1. Wear Proper Shoes
Avoid the rookie mistake of buying a new pair of shoes for your race. They need to be “broken in” and worn prior to the race to make sure they feel good on your feet, otherwise you could get a blister which can be debilitating. I like to find shoes that are lighter than my regular trainers. It is also important to take these shoes for a test run. Pick a longer run (at least 10 miles) that includes some miles at your goal marathon pace. A nice pair of socks that feels comfortable inside your shoes is a great addition also.
2. Pick A Fun/Large Marathon
I thrive off crowd support. Running a marathon in a large city for your first one has a lot of benefits. Usually, the city is very excited to host the event and you can sense the excitement. It also helps in the later part of the race as there is usually great crowd support and plenty of other runners around for encouragement. Parts of the course can be deafening with people cheering so loud! Plus, it is awesome to visit and explore new places.
3. Find A Running Coach
Find someone that is experienced in running to help you plan out your training. This takes away the stress of having to learn everything about running, and helps prevent injury. The marathon is a beast, and it is no small feat to complete one. Having a coach to guide you makes the training more fun as you have someone in your corner rooting for you.
4. Add Speed To Your Training
A good coach should incorporate speed training into your plan. This can be in the form of tempo runs (miles at or near goal pace), track workouts, strides, or picking up the pace at the end of a run. I like to pick workouts that mimic the course of my marathon. For example, when I ran the Boston Marathon, I did downhill repeats since the race is net downhill. Read course reviews. If the course is hilly, you should try to find hilly routes to do long runs. If the course is flat, run routes with little elevation changes. This trains and prepares your muscles for what race day might feel like.
5. You Can’t Cheat On Training
To be able to complete the full 26.2 miles, one must increase their weekly mileage. You don’t have to go further than 26 miles in training or even up to 26. My longest run when I train for marathons is 23-24. At this point, I have at least spent the same amount of time on my feet that I expect it will take me to finish my race. This does not always apply to first time marathoners, but it becomes more important for seasoned marathoners seeking fast times. It’s also easy to want to skip out on workouts or drop runs during training because you are tired. While it is important to listen to your body, you shouldn’t be making other types of excuses for not running. You can’t expect to finish the race if you don’t put in the work.
6. Work Your Way Up
Include a 10k and half marathon race into your plan if able. Try to run the half marathon at a little bit faster pace than what you expect to run your marathon. I especially like to find a race about 3-5 weeks before my marathon. I call this a “rust-buster”. It allows you to see where your fitness is. A good race can also ease some mental stresses you may have, and build confidence going into the race. Don’t underestimate the beast which is the marathon.
7. Fuel/Hydrate On Your Training Runs
Practice taking in fluids and nutrition during your long runs. There are various types of nutrition including liquid, gels, gummies, etc. A good idea is to use the same type of nutrition that will be provided on the marathon course or establish your own fueling strategy if you intend to carry your own fuels. Practicing this trains your stomach to handle taking in food/liquid while running. Be prepared to carry your own gels as there is usually only one aid station during the entire race that will provide a gel. Many people opt to carry their own fluids so they can have it whenever they need it. Use long runs to practice and figure out how often you need to take in nutrition so that you won’t bonk and will be able to finish the race strong.
8. Be Proactive To Prevent Injuries
When running lots of miles, it is important to listen to your body to prevent injuries. Daily activities play a major role in this. Having good nutrition and making sure you are eating enough to fuel your runs will allow the body to perform up to its potential. Rest is also important. Not only making sure you are sleeping enough hours, but also that you are getting plenty of rest between runs. I am a strong believer in being consistent with which days you run, and I aim to run at the same time each day. This means either do the bulk of your running in the mornings or afternoons. Personally, I like to do my long runs at the same time of day as the start of my marathon. Chiropractic, physical therapy exercises, massage, or foam rolling are all great ideas as well to prevent injuries.
9. Keep Self-Talk Encouraging
I like to write my goals down. This is great motivation when I get tired or want to skip out on some of the little things. It helps me stay positive and keep myself mentally engaged. When doubt starts to settle in during a hard workout, I always keep self-talk encouraging. Even if I am having a bad workout, I can still find something positive or learn from it to make changes next time. Another positive technique is visualizing yourself finishing your marathon. When I am finishing a fast workout or the end of a long run, sometimes I picture myself sprinting down the homestretch of my goal race.
10. Don’t Start Out Too Fast
In such a long race, it is easy to get carried away early. This leads to the “fly and die” method which usually doesn’t end well. The pace might feel too easy, and you will start to feel antsy, but stick to the plan. To run well in the second half of the race, you cannot deplete all your energy storage during the first half. Try to keep things under control until at least the halfway mark. I start to think about getting aggressive with pace around mile 18-20. At this point, mentality starts to change. I start to approach it with the mentality I would use for a much shorter race like a 10k or half marathon. I don’t always run a negative split (faster second half), but I at least finish strong. This feels much better than a death-march to the finish line.