First Time Marathoners’ Guide to the Big Race

woman running marathon

Shellie competing in the Fox Valley Marathon.

By Shellie Coleman

After putting two half marathons under my belt in the past year and a half, I recently tackled the full marathon race. I ran my 26.2 miles in St. Charles, Illinois, not too far outside of Chicago in the Fox Valley Races. After finishing the run and reflecting on all that went into the experience of that day, I’ve compiled a few tips that may be useful if you’re considering taking on your first full marathon.

1. Consider your personal preferences when selecting a race. There are two extremes runners can take in these preferences, and of course happy mediums in-between. Consider whether you would like to run in a small or a large race setting. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, some of which could be considered either depending on your preference. Small races provide an intimate setting, and it seems far less confrontational to a new runner. I selected a race that had only 2,000 runners, and appreciated the low-key atmosphere. However, others may prefer to run a larger race, such as The Flying Pig in Cincinnati or the Chicago Marathon. The perks to these large races are that they provide a huge surge of energy to really pump you up. The downside is that new runners may find this intimidating. Reflect on your personality and decide which type of venue would best suit you.

2. If possible, run the course in smaller segments on your long training runs. Part of my rationale for selecting the Fox Valley Marathon was having the option to run nearly the entire course before race day. The majority of the route was on a bike path, rather than street roads, which provided runners the possibility to test run the course. After running the route, you will feel much more comfortable on race day, as you will be familiar with the path.

3. Check the bathroom placement on the course. This is a tip I wish I would have headed myself. Not having checked where bathrooms were located, I became incredibly nervous each time I passed a Porta-Potty, fearing another would not appear for many more miles. This of course resulted in having to go to the bathroom even more frequently due to my anxiety. In reality, there were plenty of toilets along the course, and I would have been fine making only half the stops I made. Knowing where you can next use the facilities will ease your mind, and result in fewer breaks.

4. Wear your race day apparel on long runs during your training. While many of us who have smaller races under our belts are aware we should break in new shoes prior to a race, remember that this rule applies to more than footwear. The day of the marathon is not a time to bust out those new shorts or that tank top you bought last week. Often times we purchase running gear that we think is going to be a great investment in our athletic wardrobe, and it turns out that it is simply miserable to wear while running. Perhaps the shorts, unbeknownst to you, will ride up too much and aggravate you the entire 26 miles, or maybe the fabric tank top will be too heavy. Whatever the reason, don’t wear new clothes the day of your race, and ensure that you’ve spent at least several hours running in the clothes you plan to wear.

5. Practice eating while you run. Most likely you will have to do this in order to complete your training runs, but it is something to keep in mind regardless. Eating and running simultaneously actually proves to be somewhat of a skill, and there is a strategy to it. (For example, only eat when you know water will follow.) Make sure that you know which foods your body responds to well, and be sure not to introduce any new foods or drinks on race day – even if they ARE handing out free Goo shots and you really think it looks tasty! The last thing you want is for your stomach to freak out and react poorly to what you put in it.

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