September 17, 2015

An open letter to a first time marathoner

One of my dearest friends just shared the news that she'll be running her first marathon in Tokyo (!!!) this spring. I immediately was excited and started making a mental list of all I wanted to share with her. So here goes...

Dear S,

I could not be more excited for you to take on the Tokyo Marathon. While I am no expert in marathons nor do I have any personal insight into running Tokyo, I am eagerly "brain dumping" all of my marathon (and general running) insights for you.

Let's start with the obvious-goals. Since you're somewhat new to running, I will tell you the most important thing I learned from training for my first marathon. Throw all of your time goals out the window. Your only goal should be to finish...and have some fun accomplishing this incredible feat! Sure, a ballpark range for a finish time is ok, but I would strongly recommend against getting wrapped up in time goals. 

And with that, we'll segue to the most important aspect of your preparations, training plans. A solid training plan is a must. I would strongly recommend Hal Higdon or Jeff Galloway plans for a first time marathoner. They break down the weeks into manageable chunks. They focus on mileage build-up while avoiding injury. While I am a devoted follower of Run Less, Run Faster, those plans are incredibly aggressive and might leave you feeling haggard mid-training cycle. Personally, I don't feel they are novice plans. Training for a marathon is really really hard. Brutal tempo runs and blazing speed work paces will likely leave you drained and injury-prone. Get a few races under your belt before you try a pace that makes you feel as though you might fly off the back of the treadmill! 

As you work through your training, most coaches recommend logging your runs. Track your mileage, pace, how you felt, any specific aches (mine are always achy L knee and tight R hip), and other details like shoes you wore (to track the wear) or fuel you used. I use a simple monthly planner for this and scribble my workout info down each day. 

Try out compression sleeves for recovery or muscle support during runs. Some people love 'em, some people hate 'em. I'm a devoted calf sleeve user as I deal with tightness from time to time. They really feel like hugs for your legs. 

If you don't have one, consider investing in a foam roller. They're a wonderful tool for helping work out the kinks and can be used like massage to work out tight muscles. 

During your training, you'll want to experiment with fuel...pre-run fuel, during-run fuel, and post-run fuel. By no means am I an expert in running nutrition but I'll tell you what works for me...
-Before long runs I eat an English muffin or bagel thin with peanut butter and a banana. For shorter runs, a banana, handful of nuts or clif bar are some of my favs.
- During long runs, I carry gels (usually Gu jet blackberry, Gu tri-berry or Gu lemon lime) and gummies like Clif shot bloks (fav flavors are strawberry, tropical punch, mountain berry, and margarita for the salt) or Honey Stinger chews (favorite flavor is fruit smoothie). I also have been known to pack a small bag of pretzels for runs in the 18-20+ mile range for the salt and satisfaction of eating real food. 
- After long runs I've been known to have serious aversions to food. Crazy, I know. I bought a really high quality protein powder and learned to love protein smoothies with frozen or fresh fruit. Your body needs the calories from protein and carbs for recovery. Chocolate milk is also a great recovery drink based on the carb and protein ratio. 
There are people far more knowledgeable about this than me so take this for face value! 

And now for some tough some point during your training and maybe even during the race, you will want to quit. You will want to quit really badly. You will say "this sucks and I hate running." You might even cry. And you might tell yourself you can't do it. All of those voices in your head are wrong! Marathon training is hard, yo! If you have a training buddy, great. They will help you stay accountable and can talk you off the ledge. Or call me. I'll remind you how freaking awesome you are and simply put one foot in front of the other to run one more mile. And then I'll tell you to run another mile, until you meet your training distance or the finish line, whichever applies. To apply one of our favorite jokes, just put the boat in the water! The tough times will be a distant memory when that medal is around your neck. I can promise you that. 

Go get 'em!

So blog readers, what's the most important piece of advice you would share for my buddy as she prepares for her first marathon? 


  1. As I am a few short days away from tapering for my first marathon (yippee) I would definitely agree with your statement "just put the boat in the water". (I've GOT to steal that by the way since I'm a fanatic water skier! LOVE!) Just do the miles and don't get stressed about it. It'll happen. I'm trying very hard not to put any time goals in my head, though.

  2. I loooooooove this post. Especially the last part. I'm not a first-time marathoner, and yet I ALWAYS reach the point in my training cycle when I start to get frustrated and want to quit. We can ALL learn some lessons from this. Thanks for sharing, and best of luck to your friend!

  3. This is fantastic, you really hit all the best points. Especially about wanting to quit. I can't even tell you the number of times I've had to talk myself out of wanting to quit.

  4. All great tips, Christine! Logging is especially important so that you're able to track how you're doing, can figure out what is vs. what isn't working for you, etc.

  5. Great letter, to your friend! The best advice I give new runners getting ready for their first is, want it and believe in yourself, the mind is a far bigger tool to finishing and training for a marathon than even the legs:)

  6. This is a great post! I love it.

    My biggest advice advice for running your first full (and also your first half) is SLOW DOWN. It so, so easy to start out too fast by getting caught up in the excitement. Some of my worst races have been because I started out way faster than I intended and burned out my legs halfway through.

    During the actual race, enjoy every moment. Soak it all in so you can remember all of it!

  7. I totally agree I always tell people the first one isn't about time, it is about crossing the finish. Good advice.

  8. Great advice! I can tell you are very excited about your friend's marathon and want her to have such helpful information. I would add to that list to have patience! 26.2 miles seems daunting, but she'll get there!

  9. Awww what an amazing letter and awesome advice for your friend! I agree 100% about the first marathon having a goal to just finish. It will be a PR regardless!

  10. Great advice! The training plan is so helpful. I love my compression socks and foam roller. It's amazing how much they help. And I would definitely add in looking into a running group or finding friends to run with since it really helps make things more bearable at times.

  11. If it doesn't feel good then don't do it. Take a rest day if you feel like you need it and listen to your body!

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  13. This is all great advice, Christine! I agree with everything you shared! :) Best of luck to your friend!