Want to Run a Marathon? Read This First! 12 Tips to Make it Awesome

How cute is this picture? It was one of my proud momma moments watching my oldest run her first marathon while still in college! I actually cried watching her finish!

How cute is this picture? It was one of my proud momma moments watching my oldest run her first marathon while still in college! I actually cried watching her finish!

If running a marathon is on your bucket list, then get ready to cross it off! There are lots of ways to prepare for, and run a marathon…and if you are going to do it, why not make it as enjoyable as possible.

Last year I ran my first marathon and I learned a lot! I am not a runner by nature, in fact if I have a choice between running and just about any other form of working out, running is last on the list almost every time. I have run several half marathons before, but it was never something I actually enjoyed. Strangely, somewhere between my first training run and the last training run, I began to kind of like running? It almost surprised me! Here are some things I learned along the way!

If you want to run a marathon, especially your first, check out these 12 tips to make it awesome!


1 Sign Up for a Fun Marathon With Lots of Runners and Lots of Spectators

The excitement of a big marathon with crowded streets, live music and families setting up their own aid stations…is a priceless incentive to keep running! I may be partial with my love of Chicago, but having 1.7 million people cheering you on is a pretty exciting atmosphere! So much better than running 26.2 miles along a half deserted path or a highway. Take some time to really research before you sign up for a marathon, especially if you are running your first. 26 miles is a long way to gut through by yourself.

There are lots of great big city marathons that do an awesome job celebrating runners - chose one of those! It may sound intimidating to have 40,000 people running, but the race organizers have it down to a fine tuned machine, and getting into the race is seamless. It will be fun for not only you, but also for your family that come to cheer you on. They will be there for hours, and being part a big event will make all those hours of spectating more fun for them as well.

The atmosphere is electric! That’s the vibe you want to experience during your marathon - it’s a party!


2 Enlist a Friend to Run with You

Doing anything with a partner makes the entire process so much more enjoyable, and training for a marathon is no different! Everyone thinks about the 26.2 miles the day of the race, but you’ll be logging well over 400 training miles. If you don’t love running, having a friend counting on you to train with them may be just the motivation you need to not miss those training runs. You’ll also have a buddy to chat with during the run, or if you can’t breath, you’ll have a partner to sympathize with you once you finish!

If you can’t talk a friend into running with you, try joining a running club, or running for a specific charity. If you sign up as a charity runner, most charities provide awesome training and will have running groups scheduled throughout the week so you can run with a larger group. Actually, if you are going to run 26 miles anyway, wouldn’t it be a great opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause? Find something that you’re passionate about and see if that organization is one of the charities sponsored for the marathon you are running!

3 Do You Want to Go Rogue and Run Solo…You Can Do That Too!

If you are someone who can get yourself motivated to workout and go to the gym by yourself, you can definitely run a marathon without a training group or buddy to help guide you along. I ran every single one of my over 430 training miles and marathon by myself. I actually liked getting out and spending the time alone on the trails. It gives you the chance to run how you “feel” that day! If you’re feeling off and need to walk some, you can. If you are feeling like you have rockets on your shoes, you can pick up the pace! If your schedule is busy, you don’t have to work with another person’s schedule trying to find time slots that you can squeeze in training runs. It takes more self discipline and more planning, but on the other hand, you have total control over when and how fast you run.

Almost as empowering as finishing the marathon, was the day I ran 20 miles all by myself on the trail! I surprised myself at how emotional I felt when I finished that run - I had never thought I could run 20 miles all by myself. You can do it too!

Almost as empowering as finishing the marathon, was the day I ran 20 miles all by myself on the trail! I surprised myself at how emotional I felt when I finished that run - I had never thought I could run 20 miles all by myself. You can do it too!

4 Use a Training Plan

There are tons of plans available to train for a marathon, look at several and see which one you like best. Some use a run-walk method (Jeff Galloway), some do long runs based on time and not miles (Runner’s World Marathon Training), and then there are classic plans, like Hal Higdon’s which is what I used. A simple search on the internet will turn up tons of training schedules. Take a look at several and see which one makes the most sense to you, because if you don’t really understand it, you probably won’t use it, right? Ask friends which one they have used, but ultimately, you need to find the one that works for you.

