October 19, 2018

10 Tips for the 1st-Time (or Seasoned) Marathoner

So if you can believe it (because I really can't) I have run 7 marathons. I have many friends running their first or second marathon this weekend at the Baltimore Running Festival and then more running at the NYC Marathon, Philadelphia Marathon next month. FYI, at the Baltimore Running Festival I'm running the 5K and then will be out cheering with November Project Baltimore at ~9 mile marker of the half marathon (~mile 22 of the marathon). 

As a seasoned marathoner, I have shared some advice and tips with first time marathoners so I thought I'd share some with the rest of the interwebs. This advice is tried and true for me! Despite my tips and anecdotes remember that marathons are a beast. One minute you could be feeling fine, and then the next minute you could be feeling terrible, despite doing everything right in training or race morning. Respect the distance! If marathons were easy, everyone would run them right?!

1. Carbloading. 
Yes, for a marathon you actually should carbload. Try to eat extra carbohydrates (and less protein and fat) days before the race, not just the night before. However, do NOT go overboad. Stick to the kind of foods you have been eating as you have been training. It's not an excuse to overload yourself with bread and pasta unfortunately. I eat extra carbohydrates as well as a lot of bananas a couple days before the marathon. A good article explaining race week nutrition is here

Pasta with a simple marinara or pizza is my go-to pre-marathon food! 

2. Lay out everything the night before.
I do this before most of my training runs but especially for a large race like a marathon. Race morning you may be anxious like me so it's easier to not be running around frantically searching for your GPS watch or water bottle. I lay everything I need out including my bib, pack my gear check bag, and make sure my cell phone, GPS watch, and headphones are all charged. 

I lay out anything I need because my nerves can cause me to forget. That means laying out my deodorant, sunscreen, BodyGlide (lubricant any part of you that might chafe-special shout-out to guys to protect their nipples too!). If the weather calls for rain (that's a whole other blog post-hello Boston Marathon 2018!) I suggest creating a chic trash bag poncho to keep you dry before the race. Bring throwaway clothes as layers to keep you warm and get rid of at the start line (most larger races collect these clothes and donate them). 

Double duty: trash bag and poncho runner chic look at the start of the Boston Marathon 2018

3. Follow your nutrition plan. 

Fuel early and often. You hopefully have tried different methods of fueling (gels, chews, etc.) throughout training and found what works for you. Stick with what you have been using. Also get on top of your fueling early. Of course you may feel fine the first 13-14 miles, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be taking in any nutrition. (Here's some of the products I use for marathons in this post). Once you bonk later in the race, it's too late to make up for not eating enough beforehand. 

My go-to fueling options: Honey Stinger and Nuun Hydration.
Also if you have a sensitive stomach, I'd be wary of eating other things on the race course such as the gels the race is supplying if you haven't used them before or random candy that people are passing out. I'm all for grabbing a handful of gummy bears and Twizzlers on course, but I know my stomach can handle them! This post does a great job of explaining how to finalize a fueling plan for a marathon-remember you need 30-60 g of carbohydrates PER HOUR! 

Also I haven't carried anything for hydration besides a small handheld my past few marathons instead relying on water stations which were every couple of miles. Hydrate early and often as well. I usually go with the strategy of alternating water and Gatorade at every other aid station. You can squeeze the cup in half if it's a paper cup to make for easy drinking on-the-go or there is also no shame in walking through the water stop to actually drink it instead of spilling it all over yourself. 

4. Don't Go Out Too Fast.
This is true for every race but especially for a marathon. I have been good about not starting out too fast during my marathons but have seen and tracked so many other friends that have fallen into this trap. I know that you are excited and nervous. The start line is a big event and once the gun goes off, people start running fast around you. You may get caught up in all of this-DO NOT GO OUT TOO FAST! Think of the saying "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon". 

I would suggest going out a little slower than your goal pace the first couple of miles. Don't stress out if the start is crowded. Also don't start weaving around people, you need to conserve your energy. At the beginning of longer races I always talk to myself (yes often out loud!) and tell myself to "settle in". To me that means stay relaxed and get into an easy groove of running. You'll be running for hours and have miles ahead of you. I like the car/gas tank analogy as well-conserve your fuel, don't burn a bunch of your fuel speeding and instead put on cruise control. 

