31 Marathoners Speak Out: "What I wish I'd Known Before my First Marathon"
We asked marathoners from across the world one simple question: "What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you ran your first marathon?" And they delivered!
From unexpected to funny to life-changing, you shared immense practical insights for any aspiring marathoner out there. This is precisely the type of knowledge we here at the Marathon Running Podcast aspire to share in our quest to create a resource for the entire marathon running community. From tips and tricks on signing up for the best races to advice on fostering good daily habits, consider this a crash course in marathon running fundamentals taught by experts.
1. Logistics are Important – From Training to Racing Strategy
Hands-down, navigating all the training and race-day prep tips were the most consistent external source of learning lessons we heard. From strategizing to balancing, to pacing, to consistency, luckily, these marathoners had plenty of advice about avoiding potential race-day disappointments.
Julie Gaydos Hayes - Mom, Marathoner and Entrepreneur
BALANCE---training enough to be ready but not too much to be injured. Know your body. Training runs fueling with the same things you will be using or the race will be offering so there are less chance of surprises. Muscle memory is your friend. Doing one marathon makes you THAT much smarter for your second one (since you KNOW you'll want to do another one!)
Erin Kesterson - Marathoner, RD, running coach, and owner of Fuel Your Sport, LLC
Strategy is just as important as the training. Pacing is essential. A well-trained athlete may fall short of their best simply because they showed up to run with no marathon plan.
The Boston Marathon of 2019 is my favorite example of my lack of strategy. Those first 13 miles went fast as I flew down-hill. I paid for that initial speed by struggling through the last 10+ miles. Even though I managed to PR that day, I had to work through the overwhelming desire to quit at mile 16. Sure, 30-40 seconds per mile faster than your planned marathon pace feels so fresh and easy at mile one. Your marathon pace isn’t supposed to feel hard at mile one, but stick to it! You have 25.2 more to go! I am a big fan of even pacing. In training, practice that pace. Learn how it feels and what the tempo sounds like with your feet hitting the ground. Learn to love that tempo. Then, embrace that at the marathon. If you find yourself speeding up, slow down! If you feel like you can do more at mile 20, that is a great time to start taking risks.
Susan Laabs - First-time Marathoner
It will hurt. It is the hardest thing you have ever done. You have to want it really bad. But once you’ve done it, you will be welcomed to the 1%!! My first full is 3 weeks away...so not sure if my comments count. But I’m trying really hard.
Ryan Patterson - Marathoner, Boston Qualifier
Consistent training. When I was new to running, I used to wing it in training. I didn’t realize how important it was to have a plan and stay consistent. When I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon in 2018, which is where I am in the picture, it was the first time I stuck with a plan and did not miss a day of training, giving me an hour PR of 3:38. That leap was a big encouragement. From there, I hired a coach and went on to BQ two years later.
Ray Josephs - Marathoner
Pick a realistic pace based off your training, not what you would like to run. My first marathon ever was NJ marathon 2014, which I was planned to run with a friend. During training we both separately got injured, decided we were not going to run, around 6 weeks out I started to feel pretty good, did something like 12,14,16 miles in the last weeks leading in and decided I could probably take a swing at it. I originally wanted to run around 4 hours as I was a decent athlete and had raced some triathlons etc...so started out with that in mind, never mind that I probably ran less than half of the miles in training I was planning. That went well for around 15 miles or so when my legs decided I was in for a long day!!!! I kept moving at something better than a walk but probably a solid shuffle! And limped in cramping to a 4:48 finish. Now I try to keep a realistic perspective on each race starting slightly conservative knowing I can always kick when I reach a point I know I’ll meet at least one of my preset goals.
Have a plan A, B and C - and know what those paces/goal times are - so if things start going sideways, you still have a plan to work instead of getting in the “f&$k this” funk and letting it all fall apart. If you still have something to fight for, you will continue to fight instead of just giving up.
“By Failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” There ya have it. You can always count on one of our Founding Fathers – in this case Benjamin Franklin - to have a quote ready for the applicable situation. So, as with many things in life, planning seems to be key. It makes perfect sense. You will be spending a lot of time running, the least you can do is make time to put some thought into your training.
2. Respect the Marathon – Avoid a too Casual Approach
A marathon may seem like a cool thing to cross off your bucket list, but it is pertinent to respect the distance. Make sure that you invest in the right gear to be able complete the distance. Also be graceful and patient with yourself. Listen to your body. Beware of certain signs of fatigue or injury that tell you to be flexible with your training. Many marathoners expressed great thoughts on this very point.
