Running your first marathon: 10 things to know
The best training is when you are thrown right into the fire. No amount of preparation can prepare you for what you will experience running your first marathon. But there are things you can do to be ready for it and to face it better.
Lance Armstrong said a four letter word to his wife after his first marathon, saying that it was the “hardest thing he had ever done in his life”. Reading this won’t make your experience of running any easier, it won’t reduce the number of blackened and cracked toenails nor ease the burning agony in your muscles. But it will help you be forewarned and it will help you get into a frame of mind where you can face the marathon and conquer it.
My preparation for my first marathon wasn’t the most ideal. I had never run for more than an hour and half at one time. For about eight years, I just ran 2 kms in the morning and played basketball for three hours in the evening.
Participating in activities which require you to be on your feet and run around also contribute towards preparing you for a marathon. Whether you realize it or not, you have been preparing for running a marathon your entire life. You don’t have to have gone on 15 mile runs to be prepared for a marathon. This isn’t like your board exams where you ought to take mock tests of 100 marks in 3 hours as part of preparation. If you can finish your first marathon in under five hours, that is pretty decent.
You have chosen to run 42.195 kms for a reason. You are ready for it.
The most important goal you ought to have in your first marathon is to finish it regardless of how your body is feeling. Unless you sustain a freaky injury, you should push through all discomfort and finish the run. Don’t pay any heed to those who run faster than you, everyone is running their own race. Trying to speed up to keep pace with others can backfire if you aren’t at their level of fitness. Worse yet, a lot of runners who start off fast end up dropping out of the race. There’s a reason we were taught the story of the rabbit and the turtle.
Actually, that allegory is double-ended. The rabbit’s strategy does apply here in a different degree. As the story goes, the turtle crawled along at a snail’s pace, while the rabbit sprinted away with stops in between. In a marathon, you don’t need to go at a constant pace, alternating between jogging and walking works very well for those not in a shape good enough to run the entire race.
If you are getting tired after the first hour, you can try jogging for fifteen minutes and walking for ten minutes. The goal here is to finish the run, not come first. The Tarahamura tribe hunts deer by chasing them to death. The deer only knows one speed, fast. And the deer can’t sweat to cool off. The tribe gives chase at a constant pace and literally runs the prey to death. If the deer had instead run at a slightly slower pace, it could have made it. Know the speed you are comfortable running at, and run a little slower than that speed. Alternate between running and walking if needed. That will sustain you longer by maximizing your oxygen intake.
When you pass a water stand, take a drink. Keep refelling your tank. Grab a bite where offered. Process of sustenance begins before the race too. Opinions differ on this, but on an average, what I’ve gathered is to eat porridge at around 7-8 pm the night before, and chew down bread and bananas in the morning. From personal experience, I would say don’t go in on an empty tummy. The logic of not having to lug a belly full of food doesn’t apply any more than the logic of keeping a car tank empty to let it move lighter and more efficiently.
Load up on carbs the week before the race, ideally 3-4 days before. Potatoes are good for the vegetarians.
While most marathons have people shouting encouragement on the streets, you need to be deaf and blind to the runners dropping left, right and center. In my first marathon, there was a runner whom I passed at the 30 km mark. He said that the race is over, people have won. Then another bus came by with dropouts who yelled at me to join them. This says more about the state of Kolkata marathon than my mettle as a runner. There were only about 300 participants there and it served me well to be deaf to the dropouts.
Look it up on Google maps, check the info given by the organizers. Visualize the route and see yourself traversing it with the joy of a bunny hopping around. Checking out the route lets you have a mental image of the course which helps to build a sense of familiarity when you run. Mark out 10 km checkpoints and time yourself when you cross them. Carry a watch with you.
Know that your body is yours to command. Try lifting your hand. Right one. How did you do it? It was completely subconscious. A hypnotist can convince a weightlifter that his wrist is laden with sand and cement and try as he might he won’t be able to lift his hand. It is cliched that it is all in the mind, and it couldn’t be more true. Know your body, your legs moving in rhythm, your arms pumping (arms shouldn’t cross the chest more than halfway while swinging), know your body moving at its most efficient motion. Know it and it will translate in action. Wonder for a second if you are getting tired and it will lead to you getting tired. Know what you want to, and it will happen.
The perfect running form is seen as elusive. There is a simple way to ascertain it, sprint. Running as fast as you can forces your body to streamline its movements into the most efficient form. Practice it and take cues from the form you form. Take short and quick strides while running. Don’t let your feet strike the ground ahead of the body, that will have the effect of applying brakes. Lean forward a little to use gravity in your favour, stick your hips out a little, and move.
You are going to have cracked and/or blackened toenails, jogger’s nipple, muscle soreness and a lot of fatigue. Walk for at least 20 minutes after the run if you can, go home and eat and shower, attend to your injuries and take a nap. These are just the side effects of running a marathon.
While running a track race, I like to visualize leaving my heart at the start line, the rest of the race its just me being pulled towards what I left behind. A little tweak on the saying “Throw your heart over the fence and the rest will follow.” Know at all times that you are going to finish the race. Know that it is the only possible outcome barring a freaky injury. Know that you are going to finish the race. Regardless of anything.
Don’t think, hope, or wish for it. Know.