The Virgin {Marathon} Diaries

by Kate on May 20, 2013

Tips for Running Your First Marathon

My mom and I at the finish line :)

Last Sunday was a big day, for a lot of reasons.  It was mother’s day.  I ran my first marathon.  And my Aunt Patti, wife to my wonderful Uncle Kevin and mother of my three beautiful cousins passed away after fighting her battle with cancer.   So a big day, for some great reasons, and for some not so great.  It’s funny in a way, because my post for Peanut Butter Banana Quinoa Bites some weeks ago, when I decided I was officially going to do this marathon thing, was partly as a result of my Aunt Patti, and coming to learn that this battle she was fighting so hard was probably not going to have a happy ending.  It made me realize that life is truly precious, every day that we’re given is a gift, and we should do the things that we want to do while we’re here and healthy and capable of doing them.  And ironically, she passed away practically minutes before I crossed the finish line.

The Virgin {Marathon} Diaries

My Aunt Patti (far left), cousins and mom at our rehearsal dinner

The point of this post though is to convey to any of you out there who have ever had the thought cross your mind that someday you’d like to run a marathon, but “Eh, it’s so long, and it’s so many miles, and the training is long and arduous, and I don’t know if I have it in me” – well, you do.  And you can do it.  When I started running about 7 years ago, I never in a million years thought that I’d be here today, recounting my marathon experience.  But it can happen – it takes hard work and determination and a lot of carbs, but trust me, if I can do it anyone can.

Do not take this as gospel – nothing that I’m sharing here is groundbreaking information that you can’t find on any other marathon training forum.  I am one person out of 54644654687987987987 out there who has completed a marathon successfully.  But these are just some things that helped me out along the way that if they can help even one person out there sitting on the other side of their computer screen, going back and forth about pulling the marathon trigger, well than it’s worth the typing :)

1) WHERE DO I START? – If I ever get to meet Hal Higdon, I may just give him a hug.  His easy to follow and extremely manageable training schedules have gotten me through 4 half marathons and 1 full one, and I lived to tell the story.  He doesn’t have you  running a ridiculous amount of miles 7 days a week, leaving you feeling like an exhausted, overworked hamster running on a wheel.  He incorporates rest days, cardio and strength training days, all with plenty of running days that will have you ready to go for your race.  I would highly recommend him to anyone training for a race, whether its a 5K, 10K, half or full – he has options for races of all kinds and skill levels of all kinds as well.  But even if it’s not one of Hal’s training schedules, there’s a ton out there, and one of them will be just right for you.

2) EAT!– the months that you’re training is a time to indulge in things that Jenny Craig and Jennifer Hudson would probably go bug eyed over.  But your body needs things like protein, carbs, and even some fats, all in moderation of course.  But calorie counting isn’t really the best idea when you’re prepping for those long runs – everything stored in your body will be used during your runs, so it’s essential that you load up on foods that you may normally shy away from.

Carbs – things like bagels/breads with whole grains, pasta, rice, potatoes are hugely important to eat both while you’re training and the week of your race.  I will honestly say that the week before the marathon, I think 85% of what I was eating was carbohydrates, and I literally felt pregnant with a 10lb carbohydrate baby by the time the race rolled around.  But it was essential, as the carbs store not only fuel that your body will use during the race, but also water.  This is a great guide to ‘proper carbo loading’.

Protein – lean meats like chicken and fish; beans, nuts – protein packed foods are almost as important as carbs.  Try to stay away from too many fatty foods or things that might bind you up like leafy veggies and such.

Test out different foods throughout your training months, seeing what offers you the best results. For me personally, bagels with peanut butter, bananas, Nature Valley Peanut Butter Granola Bars, Clif Bars  and yes, for all you Boston folks out there, my night-before a long run/race dinner, a chicken burrito on a whole wheat wrap with salsa and rice from Anna’s Taqueria were my food items of choice.  But again, test different things out and see what works for you.

3) DRINK! {not booze} – I know there is such a thing as drinking too much water, but I believe that you really can’t have enough while you’re training.  Drink it all week, Tips on Running Your First Marathon before and after your long runs (and even your short ones). You’ll know you’re good and hydrated when a) you’re going to the bathroom a ton and b) well, you’re pee is nice and light colored, almost clear (sorry, hope that wasn’t TMI).  If it’s more of a darker shade of yellow though, keep drinking.  This is a sign that you’re not properly hydrated.

Electrolytes – Make sure that in addition to water, you are drinking beverages with electrolytes – Gatorade and Powerade are great options, but  if you don’t like the sweet/sugary taste of those, try Nuun tablets – they’re like little alka seltzer tablets that you can use to add electrolytes to your water.  And they’re not super sweet like some energy drinks sometimes can be.

