I’ve been a runner for my entire adult life, and in that time I’ve had one basic item on my bucket list that’s gone undone… until Sunday. On April 10, 2011, I finally finished my first full marathon on Whidbey Island. That’s 26.2 miles for those of you unfamiliar with running distances.
Running a full marathon was an experience unlike any I’ve had in athletics thus far. For most of the time, I was completely alone on the course – occasionally my awesome supporters (my husband and family) would pop up to yell and cheer, but it was mostly it was just an iPod and my own thoughts. I ran into 30-mile-an-hour winds for most of miles 14-20. I only cried once during the race. I walked about half of the last 6 miles. I thought about quitting for most of miles 19-25.
But overall, I’m glad I did it. I had been wondering about marathons for a very long time, and now my curiosity is satiated.
I do want to take a moment to say how ridiculously awesome the Whidbey Island Marathon as an event was. I’ve never seen so many well-organized, enthusiastic volunteers that actively cheered and knew how to help the runners (and how to hand off the cups without drenching everyone in orange Gatorade)! The event was also small enough that I felt like I could get individual attention easily should I need it. I especially appreciated the extra planning that went in to making sure that everyone got to the starting line on time and safely – I’ve never appreciated a big yellow school bus more!
Now that I’ve gone through my first marathon (and because I have a pretty extensive racing background that I can compare it to), what follows are my do’s and don’ts for getting it done that will hopefully help others contemplating running their first 26-miler.
Tips for Running Your First Marathon:
- DO research, research, research! Part of the reason I signed up for the Whidbey Island Marathon was the glowing recommendation Runners World gave it a while back. The scenery was gorgeous and it was so well organized, so I’m glad I did.
- DO have a kick-ass playlist, especially if you think motivation is going to be an issue. I picked songs I knew all the words to so I could sing along – and I highly recommend this technique.
- DO round up some supporters to cheer you on during the race. After a mini-meltdown around the 24-mile marker, popping up over the top of the hill and seeing my family gave me the strength to finish.
- DO wear a watch, or some other time-tracking device. I did not and I sorely regretted it, especially when other people guessed loudly as to what time it was on the course and I freaked out.
- DO find someone to run with you, both during the marathon and during training. Part of the reason my training kind of stopped was that I couldn’t get motivated to run for 3 hours by myself on Sundays when I had friends visiting and other things going on. A friend or running buddy can help with that motivation.
- DON’T worry about your finish time for your first marathon. Finishing is a big enough accomplishment for anyone, and there’s no need to psych yourself out with extra pressure. I came up with this crazy idea of trying to qualify for Boston on my first try, and it just made everything more stressful.
- DON’T sign up for a marathon far away from home if it’s your first one. I didn’t really know what to expect from my body after the race, and being stuck in a car for 6 hours afterwards to get home was AWFUL. My legs were cramping, my digestive system was rebelling, and we didn’t know where the Starbucks for food establishments were. It was a nightmare.
- DON’T sign up for a marathon in early Spring if you live in a place that has real winters. You will end up doing your long runs on the coldest, windiest, snowiest days of winter because the weather Gods will conspire against you. Trust.
- DON’T get off track with your training plan. Running is not like studying – you can’t cram it in before the final and hope it works. This is a final you might not get through if you try to run a bunch of miles to “make up” for skipping a few weeks.
- DON’T go for a long hike the day before your marathon. Even if the scenery is beautiful. Even if it’s an awesome opportunity to spend some time with your husband. Even if WWII bunkers are the awesomest things ever. You need fresh legs! Hiking the day before (especially if you’ve gone on the recommended 2-3 miler already) will tire you out even if you don’t feel it immediately afterwards.
- DON’T wait until the day of the race to figure out your race nutrition. I procrastinated and procrastinated and didn’t explore the whole GU thing or the optimum Gatorade intake times, and I sorely (ha, pun!) regretted it. You will need substantial calories while you run, so be sure to spend some time figuring it out.
Making mistakes so no one else has to! You’re all welcome. The only other thing I will say is that close proximity to a hot tub is a requirement this week. My legs and the bottoms of my feet (which was surprising to me!) have never been this sore, and the hot tub totally makes them feel better. I may also indulge in a massage towards the end of the week to help loosen things up a bit, but I’m waiting to see if the soreness settles down a bit.
My Awesome Marathon Playlist– Bon Jovi, Living on a Prayer – Third Eye Blind, Never Let You Go – Toto, Africa – Third Eye Blind, 10 Days Late – Cascada, Runaway – Katy Perry, Waking Up In Vegas – Florence + The Machine, Dog Days Are Over – Maino, All the Above – Eric Prydz, Call On Me – Britney Spears, Stronger – Vanessa Carlton, White Houses – Imogen Heap, Daylight Robbery – Hole, Heaven Tonight – Lady GaGa, Poker Face – Cascada, What Do You Want From Me – Outkast, Bombs Over Baghdad – Nelly Furtado, Turn Off the Light – Sum 41, In Too Deep – Hole, Awful – A*Teens, Floorfiller – A*Teens, Bouncing Off the Ceiling – Green Day, Poprocks and Coke – Survivor, Eye of the Tiger – Dixie Chicks, If I Fall You’re Going Down With Me – Cake, Sheep Go To Heaven – Cee Lo Green, F**k You – The Living End, Prisoner of Society – Ke$ha, Your Love Is My Drug – Boston, More Than a Feeling – Beyonce, Get Me Bodied – Sara Bareilles, King of Anything – The Living End, Roll On – Paramore, crushcrushcrush – Cascada, One More Night – Something Corporate, Punk Rock Princess – Something Corporate, I Woke Up In A Car – Juelz Santana, Back to the Crib – No Doubt, Six Feet Under – Dixie Chicks, Sin Wagon – A*Teens, Cross My Heart – Willow Smith, Whip My Hair – Vanessa Carlton, Nolita Fairytale – Timbaland, Morning After Dark – Britney Spears, 3 – Cascada, How Do You Do! – Paramore, Misery Business – Hole, Celebrity Skin – Hole, Reasons to be Beautiful – Rihanna, Don’t Stop the Music – Third Eye Blind, 1000 Julys – Ke$ha, We R Who We R – Yellowcard, Way Away – POD, Boom – Yellowcard, Ocean Avenue – T.I., Got Your Back – The Wallflowers, The Difference – Cascada, Because the Night – Gin Blossoms, Found Out About You – Lady GaGa, Alejandro – Far East Movement, Like a G6 – Avril Lavigne, What the Hell – Flo Rida, Right Round – Rihanna, Shut Up and Drive – Brandy, Turn It Up – Taio Cruz, Dynamite – Lady GaGa, Just Dance – Ester Dean, Drop It Low – Eminem, Lose Yourself – N*E*R*D, Lapdance – Bon Jovi, It’s My Life – Taio Cruz, Break Your Heart – New Found Glory, Dressed to Kill – Katy Perry, Hot N Cold – The Killers, Somebody Told Me – A.F.I., Girl’s Not Grey – Crystal Waters, 100% Pure Love – Ke$ha, Tik Tok
So get out there and run! And listen to some awesome music while you do it. I sincerely doubt I’ll do another one, but encourage you all to do it at least once!