8 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Running My First Marathon
Five months ago, New Balance asked if I’d like to join its New York City Marathon Team. I immediately knew my answer: Heck. Yes. As a runner, I’d always wanted to tackle 26.2 miles but had never really gotten my act together enough to pursue it on my own. Fast-forward: Now that I've officially crossed the finish line, it was easily one of the toughest but most rewarding challenges of my life. It was also one of the biggest learning experiences. Here are the things I wish I’d known before hitting the pavement.
1. Say hi to two-hour runs and goodbye to your social life
The first thing I did after signing up was Google "beginner marathon training programs" and add the next four months' worth of workouts to my calendar. It looked time-consuming, but overall, doable. Turns out, not so much. Sticking to a 10:30-minute mile pace meant that most of my runs took longer than two hours to complete, not including warm-up and cool-down time. It definitely took a toll on date nights and dinners with friends. And even though it’s tempting, you can’t cut corners. In the middle of my program I missed three long runs in a row, and after my next long-distance session, I felt horrible. Training is tedious and difficult, but it's 100 percent necessary.
2. Wine, snacks and running don't mix
Fact: Youthful exuberance and an extra shot of caffeine won't carry you through an 18-mile run. I tend to eat a few small meals throughout the day (aka, I eat all the snacks I can find) instead of solid balanced meals, but after a few tough workouts I learned the importance of eating well and timing my meals. Another thing I learned fast: Alcohol and running don't mix. A glass of wine with dinner meant I wasn’t going to get a run in that night, and I could forget about getting up early to work out. All alcohol consumption had to be restricted to rest days, and even then, I limited myself to one glass.
3. Test everything in advance (and I mean everything)
Wearing an uncomfortable sports bra through an hour-long yoga class is annoying. Wearing that same sports bra for a three-hour jog is torture. I needed to test every aspect of my race-day attire to make sure they would really work. I tested and made notes on every pair of leggings, sneakers, socks, underwear, deodorant, hair style, hair tie, energy goo, salt tablet, running belt, water bottle, set of headphones and sunglasses I thought I might want with me on the course.
4. The days leading up to the marathon are just as important as race day
Note to self: Chugging multiple bottles of water the morning of your race will not make up for the four cups of black coffee and three glasses of water you drank the day before. I likely have these poor nutritional choices to thank for the massive cramp I experienced a little over halfway through the race. (More about that below.)
5. Get ready to cry, then laugh, then cry
I teared up three times over the course of 26.2 miles. The first was because of the excitement I felt to finally be starting my very first marathon. The second was when my leg cramped up so badly I thought I might have to give up and was devastated, and the third was when I turned a corner and was suddenly faced with an overwhelming wall of cheering, screaming and singing spectators. By the end of it all, I was totally stripped down physically, emotionally and mentally, but it also felt incredible.
6. Also, you might pee your pants
There will almost always be bathrooms available along the route. But honestly? Most runners choose to just go, um, on the go, rather than waste precious time waiting in line. Stopping can also throw you off your groove, meaning you’ll lose additional minutes trying to get back into a rhythm once you’re done. Sure, it’s gross and not particularly comfortable to run in wet undies, but even Olympic marathoners do it.
7. Avoid sitting down for as long as possible after you cross the finish line
Needless to say, I wanted to collapse into a ball on the ground and nap for several days immediately after crossing the finish line. Luckily, I'd been forewarned not to do this or I could experience terrible cramping and a lot of pain. As much as it sucks, the body needs an active recovery and cool-down process after such an exhausting endeavor. So I kept on walking (albeit very, very slowly) for an additional two miles even after I had finished.
8. Be proud of yourself, no matter what happens
When I crossed the finish line, I had mixed feelings: I finished an hour later than I expected to. My left leg seized up at mile 16 and the rest of my plan had to be totally altered. On one hand, I was so happy to be able to finally say I’d finished, but I had to walk the last two-and-a-half miles and was really disappointed with my time. Luckily, my roommate was able to knock some sense into me and make me realize that every marathon finisher is worthy of praise, from the first to cross the finish line to the last. They’ve all done something great, something that only about 0.5 percent of the country’s population have ever accomplished. And that’s pretty awesome, if you ask me.