Running your first marathon? Congratulations! You are about to join a very small group of people to ever complete this feat. But before you raise your arms for that finish-line photo, you'll need to get through 42.2 kilometres of pushing yourself harder than you ever have before.
Trust us when we say: it ain't easy.
However, there are a few pieces of advice that can help make your first marathon a little (or a lot) more comfortable. We're not talking about common tips like remembering to use body glide or not testing out anything new on race day, although these are two great pieces of advice! There are some words of wisdom you can only get from people who, for better or worse, have run the marathon distance again and again.
From what could go wrong to everything that will go right, we're covering 10 of the most important things every new marathoner should know before arriving at the start line. Ready, set, go!
Go In With A Plan
The marathon distance commands respect, and the best way to set yourself up for success is to approach the big day with a plan. You'll need adequate training that you can lean on, some decent running shoes that can handle the impact of all that time spent on your feet, and an idea of how to manage your fuelling, hydration, and pacing. It can also help to scope out the course ahead of time, even if it's just reading the race FAQ, including knowing where the aid stations and on-course toilets are, the rules surrounding bag drop, and how to get to the start line on race day.
When it comes to the marathon, you're better off to be over prepared than under prepared!
... And Then Be Ready to Change Your Plan
All of that said: your plan might go out the window! Traffic, an upset stomach, bad weather, a broken shoelace, dropped gels, being positioned in the wrong coral, long lines for the bathroom, or legs that simply won't cooperate: all of these things (and more) can derail even the best-laid plans.
If poop hits the fan on race day, the best thing you can do is to remember your training (you are prepared for anything!) and to try and have fun regardless of what the day brings. It's OK to re-evaluate your pacing, take a walk break, ask someone in the crowd for a bandaid, and still enjoy the experience even if things aren't going according to plan. You might not be able to control everything that could go wrong on race day, but you can control your attitude.
Give Yourself A Race-Day Simulation Run
Don't worry, we do not recommend running 42.2 km before your race! However, we can pretty much guarantee you'll feel a lot more prepared on race day if you give yourself a mini pre-race day experience. This can help boost your performance in several ways, such freeing up mental energy that you'll need during the race and minimizing surprises while you're on the course.
To complete a race-day simulation, pick one of your final long runs of your build. Some people choose one of their longest runs during peak weeks, while others prefer using a long run during their taper period. You'll want to carve out a significant section of your run for practising things like your nutrition and hydration strategies while you're on the move, wearing your race-day kit and shoes, giving your playlist a listen, reciting your mantras, and visualizing an absolutely epic marathon. Get jazzed - it's almost here and it's going to be a blast. You're ready!
It Might Be Emotional, And That's OK
Feel like crying as you cross that finish line? Let it out! High-five a stranger, hug your parents in the crowd, yell from the pain, sing along to your favourite song, dump water on your head, talk to yourself: anything goes during a marathon! So long as you're being respectful to your fellow runners, this is your moment to let those emotions get the best of you.
Pain Is Inevitable, But Suffering Is Optional
This is one of our favourite quotes from a seasoned BlackToe Race Team member. It's true: pain is inevitable. There are few people on the planet who can run a marathon without experiencing fatigue and discomfort. But suffering through your marathon is certainly not mandatory! Avoid getting into a negative headspace by practising positive self-talk, repeating mantras, smiling, catching a high-five from the crowd, and imagining how cool you'll look in your finish line photos. Choose to accept the pain and have fun regardless of how bad it hurts.
Run With All Of Your Senses
42.2 kilometres is a long time to be running - about 4 to 5 hours for most people. A great way to pass the time is by running with your senses.
What do you see? What do you hear? Where are you? What are people around you wearing or doing? How fast are the clouds moving? How many cars, trees, stop signs, or dogs you see? How does that electrolyte drink from the aid station taste? How many runners can you find who are wearing green t-shirts?
Recruiting all of your senses will help balance your pain receptors, which are likely on high-alert, and keep you distracted as the miles fly by.
Get Some Energy From the Fans
There is real science behind the power of a crowd. If you find your mind wandering into dark territory and your body screaming at you to stop, turn to the cheering crowds for support. Seeing other people smiling and clapping, reading their signs, and making contact with another human during an epic high-five can be just the thing you need to finish the darn thing!
Flip Your Mindset
It can help to think about your marathon as the celebration to top-off your training. Yes, the marathon is hard. But is it harder than all of those training runs you completed? Probably not. You earned every moment of this race, so approaching it from a place of gratitude and triumph - rather than "the thing I need to get done" - can be helpful when you're in the throes of discomfort. You earned every step of this marathon and deserve to be here!
Wear Your Gear And Medal With Pride
You'll probably get some cool gear in your race kit, but we suggest buying a few souvenirs from the expo as well. You'll be proud of this race for a long time, and putting on a cozy hoodie or fun trucker hat from your first marathon will bring back those good memories for years to come.
It is also 100% acceptable to wear your medal out in public after the race! See the point above: you earned this race and deserve to be proud of it, even in public. Plus, you never know who might be inspired to chase their own marathon medal after seeing yours.
Get Support From Your Local Running Store
Not only is your local running store (ahem, like BlackToe Running) an excellent place to go for expert advice and the best race-day gear, but we also genuinely want to help and hear about your experience. Don't be shy about asking questions, sharing your race-day strategy, or getting us to show you how to tie a 'heel lock' just one more time. And please be sure to come back and tell us how it went!