading and understanding the three basic long run principles. These three principles are going to help you get through your weekend long runs.

  • Last but not least, you are far better off learning how to avoid hitting the dreaded "wall" now rather than later. I guarantee that if you go into your training with this information in mind, you will not only finish the marathon without hitting the wall, you'll also avoid hitting it during your long training runs.

During your training weeks:

  • You should already be learning this anyway, but especially during your training weeks you need to educate yourself on how to stay properly nourished! Do yourself a favor and read this article from http://www.runnersworld.comThe Best Foods For Runners. It's got a lot of great tips regarding what runners ought to be buying when they go to the grocery store, along with several yummy dinner recipes that will help fill you up and keep you fit and healthy!

  • As your runs get progressively longer, you might benefit from creating your own "running mantra" that you can repeat to yourself whenever the going gets tough. When you think strong words and repeat inspiring phrases, you run better!

  • It will benefit you to get into the habit of completing your runs as early as possible. Trust me, you will feel much better waking up a little earlier and having your runs behind you. There are far fewer obstacles and obligations standing in your way early in the morning than there are right when you get out of work in the afternoon. So think like Nike and Just Do It!

  • Don't get into the habit of doing this; but if you happen to have one or two days where you seriously just do not feel like running, it's okay! No, that does not mean you get to take the day off and sit on your butt all day. What it means is that instead of running, maybe you go for a nice long walk or bike ride with a friend or spouse. The key here is to keep your body moving. Whenever you don't feel like running - cross train!

24 hours before race day:

  • Just like we learned before we got into this crazy mess, in order to keep from hitting the wall on race day, you have to consume A LOT of carbohydrates the day before the race. The best tool that I have found to help you calculate how many grams you ought to consume can be found right here: running endurance calculator. - I credit this tool for getting me through every marathon I have run (since my very first) without ever "hitting the wall" or having to stop once.

  • This one is quick and easy: read this article to learn how to adequately fuel your body for peak marathon performance prior to race day.

  • Have your running outfit laid out and ready to go before you go to bed! (and get to bed early!)

Morning of race day:

  • Important: wake up three hours prior to the start of the race.

  • The morning of race day, it is always best to eat something light. You want to avoid eating anything that might upset your stomach (spicy foods, dairy, etc.) What always works best for me is a banana and two packages of apple cinnamon oatmeal.

  • Go to the bathroom as much as you can before the race begins! Trust me, you'll want to be completely empty before that gun goes off.

  • For those of you who have a tendency to sweat a lot, try adding a few shakes of iodized salt to a full 32oz. bottle of Gatorade® and drink the entire thing about 45 minutes before the race begins.

  • Remember that regardless of how much you sweat, always take your first energy gel 45 minutes before the gun goes off.

  • Life Saver Tip #1: If you want to avoid chafing, apply Body Glide to: your inner thighs, lower back, and everywhere you might chafe after running 26.2 miles!
  • Life Saver Tip #2: I believe this is important for everyone, but especially for you guys out there - listen up! If you want to get through this thing and still have your nipples in tact, I highly recommend you invest the $2.99 on a box of these bad boys.

You'll thank me later...

  • Finally, do not make the rookie mistake of going out too fast. I promise, you will finish faster if you start slow and build up to your average pace. Remember: Slow and Steady Finishes The Race!

During the race:

  • Utilize (read: drink) at every aid station, even if you don't think you're thirsty. Remember that you are running 26.2 miles here and dehydration is one of the most common reasons people fail to finish.

  • Remember that to avoid hitting the wall, you need to consume an energy gel or a sports drink every 45 minutes.

  • Thank and praise the volunteers! They are out there to help you achieve your goal - and they are doing it for free!

  • IMPORTANT! Read every sign you can get your eyes on. This will be especially helpful in those last 6.2 miles when you start to question your sanity. I'll never forget during my first marathon when I was struggling at mile 23, a little boy had made this sign that said, "The reason your feet are hurting is because you are kicking so much butt!!" Not only did that little boy bring tears to me eyes, he gave me the inspiration and encouragement I needed to kick the crap out of those last 3.2 miles! Feed off spectators, they are there to help you!

My last bit of advice is really simple: enjoy every stinkin' minute of this thing! You worked your ass off to get to that starting line. No matter what anybody else says, you're an athlete now. And once you cross that finish line, your life is going to change forever!

-Corey Barton