I’ve run a handful of races–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.
If you missed the first installment of this, read Part 1.
WHAT I WISH I HAD KNOWN BEFORE RUNNING MY FIRST MARATHON // PART 2
Learning to pace yourself is key–and really hard.
I don’t even think I have this down. In the past, I don’t calculate pace when I run the streets. I run and push myself just enough mentally and physically, but not to the point of intense exhaustion. Just recently I started using the Strava App on my phone for long runs to keep track of my pace and progress. It’s a free app that provides GPS tracking, elevation, pace, analytics, and challenge friends.
- Find your comfortable pace on training runs: To find your baseline, find a pace that is comfortable to run long distances and stick to it. If you want to improve your time, run sprints at a faster pace of 30 seconds. To build endurance, run long runs at a slower pace of 30 seconds. Once you are comfortable with your pace, play around with your stride and cadence. After a while, you’ll get a hang of your rhythm and a pace you’re comfortable with.
- On race day don’t start out too fast. I know you’re excited and pumped with adrenaline and feeling good the first few miles, but take it easy. You don’t want to exhaust your reserves and burn out before the tail end of the race.
- On race day I start out easy and then test my limits after every 4 miles. If I’m still feeling good, I push myself further. The last mile can be quite agonizing. It’s a mental game. I try to sprint the last half-mile. Usually, that only happens in my brain but IRL my legs feel like jello and I’m hauling a$$. It’s rough. Hopefully, comes race day it’ll be a different story. So I always tell myself.
Hydrate throughout the week prior to race day.
Being properly hydrated doesn’t happen overnight. I remember I’d chug loads of water a day before or even the day of the race and it would just filter through my body almost immediately. That is not what you want. Running on a full bladder is not fun. I spent so much time waiting in lines for the porta potties. Being properly hydrated takes much longer than that just a day.
Tip: In preparation for race day, it’s important to start hydrating a week before and to sip water on race day. I’d recommend setting a Google Calendar reminder several days prior to race day to hydrate throughout the day, every day.
Don’t eat anything new before or on race day.
This should be a no-brainer right? Not me. For some reason, I like to get creative on race day and end up eating something that slightly upsets my stomach. Stick to what your stomach knows.
Recommended race day breakfast eats: PB&J sandwich, oatmeal with bananas, or an energy bar. I try to steer away from dairy.
Mentally prepare yourself–bring your mental A-game.
Running a marathon is just as much of a mental battle as a physical one. No matter how many races I’ve done I always have pre-race jitters. It can be tough, but to help calm your nerves, break up the race into bite-sized pieces.
- For a half-marathon: Envision it as four 3-mile legs with a sprint finish at the end.
- For a full marathon: Think of it as four 10Ks (6.2-mile legs) with a sprint finish at the end.
Take it one step at a time and keep things in perspective.
Adrenaline takes you far.
The sheer energy of other runners and the cheering crowd is such a whirlwind experience. I always feel inspired by others and you will too. This will push you further and be easier to hit your goal time.
Don’t feel bad about walking.
My first full marathon I walked countless times, no shame. It rained most of the race and I had to get used to running in wet shoes and socks. I needed to walk in order to finish. Nowadays I try to only walk when sipping on water at the aid stations but I still have trickled walks along the race route. As I said before, listen to your body. If you need to walk to conserve some energy, walk fast then steadily pick it back up to a jog. I’m always afraid that once I get accustomed to walking breaks it makes it that much harder to run again.
Your ankles may hurt, you may get some blisters or even a bloody black toe.
After running 26.2 miles in Honolulu, not only did I receive a beautifully designed Nike Fit Marathon Finisher shirt and medal, but I got some blisters and a bloody black toe. I guess I didn’t expect that. During the race, my ankles were sore and hurt a little but that was my fault. I didn’t properly train and never ran more than 14 miles prior to race day. If I had done all my runs during training, my ankles would have been used to all the logged miles and become stronger. I’m fortunate I didn’t get any injuries. Don’t be like me, make sure you train properly!
You’ll sign up for another one… in the near future.
Once you pass the finish line you’ll realize you are stronger than you think and can accomplish amazing things than you ever imagined. This momentous feeling is infectious and will infiltrate into every aspect of your lifestyle. You’ll even look forward to registering for another race.
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
I’ll be posting more about my Training Progress, What’s In My Race Day Waist Pack, What I Eat In a Day, Favorite Protein Green Smoothie Recipe, and other fitness-related topics. To make sure you don’t miss a beat, 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.