Phil Shin - Marathoner
3 words...moisture wicking shirt. My first experience with the importance of moisture wicking clothing was when I ran my first marathon at the 2000 LA Marathon. I signed up for that marathon just 4 days before the race and had never run more than a mile or two. I decided to run the marathon in the cotton race t-shirt I got with my registration. Little did I know that the cotton fabric wasn’t exactly conducive for preventing chafing when running long distances. On top of that, it rained nearly 3 inches on race day. By the time I crossed the finish line after 6 hours, that drenched white shirt turned completely pink because of all the chafing. I know, gross.
Showing up slightly under trained is 1000000% better than showing up over trained... ie slightly injured.
Getting a gait analysis then investing in good trainers as your mileage will clock up. Investing the time, money and effort of having a really good physio who will see errors in your training/running, recommend stretches/foam rolling to avoid injury.
Sara Kristin Garthe - Marathoner
Lol so my first marathon I wore normal cotton socks, and get this--trail shoes! (It was a road marathon) Which were old and had holes in them! I had them because down here I could not find anything else in my size that was comfortable for my feet! Neither of these things caused me major trouble, but I was getting lots of weird looks from other people. I DO wish someone had mentioned they were taking finish line photos and I would have smiled or looked excited, but my pics are horrible and look like I was dying haha!!
Jeffrey Giffin - Marathoner
Be sure to slow down if you feel you are going to injure yourself. Whatever time you finish is way less important than staying healthy and being able to continue to run.
If you want to know what we use to get a good run in, click here for our 5 Must-Have Pieces of Running Gear.
3. Nutrition – What You Eat Matters
Nutrition is not a suggestion: it’s critical. There is loads of information on running nutrition out there but every body is different. Be prepared to put some thought into what you put into your body and experiment during your training, not on raceday.
David Levine - Head Coach of the LA Marathon
Okay, here is the great secret for training. Do not tell anyone, cause someday I want to win. Someday. We use fat and carbs (glycogen) to create fuel. Fat is a way more abundant resource than carbs (glycogen). Fat is utilized more at a lower intensity. So, if we want to train the greater resource, we need to train slower, low heart rate, "conversational" (without noticeable pauses for breathing), what we call "endurance" training. We gain the same benefits in endurance, from training at a significantly easier pace, than Marathon Race Pace (MRP). We also recover quicker, so we can do more. The greater volume of training, generally the more efficient we become, unless we are over-training. So do around 80% of your training, to become a better fat burner, meaning build endurance, at low intensity, slower than MRP. The fast work, raises the bar. Promise, you won't tell anyone this. They will all get way faster, and not slow down later on in marathons, due to all the endurance they build. Don't tell!
Leslie Cohen - Marathoner
Nutrition! Keep the steady stream of calories - it took me years to accept that!
Gene Dykes - 2:54 Marathoner
"Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!" is a bunch of rubbish. With water stops every couple of miles, nobody ever died of thirst on a marathon course. Don't drink much before the start of the race - your bladder will thank you.
Eat breakfast, nibble on something during the race, gel, power bar bite, etc. My first marathon - I never use to eat breakfast before a long run in training, I should have had something in there. I never took any calories in during the race, only water and Gatorade, but I qualified for Boston with a 3:12 had to break 3:15 in my age bracket then...hooray.. although the last 4 miles I was hallucinating…
Eat. Carbs. I never really knew that I wasn’t eating like a runner, or what that even meant. I’d been a gymnast for many years and we were given a strict diet of lean protein and veggies. I didn’t know that wasn’t productive for endurance sports. I struggled with long distance for years before consulting a sports dietician. When she looked at my diet log she was floored at how few carbs I was eating. Once she showed me what I should be eating (and learned to trust her), my running completely turned around. I may have gained a few pounds but I took almost an hour off of my marathon PR...fair trade if you ask me!
Timothy Kenny - Marathoner
If you’re traveling, make sure you have a backup to feed yourself the night before the night before a marathon. I got into DC too late the Friday before the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon, and all the restaurants were closed.
Nutrition planning the week of the race is even more important than whatever you choose to have on the course.
When it comes to nutrition, we can all agree that there are so many things that happen in your body, especially during marathons. If you want to learn more, please check out our 5 Nutrition Tips for Your Race.
