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So you signed up for your first marathon; now what? You are most likely thinking, “What did I get myself into?” A marathon may seem like an intimidating and exhausting endeavor, but with the proper planning and preparation, you can make it through the 26.2 miles and be proud of your amazing accomplishment.
You can’t start running the whole distance right out of the gate so it’s important to find a plan that helps you gradually build up your mileage and endurance while incorporating enough rest to prevent overuse injuries. John Loftus, an RRCA certified running coach from Laugna Beach, California who works with performance-oriented adult runners, recommends a training plan that takes a runner’s background and experience into account. This type of plan builds a runner up slowly and carefully to meet the demands he or she will face on race day.
“Ideally [after completing the training plan] the runner will be prepared both physically and mentally for what to expect during the marathon,” he says. “Overall, I prefer plans that build slowly and allow enough recovery time so the runner will get to the starting line in excellent shape, not sore and beat up.”
Loftus suggests looking for a plan that coincides with your current running level and advises against a plan with a significant increase in mileage or frequency. It’s also important to consider the suggested number of running days and specified mileage in order to determine if the plan is feasible.
You’re undoubtedly going to be hungry after all of that running, but eating the right foods at the right times can help you fuel and recover during training. There is a small window of time up to 30-minutes after a hard training run when the body is best able to replenish and utilize the carbohydrates and protein that were used during exercise. Experts recommend consuming foods with a 3 to 1 protein to carbohydrate ratio. You can also refuel using protein shakes or chocolate milk.
Make sure to do some post-run stretching, and use ice or cold water dips to alleviate inflammation, and ease sore and damaged muscles. Using heat and/or a foam roller is a good way to sooth sore muscles.
For novice marathon runners, simply finishing the event is a huge accomplishment. Loftus recommends that newbie marathoners focus more on finishing the race and having a good experience rather than trying to run too hard.
“For the majority of first time marathoners, finishing should be the primary goal, but they should still have a plan for their pacing so they don’t go out too fast or exert too much energy in the early part of the race,” he says. “It is a big accomplishment to finish a marathon and hopefully do it in a way that is a positive experience.”
The mindset and confidence level you establish during training can influence your performance and outlook on race day. “A great way to prepare mentally is to have good results in your more challenging, training runs and tune-up races,” Loftus says. “This way you build your confidence which is an extremely important element of mental preparation.”
A great way to prepare is to study the course prior to the event, either using maps or actually going to see the course in person. This way there will be no surprises when you actually run the race.
Adequate mental preparation can help to instill confidence, which will help runners relax more before and during the race. “I try to prepare my runners by letting them know in advance that the race will become hard at some point,” Loftus says. “The body can do amazing things especially when we are mentally prepared and willing to dig deep to achieve a goal.”
When choosing a shoe, runners should find a pair that is comfortable, light and flexible. Go to a local running or sporting goods store and try on several different pairs. Many specialized stores will let you run in the shoes, and give you helpful feedback to choose the right pair.
It’s also important to get high-quality socks that are both comfortable and protective. Loftus also recommends applying a thin layer of Aquaphor or Vaseline on the feet in order to prevent blisters.
Many athletes think that carbo-loading the night before a big race is the best strategy but Loftus suggests consuming carbohydrates such as rice or pasta at lunch instead, and having a smaller dinner. “This has the advantage of lightening the load on your GI tract and making it easier to sleep,” he says.
It’s important to consume your food at the right time on race day so that you allow your body enough time to digest. “On race morning I do my fueling three hours before the start of the race so it has time to work it’s way out of the stomach,” Loftus says. Also be sure to bring fuel sources with you that you can grab during the race.
Committing to a training plan and following through with the taxing, demanding workouts is extremely challenging. But once you have made it and you line up at the start line, certain parts of the race can prove more difficult than others.
“Every race can unfold differently because of terrain, weather and the conditioning of the runner,” Loftus says. “For someone who is well prepared the marathon usually starts to get harder in the later stages, the last 6 to 8 miles. That is when the muscles can be nearing the effective end of their stored energy, and the first time the new marathoner is going into unknown territory in terms of time or distance.”
Most runners are usually able to rally towards the end of the race, when they are able to see the finish line. Towards the end runners may feel overcome with emotions as they will experience a feeling of elation mixed with the emotions of all of the highs and lows they have gone through during the 26.2 miles.
These strategies can help anyone cross the finish line at their very first marathon. Just remember to start out slow and steady and don’t get discouraged. Support and encouragement from friends and family can also help to boost morale and keep you going throughout the process. So enlist a cheering section, lace up your shoes, and get out there and run!