As the marathon season began with Kipchoge beating his own world record, some of you might find yourselves heading towards your first ever marathon. How exciting! Let me help guide you through the mixture of thrilling anticipation and pure fear you are probably experiencing, and share with you a few thoughts I wish I knew before my first marathon:
That’s right – don’t worry! There is a decent chance that any healthy individual is capable of completing a (slow) marathon without any meaningful training, as numerous fools proved. (The most famous of those were probably the duo Jedward who claimed to have finished 2012 Los Angeles marathon with no previous training.) But that’s obviously not you – you were sensible enough to complete a training plan so you will be just fine!
Respect the taper
If you have no idea what taper is – worry not: every decent marathon plan has a taper period built into it. While taper often starts up to three weeks before the race, in my opinion, the week immediately before your race day is the most critical. The lenght of your taper depends on how fast you generally recover – the quicker your body recovers and adapts, the shorter period you need to taper for. The bottom line is that taper is here to give your body a chance to consolidate your training efforts and rest sufficiently in order to take full advantage of the hard training you have undergone. During the taper period, you gradually reduce both volume and intensity in running. The golden rule is that no additional fitness can be gained from about 14-10 days before the race, therefore, it would be destructive to hammer yourself with efforts and long runs during that time.
The week before your marathon race day should be a true holy period that needs to be respected. Quite often, surprisingly, after hard training, easing off seems rather difficult. But don’t give in to the urge to keep going hard! Instead focus on resting and recovering. Running is still on but, as I mentioned, the volume and intensity should be low immediately before your race. I, personally, would take about three rest days and perhaps do an easy super-short jog with strides (short bursts of faster running) the day before my race. Easy crosstraining like swimming or cycling is good as long as there is not much effort going into it. Sleeping and eating well is key (I’m sure you heard about carbloading). Finally, I use that time for a mental preparation when I visualise myself running the race and feeling great doing it.
Hitting the wall
You’ve heard about hitting the wall, right? Sorry to be a bearer of bad news, but since this is your first marathon, it will happen to you, too. I personally only started avoiding hitting the wall after training consisting of running one ultramarathon per month AND incorporating marathon pace towards the end of my (very) long runs (which I appreciate not every can or wants to do).
So it is quite likely that you will hit the wall. It will happen. You can’t do anything about it, but what you can change is whether the wall will be made of bricks or marshmallows. If you stick to your target pace (don’t go out too fast) and consume calories approximately every 30 mins, it will probably be the latter.
When things start to get tough, first of all, rationalise it and tell yourself what’s happening. Don’t let it suck you into an abyss of misery. Instead, find something positive, something to celebrate – your body is just in the process of achieving an incredible feat, so yes, just like all remarkable things, it may feel hard and require considerable effort. These are the moments that will make you, so however hard they feel, the pain is only temporary, but glory, as they say, lasts forever. Continuing to fuel properly, carrying on with a constant forward movement (no matter how slow it may seem) and employing a positive mindset is how you get through this. Quitting is not an option.
Finally, I can promise you that completing your first ever marathon will be one of the most transformational events in your life. Crossing the finish line will feel like million dollars, regardless whether you are the winner or the last person finishing. In that moment you’ll realise you can do hard things and you will feel unstoppable and high on your newly found strength and confidence. This transformation, however, needs to be earned and you have to complete the whole journey leading up to it, including the painful bits. So embrace or even enjoy every moment of it, because this is the future you in the making!
(Don’t forget to tell me about your first ever marathon in the comments below ⬇️ )