I ran my first full marathon (26.2 miles, baby!) in 2008 on the beautiful island of Honolulu, Hawaii. My cousin and I were so inspired by my brother’s 2007 Honolulu Marathon finish that we vowed to run the following year’s race together. It’s amazing how far I’ve come in my marathon journey. It’s hard to imagine almost a decade ago I huffed and puffed a couple miles, let alone complete 26.2 miles.
Since then I’ve run three half-marathons (four, in August), two full marathons, and a 200-mile (36-hour) relay. I’m by no means an expert–more often I feel faux than pro. I still struggle with motivating myself to run and each time I begin training it feels like I’m starting all over again.
Signing up for a long-distance race is daunting. But knowing what to expect can ease your race jitters and boost your confidence. Looking back, there are some lessons I wish I hadn’t learned the hard way for my first marathon. I wish someone gave me the low down on race preparation and day-of expectations before jumping head-first into the racing world.
If you signed up and ready to train for a half or full marathon, here’s what I want you to know:
What I Wish I Had Known Before Running my First Marathon // Part 1
There’s no perfect training plan, so find one that works for you and stick to it.
I’m a running delinquent when it comes to properly training for a marathon. This is something I’m working on. Yes, I’m training myself to train myself to keep to a consistent schedule. What I look for in a suitable training plan is not only a gradual increase and then tapering off mileage each week, but a mix of interval runs and strength training. For this half-marathon coming up in August, so far I’m on track and it’s a big thanks to the handy dandy Lululemon SeaWheeze 14-week half-marathon training schedule and their comprehensive training program to prepare the body and mind. I also give mad props to my better half who is voluntarily training alongside with me. He’s training for a half-marathon race that he won’t be running. What a keeper.
For those training for a full marathon (26.2 miles), I came across this PopSugar Beginner 18-week Marathon Training Program. Too bad this wasn’t around in 2008. I would have committed the sh*t out of this plan.
Strength Training, Cross Training, and Sprints are your friends.
I know, as if running isn’t hard enough, now you gotta incorporate strength and cross training and all that jazz? These are integral to help prevent injuries and build optimal strength so you can run more comfortably and with stronger form. Sprints aid in running faster and help you hit your goal time. However, you can’t have one without the other. You have to build the foundations of a stronger body before focusing on speed. My first marathon I made the mistake of only just running during training. It helped with my endurance but my body (lower back area) didn’t feel strong enough to hold a proper running form for long periods of time. Nowadays I love High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts to build strength and I’ve been regularly incorporating spin for endurance and hot yoga for flexibility.
Lululemon SeaWheeze created this Strengthen Your Stride workouts that are designed to support your run training. Give it a whirl.
Proper stretching pre and post workout is your other friend.
Stretching before and after a run helps ease your body into and out of a high-impact activity–focusing on hamstrings, hip flexors, calves, quads, glutes, and lower back. Activating your muscles before a run can help maintain good form while stretching after can help prevent stiffness and soreness from pushing your limits. Refer to Lululemon SeaWheeze Strengthen Your Stride workouts that cover warm-up and cool-down moves. Also incorporating sessions with a foam roller is a bonus! Giving yourself a massage 1x or 2x/week with a foam roller will help prevent injuries.
Here’s a foam-rolling routine that will certainly hit all your sore spots. Using a foam roller can hurt like a mother but it essentially works like a massage–rolls out your knots, hits sore spots, and eventually, you’ll feel relaxed. No pain, no gain, right?
Listen to your body. Be kind to yourself.
Take proper recovery days and rest your body. Also if you’re running and you feel pain, take it easy or just reschedule your run to another day. I can’t help stress this enough–your body needs to rest. I know there are times you want to push through the pain but it’s important to know the difference between injury pain vs that “getting out of your comfort zone” feeling. Stubbornness and working out through agonizing pain can lead to major injuries and perhaps even be missing the race altogether.
Focus on a nutritious diet.
This can be tricky. There’s not one perfect nutrition plan–everyone responds to foods differently. I’ve learned for my body type and activity level, I prefer to eat clean and focus on nutrient-dense whole foods, like:
- Whole grains and starches: Brown rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, multi-grain bread
- Lean proteins: Salmon, chicken, eggs, beans
- Healthy fats: Avocados, nuts, coconut oil
- Fruits & Vegetables (taste the rainbow): Strawberries, bananas, blueberries, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts
- Minimize sweets: I have the biggest sweet tooth and the hardest part for me is to restrain from sweets made with processed sugars. I’m a believer in moderation (yes, I do have some control) and still have chocolate, ice cream, and cookies during the week. But I do have to chime in, if you’re able to cut this out entirely, you’ll definitely feel and see a difference in your training and body physique.
Timing and Frequency of Fueling.
When it comes to nutrition, the timing and frequency of eating during your training months is all about balance and listening to your body. You don’t want to run on an empty stomach and suffer through sluggish, underperformed runs, but you also don’t want to train on a full stomach.
- 30 minutes before runs: When in a pinch, drink a veggie smoothie.
- 1-2 hours before runs: Have a light snack of bananas and nut butter, PB&J, or a nut butter spread on whole grain toast. Can you tell I love nut butters?
- Rest of the Day: Listen to your body when you’re hungry. You don’t have to fuel before, during, and after every run. It depends on how much you’ve been eating throughout the day. I tend to eat small meals every 3-4 hours. I’m the type of person that gets full quickly and gets hungry within a few hours. It’s not worth it to take me to a buffet unless we stay there all day.
- Avoid Binge-Eating: Avoid rewarding yourself with binge eating on greasy, fatty foods. Trust me on this. One time after a long run I indulged on fatty and fried foods only to realize on my next run I most resembled in looks and speed of a sloth. That whole day I was living the #bloblife.
Do a trial long run in your race day outfit, gear, and shoes–but keep it minimal.
Ever heard not to wear new running shoes on race day? It’s the same with new clothes and gear, to some degree. You don’t need to “break-in” clothes and gear like with shoes but it’s advisable to do a trial or test run on how the clothes and gear fit and feel on the skin. Certain materials of shirts, shorts, socks, packs can chafe and cause irritation. It’s also good to know if they are finicky on long runs. I prefer to run with longer shirts that go past my waistband so my shirt doesn’t ride up when wearing my waist pack. It’s best to figure this out before then having to fuss with finicky gear on race day.
If you haven’t noticed already, I basically wear the same outfit in all my races. It’s as if I only have one look. At least I can turn left.
Long Distance Race Accomplishments
2008, Oct – Honolulu, Hawaii Full Marathon
2009, Sept – Disneyland Half-Marathon
2012, Oct – SF Nike Women’s Full Marathon
2013, Apr – DC Nike Women’s Half-Marathon // Read my recap post, here.
2015, Apr – SoCal 200-mile Ragnar Relay // Read my recap post, here.
2015, Oct – SF Nike Women’s Half-Marathon
To make sure you don’t miss Part 2 of What I Wish I Had Known Before Running My First Marathon, subscribe to It’s Jou Life! Enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner to stay updated and receive e-mails whenever we post. We promise we don’t share your personal information with anyone.