It is about 12 years since I ran my first marathon in Vienna. I was in my early twenties, and didn’t really know what I was getting myself in for. While the race itself didn’t go according to plan, I will never ever forget that feeling of overwhelming pride, and achievement I felt when crossing the finish line. It is a feeling I’ve been chasing in every marathon since, the runners high!!
If you’re planning on doing your first marathon this weekend, you’ve already taken a huge step by signing up. Or if you’re planning to run your first marathon later this year, the same holds true. Deciding you’re ready to run 42km or 26 miles is no mean feat! The training comes with highs and lows, injuries, and what seem like endless miles, but it is worth it. The memories you will have from your first marathon will last a lifetime.
1. Look at the course map
A lot of city marathons are nice and flat. Dublin has its few hills such as Roebuck Road, Cork has a few hills too, but knowing what the lay of the land is going to be can help you prepare for whats to come. You will know where you have to conserve energy, where you can refuel with water or fruit. The other benefit of this, is you can create mini milestones throughout the course. The second and third time I ran the Vienna Marathon were much easier as I knew what was coming and where.
If you’re reading this, and you have a few marathons under your belt, this is just as true. I ran the Newry marathon a few years ago, and was told it was flat…. did I check the course… of course not… was if flat… was if f***…. It doesn’t matter if you’re running your first race or not, a lesson I cruelly learned was you always check the course map
2. Read race reviews of the marathon
Every marathon is different, in the same way every city is different. Dublin is very different to Cork, which is very different to Derry, which is very different to Belfast or Waterford.. and that’s even before doing international marathons. Every marathon has its own features and positives. By reading the reports of the race, you begin to understand what they are like.
For me, Vienna and Munich are amazing marathons outside of Dublin because of the support. I read reviews of both and found out how much people liked them, and I signed up. It is as simple as that!
3. Eat and hydrate properly
You might not be a Formula one car, but fuelling your body is just as important as fuelling a car; if you don’t have the right stuff in it, it just won’t work.
Again, if you’re race is tomorrow, don’t eat anything you wouldn’t normally eat. Pasta, potatoes, or any high carb food is good, just don’t go eating loads. You will have done all the hard work, just graze and keep drinking water (but not too much..).
If you have time, try out some gels. Some can upset your tummy, but Kinetica or High 5 gels are a good call.
During the race itself, find out if the water stations are bottles or cups. If they are cups, bring your own bottle. This might sounds crazy, but trying to drink water from a cup during a race is a nightmare.
4. Plan what you wear
My uncle Michael actually told me this back in the day. Never, ever, wear new tees, shorts, underwear or otherwise for a marathon. Chafing and blisters are not what you want to have to worry about as you run head first into a wall of lactic acid. I usually have a race day tee well planned, just so happens to be a Run Republic tee… but everything I wear during a marathon has had about 3 or 4 cycles in the wash, and the fabrics are softer and more forgiving.
If you can, get 1000 Mile socks. I’ll be writing a review soon, but I swear by them. They help to dramatically reduce blisters, and are well worth the money.
5. Don’t compare yourself to others
I know I’ve been told that I’m unique a few times, not sure if it was a compliment or an insult come to think of it, but we are unique. We are unique not only in how we live, look, and feel, but also how we run, how we train, and how we approach races. We all have different goals, different motivating factors, different levels of ability and different amounts of training done. So when you think of it, it becomes very hard to compare yourself to someone else.
Sure, you may have shared experiences like how you found the hill at mile 17, but don’t try to approach your first marathon by saying you should be running the same time as your friend, or people in your training group. Your first marathon is an amazing occasion. It can be lost on people who want to run below a certain threshold. Sure, that is important too, but don’t loose sight that your first marathon is about an experience rather than a time. After this, you will always be a marathoner.
I had a goal of running sub 4 for my first, was looking at friends who had done similar training for Vienna, and I thought I was ready.. I wasn’t… granted going for home from mile 17 was a rookie mistake that didn’t help… but we’ll come back to that…
Enjoy the experience, you’ll only ever have a first marathon once!!
6. Check the weather
Ok, so MET Eireann can be a bit hit and miss, as can the Irish Weather, but having an idea of what’s to come makes a huge difference. If it’s going to be 20 degrees and high humidity, don’t go running in loads of layers. If it’s the Dublin Marathon, it will be freezing at the start. Always check the weather as it will be really important to how you approach the race, and when you have to refuel.
7. Don’t try anything new on race day
This is a piece of advice you’ll hear a lot, but it’s not overrated, definitely heed it! This means no new foods, no new drinks, and no new outfits. You never know how your body might react to a new food or drink and you don’t want to be rushing to the portaloo every mile of the run. The same goes with new clothes, as you won’t know if they chafe or not. Your comfort is paramount so only go with tried and tested things that you’ve used in training.
8. Use a bathroom before the race
If you haven’t run a marathon before, you might not understand why this is so important. No matter the marathon, there’s always lines of people who run for the sidelines after the first 5k. Holding it in REALLY won’t work, you’re going to be running for 3, 4, or 5 hours. Use a bathroom before the race, even if you don’t think you have to. Another idea might be to bring some toilet paper with you for the start, portaloo’s run out of paper, and you don’t want to be the one who is stuck without.
9. Enjoy yourself!
This is last but by no means least. You signed up for this race for yourself and no one is going to run it for you. No matter what your motives for doing it, you need to remember to enjoy yourself! Unless you are a professional athlete, you don’t need to take it too seriously, so don’t let setbacks kill your vibe and try your best to go with the flow. A marathon is a huge event and you can’t predict everything that’s going to happen. Try to have fun and at the end make sure you know just how proud of yourself you should be!
You will remember this day for the rest of your life!!
My memories of the day couldn’t be more clear. I remember running around the Ernst Happel Stadion, through the park, deciding at 30k that I was feeling great and I would make for home (it was a really terrible idea… never do that… like really really terrible…), struggling coming into Marienhilferstraße, having the elderly couple tap me on the shoulder and telling me to come on, seeing the Irish flag about 2k from the finish, and even typing now, I’m getting goosebumps as of all songs ever to be blaring from the music system, was Chumbawamba – Tubthumping as I turned onto the blue carpet and finishing in Heldenplatz, ready to burst into tears.