The first time you do anything it gets burned into your brain. I remember the first time I drove (with my dad down to the end of Speedway and back, with him yelling at me the whole way), the first time I saw Oliver (at a party I desperately didn’t want to be at) and I remember nearly every single first day of school from elementary school through college. So, of course, I’m going to remember the details and feelings of my first marathon for a long time.
What I’ll probably remember most is how – despite months of training and reading everything I could about running a marathon – I was utterly unprepared for the realities of the race. Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to be truly prepared the first time you do anything.
That said, there are a couple of key pieces of advice I wish I’d gotten (or actually listened to) before the race and in that spirit, thought I’d share the things I wish someone had told me about running a marathon:
- It’s really hard after mile 20. That whole “hitting the wall” thing is legitimate. I thought “hey once you hit 20, there’s only six more to go… and six miles is nothing.” Oh sweet, naive Megan of four weeks ago. Six miles are definitely something after running 20. Most training programs only have you train up to 20 miles if you’re a beginner, but in retrospect, I’d advocate a longer training timeline to allow for running the full distance at least once. It would have been nice to know what I was in for. Lacking the time to do that, I recommend doing what you can to get mentally tough as well as practicing meditation so you can calm your mind at mile 20.5 and keep yourself from freaking out. I just read a story about a marathoner who does long division in her head the entire last six miles – so you can try that too.
- Vaseline. Put it everywhere that you think your clothes will rub. I didn’t think much about how awkward and painful it is to have your clothes rubbing against thin, sensitive skin for hours and hours. As a result, I was the blister queen. I had gnarly foot blisters as well as what I can really only describe as adult diaper rash.
- Get a heart rate monitor. I didn’t think I needed one since I’m far from an elite runner, but I’ve now learned that doing some good old zone training would have helped me better understand a realistic pace goal and probably would have helped me get in better shape. You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars on the fanciest heart rate monitor out there, but as I get in shape for the Lost Dutchman in February, I’m finding it incredibly helpful to know my minimum and maximum heart rates.
- Don’t skip training runs. I learned recently that for every week you don’t excercise you lose 10% of your fitness. That’s scary, especially when I think about training runs that I skipped. Granted, I got pneumonia in October which was a about a three-week set back, but after that I have to admit I got pretty lazy about mid-week training runs. I never skipped a long run (when I was healthy), but I did lose a lot of midweek motivation which I think hurt me. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a Tuesday or Wednesday run – “it’s only six miles, how much does that really matter?” – and skipping one, once in a while might not matter, but those skipped runs add up on race day. As I head into the next race, I’m committed to not skipping a single run as tough as that is for me when I’m on the road for work.
And with that… I’m out the door for my last run of 2011. Only 35 training runs left until the next race.