I recently made a few new friends who I’m heading to Louisiana with next year for the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon. In our group instant messenger chats, there were a few new runners who are running NOLA as their first full marathons. They had questions and I offered to send them a blog post, because, surely, I had covered this already. Hadn’t I?
Ah. Well then. Let’s get to it. I’ll break this up into training and race day.
1. Have a running base. Most marathon training plans start with anywhere from 16-20 weeks of training, and that’s just for the marathon. I would recommend that before you even begin you have a base of being able to run 15-25 miles per week. This is do as I say, not as I do, because I definitely did not have that. I wish I had run a lot more before I started my first marathon training plan. This base will help once the mileage climbs and you reduce risk of injury.
2. Get a training plan and stick to it. This is tougher than it sounds because, let’s be honest, some days we just don’t want to run. And we get tired. And life happens. BUT. It is important you stick to it as much as you can or race day will be a total bitch. Again, do as I say, not as I do. You want to finish strong and smiling. Not bent over like a hundred year old woman who the medical team rushes over to. Not that this happened to me or anything…I’d recommend Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway (run/walk method), or Cool Running if you want a free, online program. Otherwise, find a running group or friend or coach who knows what the hell they are doing.
3. Get in those long runs! This goes along with number two and I do have a post on how to set yourself up for success on the long ones.
4. Take your nutrition seriously and test, test, test until you get it right. The beauty of training for a marathon is that you have a lot of long runs to test out nutrition. I’m revamping mine for Nola because I’m a wee bit tired of gels, but I’m going to test and test and test until I figure it out. The general rule of thumb is that runners need 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrates every hour that they are running over an hour. But if you wait until that hour, you could be running on an empty tank. This is why a good pre-run meal is necessary. For all seven of my last marathons I ate something before leaving the hotel (a bagel with cream cheese, oatmeal with berries, banana and oatmeal, etc.). Then every 45 minutes I took a gel. This worked well for me but you truly have to find out what works best for you. 
5. Hydrate! This is for both training and race day! My hydration plan has not changed – I drink water at every aid station. If I feel especially tired or it’s hot, I drink the sports drink on the course. I also drink a lot throughout the week so I never fall behind and wreck a run. Every run is important – yes event the recovery runs! You need to be hydrated because once you fall behind it’s a mother to catch back up. Also, as an aid if it’s hot or you are a big sweater, adding in salt tablets can be helpful. Again, test that out on a long run.
6. Change up your training routes. Variety is the spice of life! Change up your route every now and again and you’ll surprise yourself by seeing how much faster a training run goes by even though you are running the same paces. Sure it’s nice to know every crack in the trail, but now and again, breaking loose of routine will be a welcomed change.
7. Get a gait analysis and buy shoes every 300-400 miles. I probably should have listed this earlier, but a gait analysis at a running store is really worth it! This is especially true if you’ve just started logging more miles. I’ve actually changed the type of shoe I run in over the years and learning that was really helpful because the last shoes I wore were actually hurting me.
8. Take those rest and recovery days seriously. If you have a planned rest day, take it. If your plan calls for a recovery run, run it at recovery pace. These things are just as important, if not more important, than logging your miles. They are in training plans for a reason.
9. Try not to over eat during training. Oh, this is a tough one. Marathon training is tough for those using it to lose weight. Because it makes you hungry. A lot. I recommend using a fitness app to track your calories so that you aren’t under or over eating. I tend to fall into the over eating category so I know first hand how hard it is to ignore the crazy extra hunger pangs.
10. Train with friends. I love, love, love training with friends! They make the time go by SO much faster. Just make sure you discuss your pace ahead of time and stick to that agreed upon pace.
11. Cross train. It’s important to run during marathon training, obviously, but a day of cross training never hurts. In fact, I think it helps stave off injury more than a rest day. Use those other muscles and your running muscles will thank you. Just make sure you follow your training plan.

12. Body Glide, Body Glide, Body Glide. Basically take a bath in this stuff. Ladies, you’ll chafe in weird places like your underarm, where your arm hits your sports bra, at the bottom of your sports bra, and in the usual places like inner thighs. Men, either Body Glide or tape up those nipples!


Race Day

1. Don’t do or wear anything new on race day!!! You see all those exclamation points? It’s cause I mean it. The phrase “No new is good new” should be repeated to yourself throughout the week or two before your marathon. In addition to DDAS: Don’t Do Anything Stupid. For example the week or two prior:  don’t try that new exotic restaurant that just opened up down the street, don’t go roller skating, don’t go out drinking all night…You get the point.

2. Eat a good breakfast. You will have tested this on your long run so do EXACTLY what you did during those long ones.

3. Don’t go out too fast. EVERYONE feels great for the first 5K. Trust me. This will change. You must pace yourself. I cannot stress this enough. It may even be better to start a hair slower than your goal pace if you know you are prepared. As a caveat, this is not how everyone races every time, but for your first it’s so easy to get caught up in the moment. Better to be safe than blow up by mile 15.

4. Positive self talk and a mantra go a long way. You need some mental tricks for getting through the tough times during your race. I have a few words I repeat over and over. I also tend to curse, which makes me feel better for some reason. Be kind to yourself as you run. Tell yourself how awesome you are for just leaving your house at the butt crack of dawn. Running for long periods of time is hard but you can do it!

5. Be careful with a pace team. I’ve had fantastic pacers and awful pacers. If they are a tad fast too start, feel free to let them go. You’ll catch them when they slow down. Don’t panic if they get in front of you. You know what you need to do.

6. Run your race. While I absolutely adore training with friends, I don’t really advocate racing with them unless:  a. You are 100% certain you want to stick with them should they go slower. b. You are 100% certain they want to stick with you should you go slower. c. You will be A-OK with whatever time you finish in because you ran with a friend. d. You can handle being grouchy when it gets tough for you and not for them and vice versa. There are LOTS of reasons that running solo during a race is better. (I know this can also be said of the opposite but in my experience, racing solo is the way to go.)

7. Know that the marathon can be unpredictable, but you WILL finish. There will be highs and there will be lows. You will get through both. Smile when it gets tough, I promise that helps.

8. Don’t set a time goal for your first marathon. Run your first marathon to finish. It’ll help alleviate some of the stress you’re already under by just thinking about running 26.2 miles. Enjoy it. You only get to run your first marathon once!

9. The wall can happen…but it’s not a guarantee. That infamous “marathon wall” around mile 20 is a possibility every time you race a marathon. I’d say four of my seven had big, brick walls. Those aren’t bad odds really. But don’t worry about that wall because even if you do hit it, you’ll bust through and finish.

10. HAVE FUN! Both the training and the race should be fun – overall. Sure there will be tough times but in general you should enjoy it. I keep running, not because I love getting up at the crack of dawn, not because I love the agony of the track workouts, but because I truly love running. Staying healthy and socializing with friends are just icing on the cake.
As always, please email me if you have any questions at all. I’m not a certified running coach but I have been running since 2009 and I have read a lot and been coached by awesome mentors. I’m happy to help!