I would not claim to be any kind of expert, on running, or on marathons, but, having run more than a few of them over the past couple of years, I often get asked by people starting out what advice I would give them.
Here is some of the stuff I’ve learned (mostly by doing things wrong):
- Try to join a running group for your training, preferably one where a lot of the members are training for the same marathon – not only does it make the training much more enjoyable, but it makes the marathon itself easier if you are running it with friends.
- Mix up your training – don’t just run “junk miles” – do your long runs slowly, push it a bit on your short runs, and include hill work – hill work is probably the most valuable running you can do.
- Never eat, drink, wear, or carry anything that you haven’t eaten, drank, worn, or carried on at least two long runs. This applies especially to shoes – and don’t wear the top you pick up at the expo!
- Don’t go out too fast. You are going to ignore this piece of advice, but it is important, so I’ll say it again – don’t go out too fast. You WILL pay for it later in the race.
- Don’t be afraid to use a run/walk strategy – but do it from the start, not when you are too tired to get any benefit from it. I have run all my marathons, except one, where I used the run/walk strategy. My fastest marathon time is from that one.
- Chaffing is your enemy. Use plenty of Vaseline, Bodyglide, or whatever works for you, because chaffing will not only hurt like hell, but will sap your energy, and possibly cause you to drop out.
- Less is more – one of the most common sights I see in marathons is people throwing away gear – jackets, belts, sunglasses, water bottles – see point 2 above – if you haven’t used it on your long runs, you don’t need it on the marathon.
- Despite what I said above, try to be as self-sufficient as possible – don’t rely on aid stations – you never know whether they will run out of something. On my first marathon, I was so slow that the last two aid stations were out of water when I was coming in, and I hadn’t carried any – leading to considerable suffering in the last few miles.
- Always have a Plan B when it comes to time – few will admit it, but most people have a time they want to do their first marathon in – however, if you can’t keep up with your chosen pacer, or keep to your planned pace, have a Plan B (and C, D, and E) just in case – it’s easy to lose it altogether if things get tough, better to have an alternative to fall back on.
- Get a good night’s sleep two nights before the marathon – because you probably won’t sleep well the night before.
- Treat your first marathon as just that – your first – there will be plenty of others to correct anything that goes wrong! Enjoy it, and don’t get hung up on times, or little details. I had a nightmare first marathon, but have had many enjoyable ones since.
Treat your long training runs as dress rehearsals for your marathon – try to wear the same gear, socks, shoes, carry the same water bottle, eat the same food or gels, and prepare the same way for all your long runs as you will for the marathon. Whatever breakfast you have before your longs runs, have the same before your marathon – this way, you know you will not have any adverse reactions on the day.
Take a look at my posts about what works and doesn’t work for me to get ideas about things to try (or not!), my Running Shoe Advice post, for, er, running shoe advice, and Garmin Tips & Tricks for stuff on GPS watches.