Do This, Not That! A Beginner’s Guide to Marathon Training
It’s marathon season! Whether you’re getting ready for a spring marathon like Grandma’s Marathon, or the Rochester Marathon, or another race this fall, now is the perfect time to start gearing up for your next, or first, 26.2-mile race. While there’s never anything easy about running a marathon, beginners have a particularly difficult time simply because they haven’t run the distance before.
When I ran my first marathon back in 2007, I did many things right, but also did many things wrong. I carried a CamelBak, I ate food that didn’t agree with my stomach, and I ran too fast for my fitness level. Seven marathons later and it’s still really hard, but I’ve overcome most, if not all, of those rookie mistakes.
I’m getting excited again about the possibility of running another marathon soon. Recently, I came across an article entitled, “The Do’s and Don’t’s of Running Your First Marathon.” It is overly simplistic (do buy the right shoes, don’t over hydrate, etc.), but it caused me to reflect on the knowledge I now take for granted when it comes to marathon training.
Here are six of my biggest learnings from my first marathon:
Train for six months or more.
You don’t need to wait until your 16-week marathon training plan to start. Begin building up base miles now, and help your body adjust to the rigors of pounding out those long runs. Before my first marathon, I pretty much just jumped into a plan 16 weeks before race day. While you don’t have to start running early, extra time gives your body more time to adapt and ideally, avoid injury.
Find a Training Partner.
Before my first marathon, I recruited my two best friends to suffer through the race with me. It is so much easier to do something new with others. We slogged through a lot of miles, and it was nice to have others to bounce ideas off of and commiserate about all the ups and downs of training. If you can’t find a friend, let me know (I’ve been toying with the idea of creating another virtual training group here at Minneapolis Running.)
Related: 5 Benefits of Running with a Group
Learn how to Poop.
I had the privilege of visiting several porta potties during my first marathon. While training, my training buddies got sick of me constantly having to find a bathroom during our long runs. It’s not only annoying, but really messes with your race. Since then I’ve experimented with A LOT of food combinations, and generally figured out how to do my bathroom business before the race. I’ve never stopped during a race since!
Related: Where to Poop in The Twin Cities
DumbRunner.com recently wrote about five mistakes runners should avoid. It’s solid running advice if not entirely serious. Here are three more things you shouldn’t do:
Don’t use Music.
“But I can’t run without it!” you say? Too bad. Most marathons don’t allow music on the course, and if you get used to it during training, it will be brutal on race day. Running is an excellent way to connect with yourself. I’ve found that running is the only time during the day when I am totally alone with my thoughts. Some people (like Krysta, who has run 8 marathons with music) disagree, to which I say, “to each their own.”
Don’t Eat Too Much
I gained a couple of pounds during my first marathon (crazy considering how much I pooped, right?). I had this idea that I needed to eat 6,000 calories a day, when in fact, I didn’t need to eat much more than normal. Caloric intake is different for everyone, but figuring out how much food you truly need is key to feeling your best during the marathon process.
Related: The Runner’s Meal Planing Guide
Don’t Focus Only on the Long Run
The long run is still the staple of marathon training, but it’s not the only thing you should be doing. While training for my first marathon, I mostly ran three times during the week, with a long run on the weekend. You may not have high expectations for your first marathon, but you probably want to finish. Make sure you’re doing plenty of other “longish” runs during your plan, and perhaps an occasional tempo run to give you a feel for your desired race pace.
What Are Your Do’s and Don’t’s?
There are SO MANY other do’s and don’t’s of marathon training and racing. This list isn’t meant to explain all of them, just highlight a few from my training.