What I Wish I Knew Before Running a Marathon
2021 was the year that I finally crossed off a long-standing item on my bucket list (or maybe had a quarter-life crisis); I ran the New York City Marathon!
While I was a health and exercise science major in college and learned a lot about marathon training, I realized that there was SO much that I could have never really prepared for. Below are some of the things I learned, as well as some things I wish I knew before signing up for the big 26.2.
- You’re going to have bad run days.
Some days you’ll feel on top of the world after a good run – and some days you’re going to feel like you have cement in your shoes. That’s ok! When you put your body through so much rigorous training, you’re bound to have days where you’re just not feelin’ it.
- It’s unrealistic to follow your training plan to a “T”.
If you’re anything like me, you probably put a lot of time and effort (and decoration) into your precious marathon training plan. But remember – life happens! Dedicate time to properly train (and trust me, you’ll be using long runs as an excuse to get out of unwanted gatherings), but live your life and listen to your body too! Don’t sweat it if you have to take an early rest day or skip a foam rolling session.
- Don’t change your routine on race day.
Wear shoes and socks that you’re used to, wear your lucky leggings (everyone has those too, right?) and do NOT try out new means of fueling on race day! Stick to the gels/goos/powders that you train with regularly. Treat the big day like a normal long run – it will both calm your nerves AND keep you feeling consistent in your comfort zone.
- Cross train, cross train, cross train!!
It may not be your favorite way to spend a non-run day, but doing exercise that will improve your strength and flexibility will make a huge difference! I did a lot of pilates, yoga, HIIT workouts, and cycling. The best part is that you can do most all of this at home– there are some incredible YouTube classes that you can follow with minimal equipment at no cost, so I was able to work out in my teeny NYC apartment. No excuses!
- Document your training.
Whether you share your story on Instagram, Tik Tok, Strava, or even if you just keep a journal to track your progress, it’s so motivating to see how you’ve improved (because trust me – you will!) It also kept me very disciplined to keep up the hard work when you see how much support I had and to see myself meeting my goals.
- Find something that makes you smile on each run.
It sounds cheesy, I know, but it makes those dreaded hill runs SO much more enjoyable when you associate your runs with things that make you happy. Put together a playlist of your favorite music, run past your favorite spot, admire the sunrise or sunset, see a new part of your town/city, or anything at all that makes you happy. After a while, I started to look forward to my hill training days because my playlist kept the rhythm so steady that it felt like my feet were moving on their own, and the runs over 10 miles were my favorite because I took that time to explore new parts of my city!
- Don’t underestimate the power of the crowd.
Pro tip – wear your name on your shirt (I put a piece of duct tape with my name right above my bib)… This way, onlookers will cheer for you by name! When I was rounding mile 17, I was beginning to feel like I was hitting a wall. I swear, it was the cheers of the crowd that got me over that hump and across the finish line. You won’t know how much you need the support of the people looking on, but reading those signs and hearing a crowd of strangers cheering your name will make you feel absolutely on top of the world.
- Don’t be surprised if you get addicted.
If you told me that a year ago that after this marathon I would be dying to run more races, I would laugh in your face. This journey started as me wanting to check an item off my bucket list, but running became my comfort and therapy. I am so happy that I found running during this pandemic – it helped me through personal slumps, motivated me to get outside when the world was telling us to shelter indoors, and showed me that I had strength within myself that I never knew was there. A week after the marathon, I signed up for a 15k, and have since completed another 10k and have signed up for a half marathon. I may not be the fastest runner in the world, but training for the marathon showed me a passion and love for something that will stay with me forever. I’m definitely hooked!
I promised myself a long time ago that I would someday run the NYC marathon, and I am proud that I kept that promise to myself. But, I found that this was just the beginning! I have learned so much throughout my training – how to push through the hard days, how to find intrinsic motivation, how to cope with mad run days, and so much more – that I am so excited to see what the future holds with this sport!
If you’re thinking of running a marathon, or even a half, 15k, 10k, or even a 5k, I highly encourage it. If you set your mind to it, you may find something more along the way! It might seem like a lofty goal, but you’ll surprise yourself. You’d be surprised about what a little bit of training and a lot of perseverance will do for your body and your mind.
Photo credit: Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash, Quino Al on Unsplash