Recently at work, I overheard a group of co-workers talking about doing long distance endurance events like marathons/half marathons and seeking advice from people who have done it before. Having completed two marathons and several halves, it left me thinking: what would I give for advice to someone seeking to do their first long distance event? I guess I kind of take for granted that I have figured out some things along the way when it comes to long distance events. I know what to expect in training and on race day, and how to prepare accordingly. I know what works best for fueling during the race and after and I know how soon along the course I should stop for water. And although, you will never really know or have it all figured out until you experience it yourself (for both the good and the bad!), the experience and advice of others helped me a lot, and now I want to offer it to you:
1) You will have to make sacrifices – I think this is one of the biggest ones to accept early on. Whether it is your time, time with your kids, drinks on the weekend, sleep, or sleeping in, you will have to make sacrifices. Some things will just have to be cut, or cut back. And as hard as it is sometimes to haul yourself out of bed at 6:30am on a Saturday morning, with a 26 km run staring you in the face, I promise it will all be worth it in the end. Stay strong – remember the things that are important to you, and that this race is one of them. Don’t let peer pressure or your own inner voice get you off track. Listen to the other voice in your head that knows best and that knows how bad you want this.
2) At some point it will hurt – Physically hurt. If you’re lucky, it won’t happen until near the end of the race, but it might happen before that. And in training. And afterwards. Just accept it, be okay with it, embrace it! You knew it was coming some time . . . And then figure out how you are going to deal with it when it comes. Maybe it will be finding a mantra for yourself, flipping to your favourite podcast, on your iPod, or pondering quotes/thoughts/idea. Before I head out on long runs I always look up a few quotes or news articles or cool running tidbits from Runner’s World to give me something to think about. Or I think about some blog post ideas. Or dream about what food I should create when I get home. Whatever works. You just need something to distract you from the incessant pain in your quads every time your foot hits the ground. If you haven’t heard much about mantras, that’s a good place to start, especially with these three over on Greatist, and this whole book of them from Rock Creek Runner. They’re more powerful than you think . . .
3) Prepare for the mental battle – There comes a point when every part of your body wants to stop, and you have to find something inside you to make yourself keep going. You have to have the mental strength to just block out every part that hurts and let yourself finish what you started. This goes with number two above, in that you just need to find whatever works for you to keep you mentally strong to get you through to the end. At some point it becomes a lot about your mental state, mind over matter, and just pushing on despite it all. Practice this in your long runs and find what works best for you to fight the mental battle!
4) Do your long runs – I honestly, feel that if you have a decent enough base level fitness, and you do all your long runs, with adequate other supplemental runs and rest days, that you could finish what you started. And for my first marathon, that was all I wanted – just to finish! If you want to set PRs, or do really well in your age group, that’s when you need to implement strength training, hills and speedwork. For my second marathon, I wanted to qualify for Boston, so I added in a lot more speed work and ran all the hills I could find, and then PR’d and qualified for Boston. If you want to run faster, practice running faster! Otherwise, just run!
5) Get good gear and train it it – I can’t stress enough how essential it is that you have good gear, both clothes and shoes. This means no cotton, no cheap sweat wicking clothes, and no casual walking shoes turned into runners. There has actually been a lot of science and research done into shoes and fabrics and reputable manufacturers, genuinely are trying to sell you good products (even if they may still be a bit overpriced . . . ). Yes, it is expensive, but it is an investment, because the clothes will last you a long time! I still have and wear the first running jacket I got 8 or 9 years ago. Plus, if you are doing training you know you will wear the stuff – and you will wear it a lot – so it won’t be a waste of money. And honestly most running clothes are so comfy that I would just wear them all the time. Ok, sometimes I actually do. If you need some help on getting started on figuring out what to wear or buy for clothes, check out my post, What Not to Wear!
6) Embrace the Community – Running brings with it a great sense of community. Whether you join a running group to help in your training, read and learn from other runners online, or just soak up the energy of all the spectators and supporters at the race, find your way to be a part. One of my favourite things about a race it the camaraderie and energy from everyone around, creating an environment filled with excitement, nervous energy and accomplishment, where every one is just doing the thing that makes them happy and we can all do it as one. Go to the race expo, give high fives to spectators with their hands out as you go by, and hang ut for a while at the post race party. You’ll be amazed at what an awesome group of people you are part of, and you are one of them!
7) If it hurts, just stop! – I had to pull out of two races because I has pain/injury and just kept running anyway. If something hurts – beyond normal soreness – stop running and take a few days or a week off. Do low impact cross training such as spinning or swimming and lots of stretching. From there, assess whether you need more rest time, or you’re ready to run again. I learned from my mistakes, and for my last marathon, took a week off when I had some foot pain, and restarted pain-free and was able to run the race. In the big picture, not being able to run for one week will hurt less – physically, mentally and on your training plan – than not being able to run at all!
8) Don’t make race day the first time – For anything! Not the first time you wear your shoes or shirt, the first time you run at 7:30 am or the first time you try that chocolate peanut butter energy gel at mile 9. Or the first time you try bagels post race (been there, done that). Try and practice everything before the big day, from what you wear to what you eat to when you eat pre-race and when you stop on the course for water. Or don’t stop, in which case, yes, practice drinking water while still running.
9) Do what you need to because none of it will matter when you finish – Need to walk for a bit? Do it. Need to stop at every water station? Do it. Need to run into the bushes on the side of the road to pee? Do it. Because honestly, everyone around you is in the same position and would do (or has done) the same thing. Whatever you need to do to get you to the end, just go for it! Because after you have finished, and you look back and realize that was what it took to get you there, then it won’t matter. Plus, just try running another 30km when you have to pee. Not happening!
10) Enjoy the moment and give yourself a pat on the back – When all is said and done, and you leave the start line, whatever will happen, will happen. So just smile and enjoy every moment! The pain, the struggle, the success, the pride, the beautiful scenery, the hearts and souls pouring out from fellow runners. Just take it all in, because there is nothing else in life quite like the experience of being in your first race. And no matter what happens, don’t forget to congratulate yourself, and give yourself a pat on the back. You can beat yourself up over not reaching the PR you hoped for, or saying that you should have done more hills, more speed, more weights, more long runs, but at the end of the day, you still did it. And that’s worth a lot!
I want to hear from you! What advice would you give to first-timers when it comes to long distance events?
Want more? Check out my page on fitness and head over to Run to the Finish for these posts on injury and pride and hindsight race advice from Amanda. She has a lot of additional great resources if you are looking to start long distance racing, so go over and have a look!
Have a great weekend! Happy running:)