I suggest that you put the training runs directly in the calendar on your phone. It makes referring to the miles so much easier and it serves as a reminder of what is coming up, and what you’ve already accomplished!

5 Don’t Miss a Long Run

There will be scheduled runs during the week that you have to reschedule, or may even miss. Sometimes life gets hectic! Even though you may miss a run during the week, make sure you don’t skip a long run. They are critical miles that help your body build up slowly so that you can avoid injury. All the runs are important, but the long runs are a necessity.

Running too far on legs that aren’t prepared will definitely leave you very sore, and possibly get you injured. There is nothing worse than training for months, and then injuring yourself just weeks before the race as the mileage gets long. Making sure you log every long run, will have you healthy and ready for the starting line.


6 Pay Attention to the Humidity

During marathon training you will become a weather expert! I never have paid more attention to the 7 day forecast than when I was training for the marathon. While most runners check the temperature, some don’t pay attention to the humidity, which can actually affect your running ability even more than temperature.

High humidity interferes with your bodies ability to cool itself. When we run, our body produces sweat which evaporates and cools our body…but during high humidity, that sweat stays on the skin’s surface and doesn’t evaporate. The effect of humidity during running means your body has to work harder, and your heart rate rises. In fact, humidity levels between 60 to 90 percent can increase your heart rate up to 10 beats per minute That means if you typically run a comfortable pace, running in high humidity will make that same pace “feel” like a much faster pace. So instead of your 10 min/mile pace feeling good, it now feels like a 8 or 9 min/mile pace.

Keep humidity in mind when you run just as much as the temperature. Drink sports drinks with electrolytes and slow your pace. Also pay attention to the Heat Index, this is a combination of the temperate and humidity, and it will give you a pretty clear indication of how the actual run will feel. It takes about two weeks of running for your body to become acclimatized to the higher temperature and humidity. Lastly, if the weather is really brutal outside, you may have to run some miles on a treadmill. It may not be ideal for logging your training miles, but it is far better to avoid heat exhaustion and stay healthy!

7 Don’t Run a Marathon to Lose Weight

You’re probably not going to be happy with me for this, but did you know that most people don’t lose weight during a marathon, and some actually gain weight! Only around 10 percent of the people running a marathon lose weight, and around 10 percent gain weight. There are so many reasons to run a marathon, but please don’t make weight loss on of those goals. Enjoy seeing your body do things you never imagined possible, and don’t get caught up in the fact that the number on the scale isn’t dropping. Marathon training can be a lot of stress on your body, it’s not the time to start a weight loss program. But this also leads me to the next point…

8 On the Other Hand…Try Not to Gain Weight Either

While you don’t want to beat yourself up for not losing weight during your marathon training, you also don’t want to gain weight during the training. The more weight you are carrying on your body, makes running 26.2 miles that much more difficult for your body. So why does marathon training become a weight gain pitfall for so many? Here are some of the things to keep in mind while you are training:

  • Eating out more - When you are training for a marathon you will be surprised at what a time commitment it becomes. You are running at least 4-6 times during the week, and finding time to cook meals may become impossible. Often, eating out becomes the only way to get both dinner and your scheduled run in during the work week. Just be mindful of healthy choices when you do eat out, it’s important not just for maintaining your weight, but for also feeding your body the nutrition it needs to keep up with the high demands of training!

  • Over Estimating the Calories Burned During Training - When we run, we burn calories, but sadly…not nearly as many as we think! Running the entire 26.2 miles the day of the marathon, I burned around 3,000 calories. That’s not even enough to lose one pound (roughly 3,500 calories). When you run long distances, you also consume energy chews and carb replacements to help get you through the run, but that also means your net caloric loss is even less than you think. Many times we are overestimating the calories we burn during our runs.

