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So You Want to Run a Marathon?

November 14, 20238 min read

Fresh off my finish of the 2022 New York City Marathon (yes, I casually mention my marathon experience in almost every daily conversation that I have), I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some tips and tricks for anyone who might be considering running their first 5K, half marathon, or full marathon in the near future.

What Is Your Purpose?

Consider what your purpose is for running a marathon. Are you just looking to conquer the distance? Then maybe a local race where lots of friends and family can come to cheer you on is the way to go. Local races are often a lot less expensive as well. Are you looking for an incredible experience? There are lots of major marathons (six world major marathons) to choose from. They are usually more costly, but you can easily make a race-cation out of it. Are you looking to set a personal record? Then you may want to consider the course itself and select a very flat course or even a downhill course.

Hire a Running Coach

You’ll want to look for someone who is very knowledgeable and has lots of experience. You want them to write out a training plan. Ideally, you should train for at least 16 weeks prior to race day. Your plan should include at least three to four days a week of running, one to two days of rest and recovery, strength training, and cross training. Distances (both in terms of your long run for the week and your total weekly miles) should slowly ramp up and there should be some recovery weeks built in.

A lot can happen in 16 weeks – an injury or illness, family emergencies, trips, etc. Or perhaps the plan was too aggressive and you aren’t able to devote the time to training that you thought you would. Your running coach should be available to make changes to the plan when necessary. Plans are not written in stone and should be considered more as guidelines.

Your coach should be easily accessible and available to answer questions and provide advice. I was super grateful to have a running coach to ask questions like what to do when I got sick one month before race day, or how should I change my race day prep when the temperature was 25 degrees warmer than I was expecting.

Seek Support

Look for a local group of runners who are also training for the same race or a similar distance race. It’s nice to make friends with similar interests. You can learn more about running and the race from veteran runners. Conversation almost always makes a run go by faster. And there is the added accountability of knowing there are other people waiting for you to go for a run.  

If you are looking to run a non-local race, there are lots Facebook groups of runners who are committed to running the same race as you. I joined at least three running groups that were specific to the 2022 NYC Marathon. Again, you can ask race-specific questions and seasoned runners will offer great tips and tricks. It also helped provide inspiration because training for a race that is four months away is very abstract and unmotivating. But hearing others’ stories and seeing their posts about their long runs keeps you engaged.

Tune Up Races

Sign up for a shorter distance race within a month or two of race day. These races are called “tune up” races and they are great practice for race day. You can practice wearing what you intend to wear for your big race, and you can try out your nutrition and hydration plans. I ran a couple of 5K races before the NYC Marathon and I think they helped increase my overall speed and leg turnover, allowed me to try out my gear, and they built up my confidence.

Your People

Have your family and friends come to cheer you on. It’s good to try to position them at strategic points where they can see you more than once. Listening to hundreds of thousands of spectators cheer is incredible. But seeing my family, knowing they were there specifically for me, to help support me, was better.

I had my family all wear red shirts with specially ordered race bibs with my name on them. I saw a family with matching hats on and that also stood out of the crowd. My family also held a tall blue flag. They flew that flag over 8 feet in the air and I could see it from over ¼ mile away. Talk about motivation! I just had to run to the flag to get to see my people.

Race Day Logistics

Never try something new on race day. You should practice everything you will do, wear, and say (your mantra) on race day.

Your clothes:

Your socks should be moisture-wicking. Some people prefer tall compression socks – make sure you practice with your socks on at least one long run.

Running shorts/Bike shorts/Capris/Long pants. Try all of these options on at least one long run before race day. I preferred to have bottoms with large side pockets for my phone and gels and decided to skip out on a running belt or hydration vest.

Running belt/Hydration Vest – First, make sure these are permitted at your race. The NYC Marathon allows all belts and hand-held water bottles, but no hydration vests. Always practice wearing these on as many of your runs as you can, even your short runs. Make sure that whatever you wear is well-fitted to your body. I was grateful to borrow a friend’s size Large FlipBelt during a long run. However, the belt wasn’t firmly fitted to my waist and the water bottle kept hitting my back for all 16 miles. I ended up with a big welt on my back that lasted for several weeks.

Shirts/Tanks/Muscle Tees/Long Sleeves. As above, try all of these options before race day. Don’t forget that some fabrics rub differently when they are wet (races are rarely canceled or postponed for rain). And anything that is screenprinted or embroidered on your shirt will be rubbing against your skin for many miles.

Hats/Visors/Headbands. Again, practice with these.

Music. Make sure music is permitted at your race. Many races will actually discourage the use of Air Pods/headphones/AfterShokz because of the decreased awareness of environmental hazards. And there are some arguments that music could be considered an unfair advantage because the beat of the music could actually pace a person’s running. However, for most average runners in average races, you can wear headphones of some sort.

Hydration. I made it a point to find out exactly what was offered at the NYC Marathon – down to the flavor of Gatorade. Then I stocked up and practiced hydrating during my runs using Lemon Lime Gatorade.

Nutrition. Some races will also offer nutrition options for during the race. Again, make it a point to see and test out what they are offering. The NYC Marathon provided Science in Sport Gels in various flavors. I am not a fan of gels, however, I made it a point to practice using gels before race day.

Put your name on your shirt. You can have it screenprinted, or just written in Sharpie on some duct tape. But spectators will certainly yell for you if your name is written on your shirt.

Check out the start time of your race and practice all of your logistics at least once before race day. The NYC Marathon start is staggered (Can you imagine all 50,000 racers starting at one time?). Once I got my start time, I made sure to change up my usual early long run to my race day starting time (10:20 a.m.). It allowed me to figure out my pre-race nutrition (which meant more food than I was used to eating) and hydration.

Plan your race day. Set out your clothes the night before and make sure you set several alarms. Make sure you have plenty of time to get to the race without stressing. With the NYC Marathon, there are only two transportation options to get to the start of the race – by bus or ferry. Both options become more crowded as the morning wears on. I read a lot of stories post-race about how the 8 a.m. Staten Island Ferry was completely full and there were long lines for the buses, which led to some people missing their wave start time. I decided upon early transportation, and while I sat in Athlete’s Village for a few hours, I didn’t feel anxious and stressed out.

Enjoy the Experience

Take a moment to appreciate the experience. A lot of time and energy (and a surprising amount of money!) goes into training for a marathon. Race Day is the culmination of all that hard work, but keep in mind that it is just one day. So, take it all in. I bought incredibly overpriced race gear at the Expo when I was picking up my race bib. I made a point to make and chat with a new friend on the bus ride to Athlete’s Village before the race. I took pictures and video of the start of the race. I high-fived almost every child on the left side of the road in Brooklyn (which is ten miles long). I tried to read and enjoy the spectators’ signs. And I stopped and hugged my friends and family when I saw them on the sidelines cheering for me. In parody of Ferris Bueller, “A marathon moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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Breakaway Fitness & Performance

Breakaway Fitness & Performance focuses on strength training, weight loss, and a healthy lifestyle in their blogs.

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