Bring water with you! During long training runs especially – there’s lots of options out there – I used a Camelback like this one, but there are belts you can wear around your waist with water bottles in them, or even hand held ones that you carry throughout the race.  And during the race, stop at water stations when you can and if you’re not ok with the energy drinks they provide, bring one that you prefer. You have to replenish your electrolytes.  They’ll get pretty darn low.  My first half marathon, I crossed the finish line, felt like a million dollars, and then spent the rest of the day in bed.  I didn’t stop at all the water or energy drink stations and I didn’t know it right away, but I was getting severely dehydrated and it was not fun.  Now, I almost go overboard with liquids before, during and after. But to me, it’s worth those couple trips to the porta-potty you might have to stop for.  Hydration is just so important – I can’t stress it enough.

4) REST – take days off when you’re told to, and if you feel tired on a day when you’re supposed to run, DON’T!

Listen to your body – it’s the only one you’ve got after all! And when it’s not ready for something, it’s going to let you know. Pushing yourself to do more than what your body is ready to do can lead to injury, cancelling out all of those weeks and months of training that you’ve worked so hard to accomplish.

4) TEST OUT NEW THINGS! – the 3-4 months of training are by far the worst aspect of the entire race experience.  All the schedule rearranging to fit in your long runs, planning meals/social outings around them, and mostly, doing the actual runs themselves seems like more hassle than it’s worth.  But use the time as your ‘trial and error’ period, testing out what works for you and what doesn’t in terms of speed, stride, how much you drink, what you eat to keep you going both the day before, day of, and during your actual run.  And when you find what works for you, stick to it.  If anything, don’t try news things out during the day of the race.  You never know how these new things will affect you

5) WALK! – There’s nothing wrong with walking.  Unless you are trying to win the race, walking will help you recover and give your body the rest it needs throughout the course of your race.  Stopping and walking through water stations is a great time to rest and rehydrate to avoid getting too dehydrated and getting a cramp by trying to drink and run at the same time. For me personally, after every mile I ran for exactly 1 minute.  You’d think that this would slow you down immensely and increase your time exponentially, but that 60 seconds offers you time to rest, to walk, drink water, whatever it is you need to do, and it allows you to focus on taking the race one mile at a time.

Tips on Running Your First Marathon

In the midst of talking to myself, I needed photo proof that I had in fact made it this far

6) ONE MILE AT A TIME! – When you start out a long run, where you know you’ll be running miles and miles  for hours at a time, if you think of it as one lump sum of time and miles well, it could be grounds for turning around and giving up completely.  But, if you just take each long run one mile at a time, literally just focusing on mile 1 – and then mile 2, before you know it, you’ll hit mile 8 and then 10 and then 15, 16, 17, and before you know it, that finish line will be in your line of sight.  You’ll think back and wonder “how did I ever do that? Run all that way for all that time?” – you did it because you took the run/race piece by piece of the pie, and not the entire thing all at once. And however it is that you accomplish that – whether it’s doing what I suggested above, and walking for a minute after every mile you finish – or maybe it’s making a different playlist for each mile, so you’re focused on your favorite Journey and Britney hits, and not the sound of your feet pounding on the pavement, however you achieve it, try to break it up so that it doesn’t seem like such a daunting task.

and now probably the most important…

7) BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! – you’ll have days when you feel like you can run forever, and days when even a couple miles seems like a zillion.  You’ll get sore, and tired and frustrated and sick of it all – it’s all part of the process!  But when you’re down on yourself and ready to throw in that sweaty towel, you have to have a little pep talk with yourself, even if it’s out loud and people look at you like your crazy or think you’re on a blue tooth (I actually did this at about mile 24 – I got some very strange looks from fellow runners).  Whatever race you’re doing, or training run, it’s just as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one.  Your mind can play all kinds of tricks on you as you fatigue.  But it’s crucial to keep reassuring yourself that “Yes, I can do this! I am doing it! And I’m going to keep doing it until I’m finished!” – and before you know it, you’ll see the light at the end of that very long tunnel you’ve been looking for for months – the finish line – and you’ll cross it – and well I’d say it’s a pretty amazing feeling.

So go on now – register – do it – you know you want to :)


aimee @ like mother like daughter May 20, 2013 at 5:32 pm

I’m so impressed that you ran a marathon! You really are amazing!

Kate May 20, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Aw thanks Aimee – YOU are going to be amazing at your half which is coming up so soon!!!

katie v. May 20, 2013 at 5:39 pm

AWESOME!! So proud of you Kate!

Kate May 20, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Thanks Katie :)

Emily May 20, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Kate, I’m so, so sorry to hear of your aunt’s passing! How amazing that she passed practically as you were finishing such an INCREDIBLE ACHIEVEMENT! Great job, lady – I’m so happy for you and proud of you for doing it! You’ve inspired me to give the whole marathon idea another think. Hope you guys are all doing well! xoxoxoxo!

Kate May 20, 2013 at 8:58 pm

Oh thank you Em! You should absolutely rethink it – I will be your biggest cheerleader!!! You’d be amazing like you are at everything :)

Elyse May 21, 2013 at 8:19 pm

Hey Kate! I am so terribly sorry to hear about your aunt’s passing. But I’m so happy to hear that your race went so well! It’s an awesome achievement and I’m really glad you enjoyed the race experience–it’s what makes the training worth it!

Kate May 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Thanks Elyse! Glad to join the club finally :)

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