  • Rewarding Yourself for Your Runs - Most people want to reward themselves with food and drinks after a long run, which is completely understandable! Try to be reasonable with those rewards. If you are overestimating how many calories you are burning on your run, and underestimating how many calories you are consuming, you will end up in the red zone!

  • You Are Missing Your Normal Workouts - If you are someone that cross-trains a lot, some of those workouts will probably be replaced by running. Surprisingly, you might actually burn more calories and have more of a metabolic boost from your weight lifting or hard cross training sessions than you do with the” steady state” cardio of running. While a four mile run might help you burn 400 calories, once you stop running, your body recovers quickly and there isn’t much of an “after-burn.” On the other hand, hard weightlifting and hiit type workouts burn more calories during the same amount of time as running, and they produce an after-burn effect in the body which can boost your metabolism for up to 24 hours. Replacing those types of workouts with running could mean you are actually burning less calories than you normally would throughout the week.

  • You Don’t Move Much After Your Long Runs! This one totally blew my mind but it is 100% true! After your long miles, you are generally exhausted and much less active the rest of the day. This is especially true if you do your long runs on the weekends, which most people do. You may usually pack your Saturdays with activities, but during marathon training, you will be amazed at how much time you spend soaking and sitting! This was a shocker for me after my first 14 mile run, which I had run in the morning. I looked at my watch in the evening and it said I had gone 14.5 miles the ENTIRE day! Wait a minute, I had only moved .5 miles in 7 hours! So just take it from me, you may not move much on long run days!


9 Make it Enjoyable

This may seem like a hard thing to do when you are in the midst of running 10 miles, but try to make every run as enjoyable as possible. Finding places that you enjoy running will be huge help in this department. If you hate running through your neighborhood, then drive to a trail that you enjoy. It may take more time to get started, but it will make each mile so much better, and you will begin to look forward to your runs.

If you need to stop and walk during your run, it’s ok! Sometimes a little walking will give you all the energy you need to finish your long run without being miserable. (Here is a little confession - I actually stopped during the beginning of every mile during my long runs, and during my marathon. It gave me something to look forward to at each mile, and it gave me the opportunity to fuel up! I still finished with a decent time because the little bit of walking gave me the energy to run faster than I normally would if I was running 26 miles straight. For my first marathon I had two goals, just finishing and making it as enjoyable as possible. I would say it worked, I loved every minute of it! That little trick was probably one of the biggest things that kept my runs enjoyable! )


10 Reward Yourself

I know what you are thinking, you just said don’t reward yourself. Well that was with cheesecake and french fries. You can still reward your milestones! Try finding some different things to motivate you. Maybe you will want to celebrate the first time you have ever run 14 miles by getting a new tank top, or some fancy new piece of running gear you’ve always had your eye on? Would a new fitness tracker help you track your miles and be a reward for your all hard work? Absolutely! Find what motivates you and use it to help you along the training process!

11 Don’t Sweat the Bad Runs

Honestly, everyone has them! Just get the miles in however you have to (walk or take a minute to recover), and wipe your running slate clean. Every run is different and some times it makes no sense why a run is so hard. The weather seems great, you thought you were properly hydrated and fueled, and yet it was still a struggle. Just know that the next run might be great again!


12 Don’t Worry About Your Time

It’s so easy to get caught up into thinking you have a time you want to beat. Maybe it’s your siblings marathon time, or someone from your workplace, or maybe you just want to beat Oprah! If this is your first marathon, just enjoy the process and forget about the time. Sure, you may have some idea of the time you are shooting to finish under, but remember you are accomplishing something that less than 1% of the population will ever do just by crossing the finish line. Let that be your goal - just crossing the finish line! I have seen so many first time marathoners run 26.2 long, hard miles, and still be completely disappointed because they ran slower than the time they set as a goal. If you are running your first marathon, you should never be disappointed with your time! And remember, no matter how long it takes you to cross that finish line, you are running a personal record (PR) and you’re now officially a marathoner!

Let us know your tips for having a great marathon! We’d love to hear from you!

Not the best picture, but I was still smiling at mile 17!

Not the best picture, but I was still smiling at mile 17!

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