Self-sabotage is probably the biggest weapon of mass destruction when it comes to marathon newbies.
Avoiding it is actually quite easy but it takes confidence, faith in yourself, courage, trust in your training and well-laid plans. You are about to have an exciting adventure and join an accepting community that celebrates finding and pushing your physical, mental and emotional limits.
You never forget your first marathon and, with these tips, hopefully those indelible memories are all positive. You’ll soon forget the struggle of the latter kilometres, which is why so many marathoners become repeat offenders. And, remember, this is going to be fun!
1. Slow down! Marathons are more about pacing than they are about speed. Seconds gained in the first half are minutes lost in the second.
2. Keep the training fun: mix it up with different length runs and a variety of speeds.
3. Build up gradually to a long run of more than 32 kilometres but less than 38, preferably over several months of a crescendo, adding three to five kilometres per week to the distance.
4. If you don’t have time to build up gradually, work in “brick” sessions where you run long on two sequential days so that the total is a marathon and your legs and mind know what it is like to run tired.
5. Rotate your shoes and break in the pair you plan to wear on race day by using them for tempo days, when you are going to run at or faster than marathon pace so you are used to them by the time of the race but you keep them somewhat fresh.
6. Plan out your hydration and nutrition strategy to get you comfortable through the entire distance. Find out what electrolyte drink they’ll have on the course and make sure it works for you. If not, find a solution, such as carrying your own or using salt tabs.
7. Avoid injury and illness by monitoring your body and addressing niggles when they are merely warning signs. Massage, ice, cross-training, a strong core, proper rest and recovery, shoes that match your running form and aren’t overly worn, a healthy diet, and a smart training schedule will all help in that quest.
8. Don’t overdress. The common rookie mistake is to wear a heavy sweatshirt or jacket when a vest, armwarmers, gloves and a hat are all that you may need. If you want to keep warm at the beginning, wear an old top with a hood and discard it near the start. Most races donate those items to shelters.
9. Taper. This isn’t an exam you can cram for so make sure the hay is in the barn at least ten days before the big event so you can decrease the length and intensity of your training and be rested and a little antsy when the starting pistol shoots.
10. Make sure you get to the starting line with a calm head. Marathons are all about efficiency and you can’t afford to waste energy by freaking out so design an easy-to-execute plan that has you starting with everything you need to complete the full marathon in fine form.
Ready to get started? Here is a beginner’s foolproof marathon training programme to get you going.