4. Race-Day Facts to Be Aware of
Taking into account all your hundreds of training miles, the marathon is only a small fraction of this mileage. Nevertheless, the marathon is the most important run. It is the last run where you get a chance to memorialize everything you have learned and trained for. You will be putting your training to the test. And that's a lot of pressure. Still, before we let our nerves take over, there are some things we can do to make sure everything goes smoothly on race day, so we can have a chance to shine.
Scott Martin - Marathoner
Bring a throw away thrift store hoodie to stay warm at the start. I like hooded bath robes even better, keep whole body warm. Most Marathons start early and as you’re there even earlier waiting to start it can be quite uncomfortable cold or windy etc.. . A throw away sweat shirt is invaluable to prevent you from burning energy shivering or walking around to stay warm. I find a front zip off hooded sweat shirt to be good because the hood keeps your head warm and you can quickly zip it off at the start without pulling it over your head , sunglasses, hat , and ear phones. A hooded bath robe is even better because it keeps the the legs warm as well and quick with removal as well.
Kathryn Ann Ergen - Marathoner
Put your name somewhere on your shirt so the crowd can yell to you!!
If traveling plan for all kinds of weather - hotter, colder, wetter, drier. Have what you need. And I read about a guy once who spent the night at a friends apartment and woke up on race morning to find his race shoes were destroyed by the dog.
Stephanie Peterson – Mom, Runner, Triathlete, and Yogi
No matter what the spectators tell you, unless you can SEE the finish line, you are not "almost there." It's been a pet peeve of mine to see and hear that when you still have MILES left. The last six miles of a marathon are the most difficult - mentally and physically, and it is the worst when you KNOW you have 5+ miles left. It's especially bad when you are not familiar with the course, and we all know our GPS watches never measure exactly right on any course, so if you think you are "almost there," and you honestly don't know where the finish is, you might step it up and then when the finish line isn't around that corner, you have burned too much energy and feel discouraged. I would rather see a sign that says, "You're NOT almost there, but keep going anyway!"
Find the camera before it finds you if you want some good pics!
Also, it’s allowed to take food from strangers! Someone had freeze-pops around mile 20 at Providence and it was amazing!
Bring some baby wipes for pre race port-o-potty requirements. For you and the seat. They can run out of TP and are gross.
Michelle Marchese Corrado - Marathoner
I wish i would have known how long 26.2 miles is.
It’s worth it to slow down through the water and aid stations to get enough fluid and calories, even if that means walking!
5. The Life-Lessons of the Marathon Experience
We’ve covered the prep and the race itself. So what’s left? Oh yes, the afterglow. From feelings of accomplishments to marathon addiction, you have now entered an elite of people in this world and are likely to do it again. At least that’s what statistics show, and what our marathoners said.
Brandi Dawson - Marathoner
I wish that I would've known how addicting running marathons can become. I ran my first marathon in 2012 and haven't stopped since. To date, I have ran 16 full marathons (2 of which were virtual). I'm slated to run both the London and Boston marathons this upcoming Fall :)
Deike Peters - Marathoner
Sometimes knowing less is a good thing. I was lucky to run my first marathon (NYCM way back in 2002) when I didn't know much about running marathons at all, it was just a bucket list thing I wanted to do. I bought a book (Manfred Steffny's German classic 'Marathontraining'), followed a plan and it was a very pure and altogether exhilarating experience. Mostly ran by feel, only roughly aware of my pace. And I never wanted to run another marathon again because it seemed like a perfect experience to me that I did not want to spoil. And it was when I started overthinking things 13 years later when preparing for my second one here in LA that 'problems' cropped up... Just sayin'...
Maranatha Poirier - Ultrarunner
There are a lot of different parts to a marathon. Waiting in the starting corral is electric with anticipation and nervous excitement. While running, some miles you'll feel great, others you will not. Finally, crossing the Finish line is exhilarating and gratifying. Enjoy every part of the race for what it is. It's an amazing experience.
In conclusion, there are many things you can do before race-day and there are things you can do on race, but just like with anything in life – there will be things out of your control. And - of course - hindsight is 20/20. Nevertheless, talking to the running community and hearing about the marathon experiences of others can certainly help you visualize unthinkable scenarios and take them with a grain of salt.
Did I miss anything?
As always we so appreciate your continued input on this important topics because it helps to shape the future of the Marathon Running Podcast content, and we’d love to read your response to the all-important question: What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before you ran your first marathon. Please share in the comments.