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No one said running a marathon would be easy (because it’s definitely not). However, I wish someone had told me about the mental preparation, lifestyle changes, and “runner gear” I would need to complete my training. (Thank goodness for Pinterest and the many helpful articles from Competitor Running)

20 Things I Wish I Knew Before Running My First Marathon

Whether you’re still deciding if you want to run a marathon or you’ve already started your training, here are a few things I learned from my experience.

20 Things I Learned While Training for a Marathon

  1. Invest in quality shoes. There’s a reason this is #1. I would strongly suggest getting a gait analysis, if you haven’t already, at your local sporting goods store to analyze your stride, pronation, and proper shoe type. Having the right shoe is imperative for completing the longer distances and preventing injury.
  2. Break up your training plan. My coach broke out the 16 week plan into 4-week increments. It was much easier for me to focus on 4 weeks at a time rather than worrying about the longer distances ahead.
  3. Incorporate Hills & Speed Intervals into your training. It’s a love/hate relationship but you will be thankful come race day when your body is able to fight through fatigue thanks to your training.
  4. Never make up a missed run. If you are injured or if life just gets in the way and you have to miss a training run, it’s OK — it happens. Rest and get back to your normal training schedule.
  5. Eat to Run. Don’t Run to Eat. I love running because it gives me that “I just ran 10 miles, I’ll eat whatever I want” feeling. When training for a marathon, I had to slightly adjust this philosophy. Nutrition before and after a run plays a significant role in performance and recovery. (This doesn’t mean I said no to a breakfast burrito but I did limit my weeknight froyo binges and lessened my dairy intake)
  6. Have a mantra and repeat it to yourself throughout the run. I used “You are stronger with every mile” and “Run with your heart not your head”.
  7. Dedicate your run to someone. It will help you push through the miles and pain when you are running for someone other than yourself.
  8. Break up your longer runs into manageable distances. For example, instead of thinking “I have to run 18 miles today”, try thinking of it as 3 five mile runs and 1 three mile run or 4 four mile runs and a 2 mile run. After you finish each set, tell yourself you are starting a whole new run and don’t think about all the miles that have passed or the miles you have ahead.
  9. Stretch, Foam Roll, Elevate & Ice. I cannot stress this enough. This will help prevent injury and aid in proper recovery. (I foam rolled at least twice/day during training and iced my feet/knees almost nightly)
  10. *Salt tabs work miracles for preventing muscle cramps on the longer training runs especially during the peak of summer. I took one every hour during my longer runs.
  11. Use your longer runs as practice drills for the big race. Determine how often to hydrate, when to take energy gels/chews, what to wear, where you need to apply *BodyGlide, etc.
  12. Use BodyGlide everywhere. Seriously, apply it to your armpits, legs, knees, sports bra lining, boobs, and butt cheeks (you think I’m kidding but you’ll thank me later). No one wants to shower after chafing.
  13. Hydrate with a sports drink that has electrolytes during your longer runs and after most runs. I love *Nuun tablets and Osmo hydration packets.
  14. Keep a journal of your progress. If you are mentally struggling with the training, it will help to go back and look at where you were when you started, how many miles you’ve run since, and how much you’ve overcome.
  15. Join a running group or schedule running dates with a friend! I used to only run alone but once I started running 30-40 miles a week, it helped to break up some of that alone time by running with a friend. It also makes the miles go by a lot faster!
  16. Don’t give up your social life. I’m by no means suggesting that you go out the night before a training run but It’s tempting to say “no, I have to run” or “no, I’m tired since I just ran 18 miles this morning”. Practice balance by running in the morning so you can make dinner after work or napping after a long run so you can go to the movies later in the night.
  17. Rest on your rest days. It’s easy to convince yourself to go to yoga or Pilates on a rest day but resist the urge (I’m guilty). Your body will be going through a lot of stress during training and it’s important that you respect it and give yourself time to fully heal.
  18. *Compression socks are magical. They help limit swelling in your legs and feet which helps increase blood flow to your muscles. I used them during my long runs and put a clean pair on for recovery (I even slept in them post marathon…).
  19. Practice running without music. This will help you pay closer attention to your performance, your breathing, and your surroundings. There’s so much excitement on race day, you’ll want to listen to the crowds cheering you on.
  20. Trust your training. You have a plan for a reason and though injuries may pop up or life may get in the way, you have to have trust in the process and give it everything you’ve got. Trust your training and you will cross that finish line.

What are some things you wish you knew before your first marathon?

21 comments on “20 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Marathon”

  1. Practicing running without music is a big one that I would recommend. I also wish I had been able to find a running group for my 2nd marathon. IT would have made long runs pass by much quicker. And I also love the ‘Eat to Run’ not “Run to Eat.” The first marathon I had more of the 2nd mentality, but the 2nd one I did, I think I understood the importance of fueling better…

    • I ran all of my longer runs with my coach and we just talked the whole time. It made the 3 hour runs go by so much quicker and I was able to practice not listening to music (something I struggle with). Which marathons have you run? I’m looking for my second one already πŸ™‚

  2. These are fantastic tips! I definitely want to invest in some compression socks. I love having a mantra to help me get through the run. You must feel amazing having conquered that race. Congrats <3

    • I’m still feeling the runner’s high πŸ™‚ I got my Procompression & SLS3 socks on Groupon and they worked great! They are usually on the pricier side for a pair of socks, but they were only $17-$25 on Groupon.

  3. #18. COMPRESSION SOCKS!!!!!
    I read a post you did awhile ago on finding compression socks on Groupon and let me tell you they’ve changed my life. I have the worst shin splints and with the compression socks I have almost no pain when I run! I went back and ordered 3 more pairs!Awesome tips πŸ™‚

  4. I love these tips and use so many of them! Stretching, foam rolling, compression socks, and keeping good nutrition is key for me! I also love nun hydration! One thing that I would like to add is to not just run. While running is definitely my main focus while training, I need to do yoga and lift weights too to stay strong and help prevent injury! Marathon training is definitely a learning experience !

    • That’s an awesome tip, Kerri! I totally forgot to mention the importance of cross training and yoga. I started my marathon training doing the Kayla Itsines BBG Guides and it helped me gain a lot of strength. It was when I didn’t cross train as much that I started to feel injuries come on. So glad you mentioned this!

  5. I’ve only run two half marathons and never a full but the shoes was key to me to even be able to run. The hills were a huge help for my second half marathon, I wasn’t prepared in my first one at all for hills so I trained them a lot with my second, huge difference!

  6. I was going to write on this EXACT same topic – HA!!! Great minds πŸ˜‰ But I’m glad you did – I love your tips, so true! People forget about the salt pills…those were lifesavers for me especially in learning what I needed during my first marathon. Go girl!

  7. If this is a duplicate post, sorry! I tried once and don’t think it went through. Anyway – I had to laugh because I was going to write almost the EXACT same thing! Great minds!! πŸ™‚ I love your tips – they are spot on in my opinion. Especially with the salt pills, I think people don’t know about those or overlook them and I thought they were so helpful in my training! Go girl πŸ™‚

  8. I just ran my first and I was definitely guilty of thinking I could eat WHATEVER I wanted! Not a great mind set lol – I agree with you there. Compression socks saved me along with foam rolling and great shoes.

    Great post!

  9. HAHA OMG, that list totally reinforces why I will NEVER run a marathon. It sounds like hard work before you even get start running!! So impressed with you, and congrats on getting er done. You are my running idol

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