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I still remember the feeling of running my first marathon. The excitement and the anticipation leading up to the race are surreal. I never expected that I’d be able to do it (wasn’t a fan of running back then). But luckily, I had the right guidance from friends who’s been in the sport longer than me.
Ahead, I will give you some important tips that you can use if you’re running a marathon for the first time. I compiled the lessons I learned when I was training for a marathon and running the race. I also included some tips that I got from other runners who’s been running a marathon way longer than me. At the end of this article, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you can use to run your first marathon with confidence.
#1 Follow A Marathon Training Plan
One of the biggest mistakes that beginner runners make is believing that they can run a marathon without training for it specifically. Usually, this happens to young athletic people who are incredibly fit in other aspects of fitness but weren’t training specifically for long-distance runs.
It’s incredibly hard to run a marathon even if you trained for it. Imagine what it feels like when you don’t. Plus, running a marathon without proper training comes with a lot of consequences. I made an article entirely about that on a separate link.
When you’re a beginner, regardless of your current fitness level, I highly recommend that you hire a running coach, or invest in a book about running a marathon that includes a training plan.
#2 Train With A Buddy
You’re going to enjoy your marathon training more if you do it with a friend who’s as dedicated as you.
Be each other’s accountability buddy. Make sure to help him/her as much as he/she is helping you. Training for a marathon requires long hours. Having a buddy that’s as dedicated as you will help you grind through tough training sessions.
#3 Sleep For 7-9 Hours Consistently
Sleep is one of the most underrated factors in athletic performance.
A study conducted by Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise concluded that a sleep extension of up to 30% for three nights led to better endurance maintenance compared to those who have normal and restricted sleep.
But how does lack of sleep affect endurance? In a 2020 study, the researchers found that partial sleep deprivation increased the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and lowered physical performance by up to 6% after just one night of partial sleep deprivation.
Dr. Matthew Walker, the leading expert in the study of sleep, recommends that you get somewhere around 7-9 hours of sleep every day.
The effects of sleep extend beyond just athletic performance. Dr. Matthew Walker highlights the benefits of good night sleep and the negative effects of the lack thereof in his book Why We Sleep: Unlocking The Power of Sleep And Dreams.
If you’re interested in learning how sleep can help you not just in your athletic performance but also your overall health, I recommend you read his book. Or, you can listen to it for free if you sign up for Audible’s 30-day free trial.
#4 Wear The Right Running Gear
If you’re running a marathon, invest not only in a good pair of running shoes but also good moisture-wicking apparel that prevents chafing.
Sure, you can get away with cotton socks, athletic shorts, and a normal pair of underwear in 5 to 10km races, but there’s no way you can run with those in a marathon. They absorb so much sweat, trap heat, and they can cause skin injuries if you run long enough.
The ideal gear is something that dries quickly, wicks away moisture, and is breathable. I made a separate article that will guide you in choosing the right running gear when running in hot weather. If you’re still thinking about what to wear on training and race day, I highly recommend that you check it out.
#5 Wear Your Race Clothes In Training
While it’s tempting to save your new gear for the race day, you should never wear gear that hasn’t been used in training. These include but are not limited to your shoes, shorts, socks, or top.
Your best marathon gear is the one you’ve always been wearing in your training. Don’t surprise yourself with new shoes or clothes because 26 miles is a long way to test something new.
If you bought anything new for race day, make sure you wear it a couple of times in your long-distance runs during training.
For your clothes, check for hot spots or areas where chafing may occur. Check if your clothes are breathable, quick-drying, or moisture-wicking.
With regards to your shoes, check your skin if you feel any area that could turn into blisters when wearing your new shoes. Are the midsoles soft enough? Does the outsole grip on wet areas? Are the uppers comfortable? Does it fit well? These are the questions that you should ask yourself when trying on your new shoes.
If any of your new gear feels off when you tried them in your training, do not wear them on race day. You’re better off wearing the gear you wore multiple times in training. They may be old but at least you’re most comfortable in them.
#6 Run Slower
This is your first time running this distance and you don’t know when you’re going to hit a wall and how hard those last few miles are going to be.
It’s easy to think that if you just run the same pace that you did in training, you’re going to get to 26 miles just fine. But often, the last few miles feel very different from whatever you did in training. A lot of athletes hit a wall and never recover.
A strategy you can use to make sure you get through the final 6 miles is to run a little bit slower in the first half of the marathon. Then, run at your regular pace for the rest of the race. This way, you can adjust your pace based on how you feel.
This is a better strategy for your first marathon as opposed to trying to run the same pace throughout because it will give you more room to adjust. If you feel good, then go a little bit faster. But if you don’t, you can keep running at a slower pace to make sure you finish the marathon. This brings us to the next tip, focus on finishing the race.
#7 Focus On Finishing The Race
Yes, it’s a race, but you don’t have to compete against anyone other than yourself.
This goes back to the previous tip, run slower. Believe it or not, running slow might even fair better than running fast and not being able to finish.
For your first marathon, your only goal is to finish the race. Don’t try to keep up with the guys who’s been running a marathon for a long time.
#8 Apply An Anti-Chafe Balm
If you’ve been running long distances while training for a marathon, I’m pretty sure you’ve experienced chafing at one point.
It might have been fine if you experienced it in training (if it gets bad, you can just stop and treat it), but it’s not going to do you any good when you’re trying to finish your first marathon. Running a marathon is already uncomfortable, don’t make it more uncomfortable by running with chafed skin.
Apply an anti-chafed balm in the commonly chafed areas even if you don’t usually experience it in training. 26 miles is new territory and you never know what to expect. So it’s better to prevent them from happening.
Usually, they occur in the medial part of the thighs and the arms approximately 2 inches from the armpits so apply a generous amount on those areas.
The one that I use is the Body Glide Anti-Chafe Balm. I use it every time I run more than 10km and it works very well for me. You can get them on Amazon.
#9 Drink 5oz Of Fluid Every 15 Mins
On average, your body loses 1-5 lbs of water weight per hour from sweating. A 1-4% reduction of body weight in water will result in a 20-30% reduction in work capacity.
On the other end, overhydration will lead to the excretion of electrolytes resulting in hyponatremia which we also want to avoid. That is why it is very important to dial in your hydration, especially when running.
One way to dial in your hydration is to use the Galpin equation, which is BW÷30= fluid (in oz) every 15 mins.
For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you should drink 5 oz of fluid every 15 mins while running (150/30=15 oz.).
Before skipping this part and thinking that there’s no way you’re going to be able to compute the amount of water you take while you run, you don’t have to be exact in the amount of water you should drink while you run.
What you should take away from this is that you should drink small amounts of water spread throughout the race to avoid dehydration or overhydration. You can drink more or less depending on your level of thirst. Certain conditions require more fluid intake (like hot weather) and certain conditions need less (like cold weather). You know your body so you should be able to gauge yourself.
The best and most efficient way to drink water is by using a hydration bladder so I don’t have to stop every 15 mins just to sip water. I use a hydration vest and just suck water right off the hose attached to the bladder without even slowing down.
#10 Enjoy The Race
You’ve sacrificed a considerable amount of time and effort in training. During race day, all you have to do is trust your training (considering that you trained appropriately) and enjoy the process of claiming your first finisher’s medal.
Say hi to other runners. Acknowledge their presence. 26 miles is a long way and meeting new friends along the way is a bonus.