Running Your First Marathon
Training for your first marathon is an exciting time but also one filled with questions and perhaps a little anxiety. There is a lot to know in order to have an enjoyable experience and make good memories while training for and running your first marathon. Hopefully you will enjoy it enough to do another one, or many more. By the end of this article, I hope you will be filled with answers and be ready to lace up your running shoes.
Properly fit running shoes are your first step in preparing for a marathon. Visit a running specialty store where well-trained employees can look at your foot, observe your stride as you do a 30 second run for them outside or inside on a treadmill, then recommend several shoes for you to try. They need to know you are training for a marathon because the shoes they recommend will be different than if you are training for a 5k or 10k race. The look of the shoe and the brand are not nearly as important as how it feels on your foot. A shoe that feels good to you may feel painfully tight or very loose on another person.
Decide which days are going to be your running days. Many people opt for Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and cross train 2-3 other days and rest 1-2 days. Saturdays are often best for your long run days because you will have adaquate recovery time before you return to work on Monday and you can enjoy a late dinner or event on Saturday nights.
Choose a program which approximately maps out how far you should run on each of your runs. Most experts recommend at least 18 weeks to train for a marathon if you can consistently run for at least half an hour. If you cannot run one mile without stopping, most experts recommend 6 months to train.
Sign up for the marathon you want to do well in advance. Big races like the Chicago Marathon fill to maximum capacity of 40,000 up to 6 months in advance. So, visit the race's website and pay the race entry fee, which can range from $40 to $100 depending on the race, so you can commit to the race and begin your training with an end goal in mind.
Cross-training allows you to increase your strength and cardiovascular fitness while giving your joints a break from running. Biking, swimming, or using a machine such as an elliptical trainer will give you a cardio workout without impact. Training with weights twice a week will increase your strength and thus improve your running as well. Concentrate on your inner thighs and gluteus medius, as well as your abs and arms. Your outer thighs, quadriceps and calves take most of the force when running.
Stretching is extremely important after each run, as well as gentle stretching on a daily basis. If you skip stretching after a run, you risk injury, a slower recovery process, and less intensity on your next run. Cut your run 5-10 minutes short if necessary to make time for stretching.
Eating is very important for runners. Not only will you burn between 600-1000 calories each hour that you run, your metabolism stays elevated for hours after you run as your body repairs your muscles. A balance of 60% carbohydrate, 25% protein, and 15% fat is an approximate suggestion for a runner's diet. Eating 4-6 times a day is ideal because you will constantly be giving your body energy while never having to feel too full before or after a run. Try to eat 1-2 hours before your run to prevent cramping and allow your food to fuel you during your workout.
Experiment with energy gel or energy bites before the race. Gu, Power Gel, Clif Shots, or the new chewable Clif Shot Blox all provide carbohydrate energy for a quick pick-up during long runs. If you are running over an hour, take one with you. Most companies recommend a packet (100 calories) or 3 chews every 45 minutes of intense activity. Follow consumption of concentrated energy gels or blox with 4-6 ounces of water. Your body only has enough muscle glycogen (stored carbohydrate energy in your muscles) to run about 20 miles. After 20 miles, you'll need 200-300 calories an hour, says Nancy Clark, R.D., author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guide Book
After 20 miles, you'll need 200-300 calories an hour.
Listen to your body. If a body part sends a pain signal to your brain, that is a warning sign that an injury is in the works. Stop and stretch and see if it goes away. If not, consider walking home and taking a couple of days off of running. It may prevent you from having to take a month off. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
If you know you have chronically tight shoulders or IT bands (located on the outside of your thigh), you may want to consider getting a massage every other week to keep your muscles stretched out and relaxed. Seek out a massage therapist who specializes in sports massage. This kind of therapist will be able to pay special attention to the needs of a marathon runner.
Race day rules do not differ much from your other long runs. Do not try anything new, and be sure you do not overdress. Your first few miles may be a bit chilly, but your body will thank you during your last 6 miles for not having to waste energy cooling itself off during your first several miles had you overdressed. A warm up shirt and long pants may make your commute to the race more comfortable, but leave them at gear check before you head to the start line. Set out your clothes and pin your race number on your shirt the night before so that all you have to do in the morning is your normal routine. If you have a ChampionChip for personal official race timing, secure that to your shoe the night before as well. Eat breakfast about 2 hours before the race so that you have time to digest and eliminate before you get on the starting line. The lines at the portable toilets can take up to 20 minutes at big races, so allow yourself enough time. If you do get caught waiting in line and have a ChampionChip, remember that it will record your personal running time, so it is okay if you start at the back of the pack. Be aware that it may be very difficult to pass people if you start that far back.
Have fun, and run smart!