Ten Things Every Aspiring Marathon Runner Should Know

When I was in high school, I ran cross country and track for a couple of seasons.  Running was not fun for me back then.  I ran to hang out with my friends.  I did not run to set any records.  I never imagined that I would like running, and I certainly never imagined that I would run a marathon (or three marathons).

Maybe you are like me.  You are starting to run longer distances.  Your friends are starting to encourage you to run a longer race. Maybe you are even starting to like running for the first time in your life.

Maybe you are thinking about running your first marathon.  If this is you, here are some things for you to know:

Ten Things Every Aspiring Marathon Runner Should Know

  1. Running a marathon is NOT the hardest part of completing your first marathon.  Training is actually the hardest part of the whole process.  You will need to spend hours and hours logging many miles in order to prepare for your first marathon.  If you put the training time and miles in, the marathon will be easier.
  2. Running a marathon requires unbelievable determination.  There were many times during my training and during the actual marathons I wanted to quit.  You will most likely experience these same feelings.  You need to have focus and determination to get through the whole experience.  You can do it.  And the marathon experience will teach you a lot about yourself and about life.
  3. A training program is critical to completing your first marathon.  You will not be prepared to run a marathon without a training program.  Whether it’s a runner’s group at the YMCA or like Team in Training or it’s simply an on-line or written plan like one from Hal Higdon, I think these programs can help keep one focused on doing the right mileage and exercise and rest to prepare for a longer race. I used a modified Hal Higdon plan when I prepared for all three of my marathons. As a numbers guy, I created spreadsheets to help track by progress through my training. I tracked distance and time, and I tracked details about each of my runs and workouts about how I felt, where I ran, and what the weather was like. It was amazing to watch my mileage build up from week to week. (I’ve been tracking my mileage this year, and I’ve run 653.6 miles in 2014 to date.)
  4. Accountability is a major help in preparing for your first marathon.  I found a friend to train with for many of my shorter runs, and I asked several people to ride their bike alongside me for a few of my longer runs. They carried my water and gel packs, but they also provided conversation to distract me when the mileage was getting the best of me.  It also helps to have people who will ask me about my training.  I have a few people at work and several friends who held me accountable to completing my training.  Even though I’m not marathon training right now, they still keep me accountable to keeping up with my running.
  5. Cross training and rest are essential to completing your first marathon.  These are important to build your strength and cardio capacity without overdoing it. I like to ride my bike as one of my cross training activities, and I would recommend swimming and lifting as great cross training activities. I look forward to my scheduled rest days. These give me a chance to recharge. These are just as important as the exercise days.  If you run every day, you will most likely burn yourself out.
  6. Hydration and fueling is important for completing your first marathon.  You should practice hydrating and fueling on your longer training runs.  While marathon training, I ran with a belt with four water bottles. I filled one or two of the bottles with an energy drink like Accelerade. Practicing eating a gel shot or energy bar in the middle of your longer runs. Find out what works for you and your stomach. I learned that certain gel packs don’t work with my stomach. It’s best to learn this lesson while training and not during your race.
  7. Setting goals can be very helpful in completing your first marathon.  A first goal would be to make it through your training and to the starting line of the race. Next, your goal should be to finish the race. Then, you can start adding time related goals – overall finish time, negative splits, etc. Finally, you might want to add a stretch goal that you can go after if you’re really feeling good.
  8. Running a marathon can be expensive.  Many marathons carry a fee.  These fees cover expenses related to promoting and supporting the race.  Be prepared to pay over $100 to enter most marathons.  (My third marathon, The Thanksgiving Day Marathon in the Bronx, did not have an entry fee, but this is a rare exception.)  You also should account for hotel costs, food costs, and any additional race swag you may want to purchase at the pre-race expo.  In addition, you will most likely go through a couple of pairs of shoes during your training.  Don’t buy cheap shoes.  Take the time to go to a running store.  They will do a gait analysis, and they will help you find the shoes that work best for you and your feet.  If you live in the Collegeville, PA area, I would recommend you check out the Valley Forge Running Company.  They have done a great job supporting the running efforts of our family.
  9. Running your first marathon will likely lead to other marathons and running adventures.  After finishing my first marathon, The Philiadelphia Marathon, I was already starting to think about running a second marathon.  There is something strangely habit-forming about this experience.  If you are getting ready to complete your first marathon, beware – you will likely consider a second marathon.
  10. Running a marathon is a lot of fun.  Embrace the fun part of running your first marathon.  The running community is great – before, during, and after the race. Talk to other runners. Find out what works for them. Ask them about their favorite races. Cherish each moment.

Have you ever run a marathon?  What did you learn through the experience? 

Have you ever thought of running a marathon?  What is stopping you from running your first marathon?

Whether you are a runner or not, I’d encourage you to check out my book, On Track – Life Lessons from the Track & Field.  You might learn a little bit about running, and you will definitely learn something about keeping your life On Track.