September 20, 2014

First Marathon Tips – Never Run It Solo

By Marek

First Marathon Tips

Earlier this summer, I ran my first marathon. Number one tip – never make your first marathon a solo run. What I mean is, I went out on my own and ran a marathon distance. Disaster! Or was it?

First Marathon

I had been toying with the idea of running a marathon for some time now. Nike running My longest run before the ultimate attempt was around 18 miles, so I felt I could do it. Why did I set out on my own, you ask? Well, I could not make my mind up when I should run it and the dates of the organised events did not suit me very well. I figured, no more time wasting, let’s get it under my belt. I prepared similar as I did for my previous long runs. But I made some mistakes, and I paid for them big time. From perspective, I can easily say, that the jump between a half marathon and a marathon is greater than a jump from 5k to half marathon. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. I eventually completed the run in just under 4h30m but it was a struggle from about the 18th mile.

Lessons Learned

Shortly after completing my first marathon, I listed all the things which I felt influenced my result. First marathon tipsHere, I will focus on the main mistakes I made in hopes of helping you avoid the same.

  1. Rest before the run – usually, before competing in half marathon or longer races, I had 2 days break from running to relax and recover. What did I do before my biggest run? I gave myself only 1 day break. Mistake! First marathon tip: have 2 days rest before the event!
  2. Breakfast is key – I like running races which are near midday. That way, I can get a good breakfast in. My marathon day, I had limited time and had to set off early. I only managed to get 1 meal replacement shake in before the run and a few almonds. Body Vi shakes Prior to my previous runs, I usually managed to get in 2 meal replacement shakes with porridge, a salad and some nuts. Not enough nutrients this time. Mistake! First marathon tip: have a good, nutritious breakfast!
  3. Wake up – you need time between waking up and competing. Taking off to run a marathon 1 hour after waking is not sufficient. Your body is still half asleep and you don’t have enough time to get the right foods in and digest them. Mistake! First marathon tip: run your race at least 2 – 3 hours after waking!
  4. Assume from the go that you will do the distance – when I stepped out to do my marathon run, I was not convinced that I was going to run the distance that day. I could see lightening and hear thunder nearby and decided that if the storm moves my way, I will return home. Mistake! First marathon tip: go out with certainty that you will run the full marathon distance no matter what!
  5. Temperature – the cooler, the better. My run started mid morning and ended early afternoon. Although it was cloudy early on, midway through the sun came out and stayed with me for the remainder of the run. The temperature was 22 degrees Celsius (72 Fahrenheit). Not hot, but hot enough. Ideally I would prefer to run in much cooler temperature, say 10 Celsius (50 Fahrenheit). Mistake! First marathon tip: don’t run it mid summer!
  6. Choose an audiobook over music. If like me, you run with earphones (or actually one earphone) on, then choose an audiobook over music for the bulk of the run. I did that for my previous long runs and found that listening to an interesting book, like ‘Born To Run‘, takes your mind off the the run and gets you to focus on the book. You stop analysing everything and stop counting the time and distance. Losing yourself in a book makes things so much easier. It is difficult to accomplish that with music. Music does not require so much focus and your thoughts return to pace and distance more often. Music is good on the last stretch, especially lively and fast paced songs like ‘Footloose’, ‘Rolling In the Deep’ or the ultimate, ‘Rocky’ theme song. All I had playing throughout my run was music. Mistake! First marathon tip: lose yourself in a good audio book and the time and distance will sail by!
  7. Walking stints – for refuelling only. Maybe this statement is too bold, as previously, I had done things by the book (this time, it was Stu Mittleman’s ‘Slow Burn’). My first half marathon is an excellent example of that. I planned my running and walking stints and have managed to complete it in a better than anticipated time with a huge smile on my face. However, this did not work for me this time. There may be two reasons for that. One, I should have planned for shorter running stints. Or two, I thought too much about the walking stints. I am more inclined to go with the latter. I was running quite comfortably and even extended my first running stint by 10 minutes. I feel I should have actually run longer. The tempo was good and I was feeling fine. Had I either slowed down just to grab something to eat and quickly reverted back to running, or not paused for another 10 to 15 minutes, I believe I would have eliminated the option of walking from my mind. It very well may have appeared later on, but I would not be concentrating on it so much. If from the start, I focused on refuelling breaks (by breaks, I mean reaching in my backpack and grabbing something to eat as I walk), I would not have thought of them as walking intervals. Again, the mind games. Mistake! First marathon tip: slow down to refuel but don’t classify this as a walking stint!
  8. Run one mile at a time – a marathon consists of 26 one mile runs. This is a classic strategy used by top runners. They focus on the task at hand, which is usually a short stint, be it the next mile or 10 minutes. Once you complete this section, you start the next one. You can run a mile, can’t you? When you complete that mile, you come to the next one – again, you can run a mile, right? I made the mistake of concentrating on the longer stints, like when the next walking interval will be. Mistake! First marathon tip:run 26 one mile races!
  9. Don’t underestimate the challenge. A marathon deserves your respect. Treat it seriously. I felt that I could do it just like that. I neglected certain aspects which in the past I made sure I did correctly. It came back at me hard. Mistake! First marathon tip: don’t fear it, but show the marathon respect!
  10. Hydration – make sure to stay well hydrated, but at the same time, don’t overdo it. Chia fresca Now, this is a tough one for me, because I actually have not figured it out yet. Was I dehydrated or overly hydrated (water intoxication). This hit me around the 18 miles mark. Something was not right. To this day I have not figured it out. Usually before longer races, I consume at least 2 litres of liquids on the day prior to the race. Again, this time I did not have a chance to do that due to the early start. I had about a litre to drink. By the time I hit the 18 mile mark I had consumed another 1.5 litres. The reason I am swaying slightly towards the theory of water intoxication is that I did manage to have a quick toilet break and the urine was nice and pale (when you’re dehydrated, it turns deep yellow or even orange or black). I had chia seeds with my water earlier on (chia seeds help retain water), so maybe I did not need to consume that much water after all. Either way, it is something that does require attention during the marathon. Try experimenting during shorter training runs to see how your body reacts to dehydration and water intoxication (of course in moderation). Mistake? First marathon tip: stay hydrated but beware of water intoxication!

The above are the top 10 lessons taken from my first marathon run. Things that I have done wrong, but which you can do right when you attempt a marathon for the first time.

Top 10 First Marathon Tips
  1. Have 2 days rest before the event!
  2. Have a good, nutritious breakfast!
  3. Run your race at least 2 – 3 hours after waking!
  4. Go out with certainty that you will run the full marathon distance no matter what!
  5. Don’t run it mid summer!
  6. Lose yourself in a good audio book and the time and distance will sail by!
  7. Slow down to refuel but don’t classify this as a walking stint!
  8. Run 26 one mile races!
  9. Don’t fear it, but show the marathon respect!
  10. Stay hydrated but beware of water intoxication!

One more key ingredient. Run your first marathon during a proper organised event. There is no better motivation to keep going than having the crowd cheer you on. After all, you will look silly in front of all those people if you just stop and give up! Running your first marathon solo gives you the opportunity to use every excuse in the book to pull out, slow down, walk and to give up. This was probably my biggest mistake but one from which I took other valuable lessons from which I can share with you! Please share your first marathon experiences and help others avoid the same mistakes.

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