6 Things No One Tells You About Running a Marathon

6 Things No One Tells You About Running a Marathon

By Jenessa Connor

You've broken in your running shoes and committed your training schedule to memory. Hydration and fueling strategies? Tested and finalized. Based on your conversations with other runners, you know the race will be tough, but the feeling of triumph at the finish line will make the struggle worthwhile.

By all accounts, you've done your research and have all the information you need to crush your first marathon...right?

Almost. You're certainly well on your way to achieving every distance runner's ultimate goal, but there are a few lesser-known marathon facts that deserve your attention.

Understanding these six points (and making a few small adjustments to your training and race-day planning as a result) could mean the difference between merely surviving your first marathon and truly enjoying it.

1) You probably won't sleep well the night before the marathon—that's okay.

Excitement, compulsive alarm checking, and pre-race jitters may keep you up past your bed time. But as long as you've gotten an adequate amount of rest in the week leading up to the big day, one night of subpar sleep won't ruin your race.

If you end up tossing and turning, do your best to keep your inner dialogue positive, advises Kevin Hanson, Coach of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project in Rochester, Michigan.

“Staying up with worry, doubt, and anxiety will start you off in a deficit the morning of your race," he says. “Instead think confident, positive, affirmative thoughts."

He also suggests doing as much pre-race prep as possible before you turn in, as it will help you feel prepared and minimize stress the morning of the race.

“I lay out the uniform I plan to wear, attach my bib, lay out my shoes, socks, and any gels that I plan to carry with me. Taking care of the little things sometimes allows one to relax."

2) At some point, training starts to feel like a second job.

A solid training plan will gradually and systematically increase your mileage over time, all while mixing in a variety of workouts, rest days, and cross-training. Your job is to stick to the schedule, which may require you to re-work family obligations, cut back on social activities, and make some sacrifices.

So, when you find yourself considering ditching your long run for Sunday brunch, shift your perspective and reconnect with why you set your marathon goal in the first place.

“Becoming good at running—at anything for that matter—requires practice and patience," says Jason Karp, Ph.D. in exercise physiology, owner of Run-Fit, a running coaching and certification program in San Diego, California, and author of The Inner Runner. “Practice, because it takes repetition of a task to master it, and patience, because when we run we are trying to change things at the level of the cell. We are changing our chemistry, and that's a slow process."

3) Forget about your target pace for the first mile or two.

The more popular the race, the bigger the start-line bottleneck. Take the extra minutes in stride and resist the urge to quickly make up lost time.

“Losing some time in the beginning of a marathon is no big deal, and after any athlete has a poor experience you will never hear that used as an excuse," says Hanson. “People are giving away minutes in the late stages because they were too aggressive in the early stages. Stay relaxed and let the pace come to you."

4) Go ahead and put your name on your shirt.

Taking a Sharpie to your singlet may seem a little corny (and a tad desperate), but around mile 20 or so, you'll take encouragement from any available source, including absolute strangers.

“When people call your name while you're running, it makes the cheering more personal," says Karp, "and that can give you a huge boost."

5) Just because you've crossed the finish line doesn't mean you're done.

The thought of sitting down is never more appealing than after covering 26.2 miles on foot. But reality—and event logistics—can be cruel. In an attempt to keep the finish line clear and traffic moving, race officials will typically discourage runners from copping a squat right after they cross the finish line. And, even if there is room to immediately sit and rest, you'll eventually have to get yourself to a car, cab, or shuttle bus.

Use this mandatory cool-down period to your advantage. Walking “helps flush the legs and bring your heart rate down slowly," Hanson says. "Both of those are important if you want to move around later in the day or over the next couple days."

6) Have your support crew meet you at the finish line with a change of clothes.

What's better than your buddy's clever, homemade sign? A warm hoodie and a pair of sweatpants after the race.

“It's easy to get a chill after finishing the marathon because your body is being cooled rapidly, but you have stopped generating heat from the muscle contractions with running," Karp says.

So, the sooner you can change out of your sweaty t-shirt and into some dry duds, the better you'll feel.

Remember: it's your race.

While it’s smart practice to do your research and seek out advice, remember that each runner (and each race) is completely different. Other athletes may have more experience, but you are the expert on your body and what it can do. As the marathon approaches, it's okay to step away from all the chatter and feel confident in your training and preparation. You may encounter something unexpected, but that's all part of the experience—and thrill—of race day.

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