Here are a few things I learned while training for and running my first marathon on Saturday:
1. Pick the right race. If big crowds are important to you, a small-town race probably won’t be a good fit. Training in cold weather? A race in a warmer climate might be tough if you’re not used to the higher temperatures. Expecting a big project or trip for work that could affect your training? Consider a race a few weeks earlier or later.
2. Invest in good running shoes, and make sure you’ll have a not-too-worn-out pair for the race. My favorite shoes were being discontinued, and I didn’t stock up sufficiently. Because of my poor planning, I ended up trying a couple other pairs during training, while trying to preserve a pair of my favorites for the race.
3. Read running magazines or blogs. They’ll give you ideas for new workouts when you’re bored with your usual ones.
4. Take it easy during the two or three weeks before the race. No matter how much it drives you crazy, your legs will be much fresher on race day if you’ve had a couple weeks of easy runs.
5. Study the course map. You can’t predict the weather, traffic or how you’ll feel the day of the marathon, but this is one thing you can control. Learning where the hills, mile markers and water stations are in advance takes a lot of stress out of race day.
6. Especially if you’re running a large race, get to the start earlier than you think you need to. I ended up waiting in line for the bathroom for nearly an hour. Many runners (including me) missed the start of their assigned corrals because they were waiting in line for the restroom or to check a bag.
7. Don’t start too fast. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement at the start. But it’s far easier to control your pace at the beginning (forcing yourself to slow down if necessary) than it is to get through the final miles when you’ve burnt up all your energy.
8. Practice eating and drinking during your long runs. Know what food and beverages work for you, and how frequently you need to eat or drink something. If you’re going to bring your own fuel or water to the race, make sure you know how you’ll carry it.
9. Wear less clothing than you think you need. As cold as the early-morning start is, you will warm up (a lot) over 26.2 miles.
10. Trust your training. Don’t psyche yourself out. After a 22-mile training run, is four miles that much more?
11. Distract yourself when the race gets tough. Look at the scenery, read spectators’ signs, concentrate on your form, calculate your splits, think about inspirational quotes or your favorite song lyrics, visualize the finish line. Just don't think about the pain or how tired you are.
12. Remember that it’s your first marathon. It’s supposed to be a learning experience. Relax and enjoy it.