Throughout the month of September we’re posting the best tips and tricks we can find to help you through your first, or next, marathon. You can find tips on fueling and how to stay on track for race day here and here, and stay tuned throughout the month for more Marathon Month articles, giveaways, and running fun.
For this installment we asked our friend, and one of the most inspiring athletes we know, Kara Goucher to take us through what she learned during her first marathon. Lucky for us she learned a lot, and is sharing her own best tips and tricks below.
If you have anything to add, be sure to leave your own marathon tips in the comments below.
I ran my first marathon when I ran the NYC Marathon in 2008. Heading into the race I was terrified. I had never run further than 23 miles and only done that once. I did not have typical marathon training and had only 8 weeks between my Olympic 5000 meter and the marathon. Plus, there was a lot of media hype around my debut. But I learned a lot during that experience and it changed my life, and my perception of myself, forever.
Here are a few things I learned along the way. Hopefully you can use them to your advantage during your first, or next, marathon!
Don’t panic if the race goes out too slow. I had a goal to break the American Course Record. It was 2:26:52. Our first mile was over 6:30 and I remember thinking, “not gonna happen today,” but I crossed the finish line in 2:25:53! The race is a long one so there is a lot of time to make up time.
Practicing taking in calories and fluids is crucial. I did not practice much race nutrition before my first marathon. Boy, did I regret that on race day! I had a hard time absorbing the liquid I was drinking and the gels I took did not sit well in my digestive tract. You must practice so your body is ready to absorb them while running. Now, I practice my race nutrition once a week. I am confident my Nuun and gel will go down easy and be absorbed.
During a marathon when you feel a loss of energy, there are lots of places to pull energy back into your race. For example, when I started to feel tired in my first marathon I soaked up the cheers of the crowds. I immediately got a surge of energy from their cheering. Take advantage of all the excitement around you. When you need a little power surge, take in the cheers.
While running conserve energy when possible. My first NYC Marathon the weather was chilly and windy. Paula Radcliffe seemed happy to set the pace, so I positioned myself right behind her. This allowed her to do the thinking and allowed me to get a little protection from the wind. Take advantage of those around you and tuck in. Get towed along for a mile or two and save some energy for later.
Don’t try to sprint on the downhills to “bank some time.” The marathon is a very long race to run and to be honest; it doesn’t really start until the 18-mile marker. Run as even as you can to protect your muscles for as long as you can. You will be grateful later.
Even though you feel like you are dying, you can keep moving forward! During the last 3 miles of my NYC Marathon in 2008, I had been totally broken by the two women in front of me. It became about protecting my 3rd place position. I felt like I was slowing down, but I just kept trying to relax and continue to put one foot in front of the other. Later I saw my splits from the race and you know what? I never really slowed down. My perception was that I was slowing, but it was really just the feeling of fatigue taking over my body. Keep moving forward. You are probably going faster than you think.
If this is your first marathon get ready for a life changing moment! When I crossed the finish line I was completely overtaken with emotion. I had never been through such a journey in my life. The ups and downs, on training and on race day, make it a wave of emotion you cannot replicate. I am always emotional when I finish a marathon not matter what the outcome. But that first time you finish a marathon, there is nothing like it. It changed the way I perceive myself. I saw myself as strong and capable in a way I never had before. It made me wonder, “What else could I conquer?”