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First-Time Marathoners: 6 Tips From a “Been There, Done That” Runner

26.2 ImageEvery few years, I get the itch to run another marathon. It’s been a few years since my last one, and now I’m ready to pick up my running shoes again. This fall, I plan to run the Chicago Marathon, which will be my 5th. I started training this week and have four long months ahead of me before that finish line.

Since I’ve run this insane race not once, but four times before, newbie runners often ask me for advice and tips as they get started training.

Here’s what I usually tell them.

1. Don’t talk about running all the time

Do you want to stay friends with your friends? Thought so. Then keep the marathon talk to a minimum.

While your non-runner friends probably think it’s really neat that you’ve committed to running 26.2 miles for fun, they don’t want to hear about every second of your training. They can only handle so much blabbering about this week’s tempo run, so much whining about how badly your legs hurt, and so much disgusting about your toenails falling off.

Save that chit chat for fellow marathon runners, but still tread lightly. Does anyone else really need to know about that time you HAD to find a Porta Potty IMMEDIATELY or else something REALLY BAD would happen during last week’s long run? Maybe not.

2. Find a training plan to follow

I really don’t know anything about training for marathons. I just follow recommendations of people who do.

All the training plans out there can be overwhelming. Which one is the best one? There isn’t really a “best.” They all help you do the same thing: Gradually increase your mileage over the course of 3-4 months so your body will be physically prepared to run 26.2 miles come October.

I prefer Hal Higdon’s plans (He offers beginner, intermediate and advanced plans depending on how much marathon running experience you have), but plenty of others might work for you.

The most important thing is to stick as closely to your schedule. You gotta suck it up and run on the days when you don’t feel like it -- and some weeks, you will likely have to suck it up more than other weeks.

3. Cut yourself some slack if you miss a run

While I try to stick as closely as possible to my training plan, sometimes things come up. Life gets in the way. And that’s okay.

I don’t think it’s a big deal if I miss a shorter distance or mid-distance run, but I always try to make up the long distance runs if I miss them for some reason. I consider those the most important runs.

4. New outfit + race day = bad idea

Don’t buy a swanky new running outfit the day before the marathon. Don’t even wear new socks. And definitely don’t run the race in new shoes.

Switching anything last-minute could be detrimental to your race. Running in an outfit that you’re already comfortable wearing is the best way to go. It’s gonna be a long 26 miles. Don’t risk material bunching up in a weird way or heaven forbid, chafing. To deter you from wearing a new outfit on race day, I encourage you to Google image search “chafing.” You may regret that you did so, but you will know why it’s important to run a marathon in “broken in” clothes.

5. New breakfast + race day = worse idea than new clothes

When you wake up the morning of the marathon, do not treat yourself to a special race day breakfast. Eat whatever you normally eat for breakfast. If you drink coffee every morning, drink coffee -- don’t drink tea. If you drink tea every morning, drink tea -- don’t drink coffee.

If you eat bacon and eggs every morning, stick to that. If you eat four bagels every morning, go for it. My go-to is toast. I know it’s not nutritious, but it’s my thing. I gotta have a couple pieces of toast before a long run.

The point is to eat what your body is already familiar with. You don’t want to risk mixing things up at this time. To put it nicely, you run the risk of “stomach issues.”

6. Have fun with it!

I’ll be perfectly honest, there are a lot of things about this journey that really suck. Every time I cross the finish line after a marathon, I tell myself “never again.” Usually, I don’t touch my running shoes for months.

But yet here I am, gearing up to run yet another marathon. That’s because this is very rewarding for me. I find it fun to set a semi-extreme goal for myself, then put in a little (or a lot) of work every single day to get there. If you’ve read this far, hopefully you’re as excited as I am about these next few months and working towards the finish line!

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Betsy Mikel is a freelance copywriter whose passion is telling the stories of entrepreneurs, brands and businesses that challenge the status quo. When she’s not biking or running all over every city she visits to find its best taqueria, you can find Betsy on Twitter at @betsym | betsymikel.com

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