How to Prepare For Your First Marathon

Running your first marathon is a nerve wracking experience, especially on the night before and morning of the race. To help battle as many nerves as possible, I begin to prepare for the race weeks before to help ensure that I am as prepared as possible.

A few weeks before, I start watching the weather forecast (usually on Weather.com). I try not to overreact to the forecast since it will change every minute, up until the start of the race, but I do want to know if there is a potential for rain or unseasonably warm or cold weather. By this point in training, I’ve ran in all sorts of conditions, so I know what gear works best. I set aside whatever options I think that I will want on race day as I continue to watch the forecast. You should already know this but NEVER try new gear on race day. I also don’t recommend anything you haven’t done a long run in– I’ve had sports bras that felt great for an hour run that cut apart my back on a 2 hour run!

Again– it’s really important not to overreact and start to have negative thoughts if the weather isn’t ideal. The forecast was rain for my first marathon and I was devastated. It did end up raining for part of the race and I was thankful that I brought a cheap poncho and throw away jacket to the start line to stay dry, but it ended up not being nearly as bad as I made it out to be in my mind!

I tend to get really cold at the beginnings of races, so I always over dress with the intention of throwing away gear. I try to find a deal on a cheap running jacket with a full zipper that I run in for the first few miles until I get warmed up. I know a lot of people will run in old sweatshirts or thrift store finds, but I like to run in something I know will be comfortable in case I want to keep it on for longer than a few miles. For one of my half marathons, I ended up running in a sweatshirt the entire race because I was colder than I thought I would be! The races I have run in also collect and donate the gear tossed along the course so I’m fine tossing something a little nicer.

Some people also coordinate to drop their gear off with friends or family, but that is something that would cause me more stress and worry which I try to avoid on race day. I also like to bring a pair of cheap knit gloves (even if it’s going to be in the 50’s or 60’s at the race start) because I would always rather be warm and comfortable instead of starting cold and stiff.

I like to have every possible option of top as well as the warm up gear laid out and ready to go so I’m not scrambling the morning of the race. This includes shoes, socks, and whatever else you know you will need on race day. I also plan out what fuel I will need for the race to make sure I have enough on hand. I always try to bring more than I think I’ll need in case I need it. The night before, I portion it out in smaller bags so it’s easy to grab and go. This is also nice in case you drop one on the go– I watched the start of a marathon a few years ago and noticed someone dropped their entire bag of gels. I bet that was an unpleasant surprise later on in the race.

The night before the race, I also make sure my watch and headphones are charging. I also have a spare set of headphones in case something weird happens morning of the race (seriously– I prepare for everything!).

On race morning, I try to eat basically anything that I can keep down with nerves.  I used to get such an upset stomach the morning of races that I would literally eat cookies just to get some calories in my body! Now, I like mini bagels and PB or high calorie breakfast bar. I try to eat as early as possible so that I’m not digesting at the start of the race. I also carry a water bottle with me the entire morning to keep hydrated. I started avoiding coffee for early morning running because it seems to upset my stomach. I bring a “second breakfast” like a mini lara bar or granola bar and eat it once I arrive at the race start which is usually about 45 minutes before the race starts.

For the marathon, I run with the following fuel:

  • Portable bottle with Nuun  (it only carries a cup of water)
  • Extra Nuun tablets broken in half (in case my little bottle isn’t enough– but I mostly drink water on the course– I would take more if I am sweating excessively)
  • 2 bags of honey stinger gummies (I start taking at mile 3 and then do appx. every 2 miles from there up until the last 45 minutes of the race)
  • Run gum with caffeine (I usually start chewing one 15 min before the race start and carry a second for a pick me up when I need it)

I have tested my fuel on every long run of training and I’ve found this to be the best combination for me. The gatorade and gels that they offer on the the course are just too sugary for me and upset my stomach, even when I’ve tried them on training runs, so I end up carrying my own fuel. I’ve found that starting to fuel earlier in the run helps keep my energy up the whole run. Just like new gear, I don’t advise ever trying new gatorade or fuel during a race.

I also plan out drop off, cheering spots, and a meeting place with my friends and family. My first marathon, I made the mistake of not knowing where my family would be and spent a lot of energy looking in the crowd for them and ended up missing them and feeling frustrated by it. It’s really important to have a meeting spot at the finish line (other than just “the finish line”) so you can connect with your people during your exciting moment!

I know that I am on the pretty extreme end of planning, but if you are someone who gets nervous before races or are someone who waits until the last second to grab things before you run out the door, some of these tips might help you feel a little more prepared the next time around!

Happy running!

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