Your first marathon can be overwhelming, and it can be hard to refine or define where you can improve. Whether your race goes exactly as planned, or you crash and burn, there are always things you can learn. Here are some things I’ve picked up over the years that I wish I’d known on my first marathon start line.
Preparation is key!
You can’t fake a marathon, or at least one you’ll be proud of down the road. You will find that when you give yourself the proper time to build a base and go through a full 8-12 week cycle, your outcome will be far better than simply linking race to race.
Recovery is far more important than training hard.
You will not reach your potential if you’re waking up sore everyday, taking foggy afternoon naps, and extending every run to the max. Learning when your body needs a day off is far more important than proving to yourself that you can finish a 20 mile run when you’re on the verge of being sick.
The body ultimately sees stress as stress, whether it’s self-imposed (training) or external (life, family, or work etc.) So don’t be afraid to take a loss on the day or accept that a shorter run will have to suffice. There are days when your planned workout will only hurt your progress, especially if you feel tired, stressed, or agitated.
Be realistic about your workouts.
A “work hard” mentality is great for racing, but not necessarily for training. Remember that working hard is relative, and you’ll feel better (and be able to work harder when you do work hard) if you also learn to embrace easy days. You should be completing your runs, and completing them with confidence. If you’re bailing, failing, or missing your goal pace—you’re aiming too high!
Think of it this way: Do you taper for a race? Why not taper for a workout? It sounds cheeky but your days between workouts are intended to be restorative and allow you to come in to your workouts ready to perform. If you can’t execute your goals, then you’re either setting an outrageous expectation, or your body isn’t ready to perform after your last workout—no other scenarios exist.
Build a team.
The best athletes in the world appear to know it all, but they’ll be the first people to thank the guide, mentor, coach, or friend who helped them get to the next level. Setting a world record or a personal record is rarely done solo, and your tribe or team will ultimately be your best asset when it comes to the ‘tough stuff’.
This becomes key especially when self-doubt enters the picture. Many have fallen into a trap they can’t get out of because they haven’t seen all the options, or can’t see them from where they stand. Young coaches or seasoned vets all come with a different frame of view so don’t shy away from either—they learn from each other too! Build a team who has your goals an interest in mind. The sign of a good team member is someone who will get your butt out the door when you need it but will also hold you back when you need to rest.
Your plan will fail, and that’s okay.
You will evenutally have a bad race – you will miss your PR, you’ll folly in the final miles, or blow up on that climb. Fallibility is human. We only truly fail when we become too stubborn to learn from our mistakes. Sharing a few tears and frustrations from a DNF will often take you further than simply working harder in the same rut. Failure is a teacher, not a punishment— how you use the opportunity to learn is up to you!