Running your first marathon can seem scary but with the proper preparation and tools, you can cross that finish line feeling proud.
Every year, runners all over the world gear up to run a race that requires months of training, dedication and perseverance. However for beginner runners, training for a marathon can seem like a daunting task. There is no denying that 13.1 or 26.2 miles is a long way to go, but with the right preparation and mindset, your dreams of crossing the finish line can come true. The following tips will give you some of the basic tools needed for your first big race
1. Choose the Best Race for You
Through the ups and downs of racing, I have learned the importance of choosing a race that fits your running capabilities and lifestyle. First decide whether you want to run a race close to home or a destination race. A race close to home like the annual Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure offers the benefits of you being familiar with the route as well as practicality of proximity. However a destination race, such as Walt Disney World Marathon, that requires traveling and the added benefit of sight-seeing may add more motivation for your training. Next keep your budget in mind. Each race has a different cost, some runs may even be free, so this might factor into the decision you make. Lastly, take a look at the routes themselves. For instance, the Houston Marathon is relatively flatter than the Austin Marathon, which incorporates a lot of hills. I learned this the hard way. You can prevent any race day surprises by researching the route and choosing a race that fits your running level.
2. The Right Shoes
Finding the right shoes can be frustrating. Running shoes can be based on gender, foot anatomy, running mechanics as well as experience. There are many brands that offer running shoes and you may not know what is right for you. Although it may be tempting to buy the shoes all your friends are wearing, everyone’s feet and needs are different. Just because a shoe looks good, that does not mean it is the right shoe for you. I suggest visiting a store such as Luke’s Locker, which offers shoe fittings as well as other running gear you may need.
3. Find a Training Partner
Running with a buddy makes training so much easier, whether it is a family member, friend or members of a local running club. But choose wisely! Find someone who has similar goals to you and will motivate and challenge you. Make sure you find someone who is in a similar level of training as you. It’s no fun when you feel like you are dragging your friend behind or are the one constantly struggling to catch up. Try to choose someone who runs at a similar pace and distance as you so that you can train and grow together. Also be aware of “friendly” competitions that might make you lose sight of your training goals. Running a marathon should be about feeling good about yourself, not beating someone else.
4. Follow a Training Plan
The four main components of training include base mileage, long runs, speed work and rest days. Base miles are usually three to five short runs a week which help build up your endurance. Base miles should be done at an easy, relaxed pace. Long runs should be done about every seven days, extending the run by a mile every week. These allow you to get accustomed to longer distances as well as allowing your body to learn how to burn fat for fuel. Speed work is optional but can help increase aerobic capacity and stamina. Lastly, don’t underestimate the importance of your rest days. They allow your muscles to recover as well as prevent mental burnout. Websites such as Runner’s World offers many training plans that you can choose from.
5. Fuel and Hydrate
Training is important, but your nutrition is what is going to determine how well you can train. The most common cause of hitting the wall is muscle glycogen depletion. Glycogen, a fuel derived from carbohydrates is delivered to muscles through the bloodstream. Fuel up with grains, potatoes, beans and lots of veggies to fuel your training and make sure your body stays in optimal shape. Hydration is also very important and should not be overlooked. No matter the weather, water should be taken with you on your daily runs. Replenish lost electrolytes after your run with your favorite sports drink or coconut water for a natural alternative. For those that do not like to carry anything while running, most sports stores carry hydration belts. However, make sure you train with the belt on so it is not tried out for the first time on race day.
6. Don’t Overdo It
It is easy to get overzealous when training and push yourself past your limits. This can lead to injuries that can take weeks or even months to heal. If you feel that you have injured yourself, it is perfectly fine to take a few days or even a week off of training. Running injuries normally are due to overuse or improper use of foot wear. So remember to stay up to date with your workout gear. It is also important to stretch after every run in order to relieve tight muscles and prevent injuries in the future. Make time to ice any kinks you feel in your body and visit a doctor if you feel that an injury has gotten out of hand. Strengthening your hips, quads and hamstrings can also help reduce the risk of knee pain, which is common for runners.
7. Have Fun
In the months leading up to the big day, you will experience many highs and lows in your training. You will have days when running just three miles feels like torture, when you easily ran ten miles the previous weekend. You will nurse injuries back to health and fight mental fatigue. But these are all a normal part of the process of training, whether you are a novice or a veteran runner. The most important thing is to relax and take everything as it comes. Running isn’t about proving anything to anyone or trying to beat everyone else on race day, it is about accomplishing a goal you may have never imagined you could accomplish and feeling proud of yourself for crossing that finish line. Make sure to keep your priorities straight. You may not have placed in the top three but you already feel like a winner.