5. Pack a gear check bag. 
Or find someone to hold your stuff. For marathons (and most other longer distance races) and depending on the weather, I like to have some things with me post-race. I like having a dry pair of socks and a pair of slides or another pair of shoes. Taking off my running shoes post-marathon feels so good. I also like having a sweatshirt or dry layer to put on. After sweating through 26.2 miles, I can get really cold (depending on race day weather) but at least like having a fresh shirt to throw on. Check out my marathon gear check bag checklist here for more ideas. 

I was shivering after I finished the chilly 2017 Philadelphia Marathon. 

6. Try to stay off your feet the day before.
Depending on if the race is Saturday or Sunday this may be trickier. Really try to NOT do a lot of walking and stay off your feet the day before the race. If you are running a race in a city you have never been to before this can be tough, especially if you have plans with other people or are sightseeing. It's okay to tell friend and family you need to rest before your race. I've tired my legs out a couple times when I ran Chicago and most recently for the Berlin Marathon doing touristy things and walking downtown the day before the race. For the 2014 Chicago Marathon I was sick the week before and did not really run at all that week plus spent the day before the race in bed resting and taking medicine-I ended up having a fine race! Trust your training and rest your legs. 

7.  Get up earlier than you normally do.
I had someone on Instagram ask me how to deal with anxiety and going to the bathroom race morning. I have IBS and actually sometimes have a tough time going to the bathroom before the race. Before marathons I often take Immodium to bind everything up because with my nerves it can be a vicious cycle of my anxiety upsetting my digestive system/bowels which makes me more anxious. Again, not something I would do unless you've tested it with YOUR body before. I also try to wake up earlier than normal. I usually don't leave a lot of time in the morning before training runs because I love sleep, but race morning I try to get up and get moving as well as drink water and eat something first thing. I find that moving around and getting something in my system quickly helps get things moving. 

I had plenty of time to wait in the start corral at the 2018 Berlin Marathon

Despite being a coffee drinker, I personally use
Run Gum and not coffee before a race. Coffee does gets things moving, but I don't want to take a chance on the timing. Leave time to get to the race start with PLENTY of time for an extra bathroom stop and for larger races which usually have security and bag checks. Even if I don't feel like I have to go, I always get into a port-a-potty line before the race to try to use the bathroom which helps calm me down too. Anyone else's mother insist they "tried" to uses the bathroom before getting in the car for a trip? 

8. Put your name on your shirt (if it's not already on your bib!). 
Some race bibs now have your name or something else of your choosing, but if not I suggest using some duct tape or kinesiotape (easier to remove!) on your shirt to write your name on. It's fun especially when I've done it during larger races to have strangers cheering you on and calling you out by name. It can be a nice morale boost during those tough miles to hear people cheering YOU on. However if hearing "Go, {your name}" 50x during the race is going to bother, you can skip this advice. 
Before the 2014 Chicago Marathon 
9. Have some landmarks in mind.
Look at the course map and check out some of the major mile markers. Locate practical landmarks such as where water stations and aid stations are going to be. I also like knowing the course landmarks at specific miles. At the Chicago Marathon I know that once I get to Chinatown (and see the big dragon!) I only have a few miles to go. At the Boston Marathon I was focused on getting to the famous Citgo Sign and then those famous turns down Boylston and Hereford at the end. I also like knowing where my friends and family may be. It's nice to know that at Mile X there will be a cheer station or that your family is going to try to see you at Mile X. Those things keep be going during races! 

I was PUMPED to get to the November Project cheer station at the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon

10. The race starts at mile 20.

You may have heard this before, but the marathon is a 20 mile warm up followed by a 10K race. Hopefully you have come up with and used some mental strategies for the marathon because spoiler alert-it is more of a mental challenge than a physical one. I use mantras that I repeat to myself including  "stronger than you know" (sometimes out loud). Also try to relax and not think about how long the race is or how you are going to feel at Mile 18. Take it one mile at a time and run the mile you are in. Also know that going out too fast at Mile 2 will leave you not feeling great at Mile 20. 

I love having mantras on my Momentum Jewelry motivate wrap bracelets. 
There probably will be highs and lows during your race, but crossing that finish line (especially if it is your first marathon) is a special feeling. Remember that it probably will be painful, but pain is temporary. Your journey to the start line is maybe even more important than the actual race, so enjoy every moment. 

Pain is temporary, glory is forever! {Chicago Marathon 2016}