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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Running My First Marathon

Gaby DuFour (@fitfourtitudeon Instagram) is a fitness enthusiast who has completed two full marathons and six half marathons. Here, she shares the advice she was given ahead of marathon training.

Before falling in love with CrossFit, I was an avid runner. After about a year of running, I decided to take my runs to the next level, so I signed up for the 2017 Chicago Marathon.

Looking back now, I realize how much I didn't know when it came time to start marathon training. Skip any surprises by reading these tips below to ensure you're physically and mentally prepared at the starting line. 

beginner marathon training tips

1. Your Marathon Training Plan Won't be Perfect

Most runners are Type A and very rigid. They like structure. That's why following an 18-week training plan is great since it tells you exactly what to do and when. However, it doesn't always go the way you want to. You get sick, you go out of town, or you realize you can't run after work like you planned.

And that's okay! Your marathon training won’t be derailed by having to change things up. If anything, it helps you deal with potentially unexpected situations on race day. 

2. You Will Be Hungry All the Time

I didn't really think about this going into my training. I just figured I'd run then I'd eat, and life would carry on as normal. But when I started upping my miles to 12, 14, 16, and beyond, all I wanted to do for the rest of the day was eat. And not just snack-type foods either; my body craved protein and nutrients. Running also puts a lot of pressure on your joints, and requires you to be properly hydrated at all times.

Replenishing post-workout with Vital Performance™ RECOVER is designed to help promote athletic longevity and keep you in the game.**

3. Cross-Training Is Just as Important as Running

I cross-trained once a week during my first marathon cycle, and while I think it helped me retain some muscle mass, I now know I could've done more. Building strength through cross-training helps keep your muscles strong enough to carry you for miles and miles and help you to avoid injury.

Strong legs extend beyond just being able to crank out 10 miles (and more). A strong core (which helps contribute to proper running form, making you more efficient) and arm strength also play a huge role.

4. The Quality of Your Runs Is Better Than The Quantity 

This is something I struggled with a bit during my first training cycle. I was set on trying to run 4 to 5 times a week that I didn’t even think about how I could add to their quality. I could’ve mixed in speed work on one day or going up hills on a different day to better prepare myself. Sometimes I pushed myself to get a run in when I didn't feel well, when in reality my time would've been better served with some light yoga or taking a rest day

5. You Can't Prepare for the Weather on Race Day 

You can train through a brutally hot summer or a harsh cold winter, but you truly never know what you’re going to get when you wake up on marathon morning. They say it’s good to practice in every possible weather condition, but you won’t know what you’re running in that day, especially in Chicago.

6. Walking Is NOT Giving Up

When I had to walk from Mile 23.7 to 24.0, I thought I was giving up on myself. I trained to run a marathon, not walk one, right? Wrong. Walking is still forward motion and sometimes — especially during those last few miles — it's the type of encouragement you need to give yourself.

gaby dufour

7. Find Something to Entertain You on Long Runs  

I was pretty fortunate to have my boyfriend join me on most of my long runs since we trained for the Chicago Marathon together, but there were weeks when I had to go on my long runs alone.

I thought music would be enough to get me through, but I constantly found myself bored and wondering when I'd be done. Almost 3/4 of the way through the marathon training cycle, I switched to podcasts and audiobooks, which really helped.

8. Take in Every Moment

This is hard to do when your whole body hurts and you're mentally and physically tired. But nothing compares to your first marathon. I was extremely fortunate that Chicago was my first because it has over 1.2 million spectators with funny signs and words of encouragement. I decided to do the entire race without headphones, so I could soak in as much of it as I could. And I'm so glad I did.

beginner marathon tips

9. Enjoy the Ride

It sounds cliché, but you trained hard for your first marathon. You put in the miles, speed work, cross training, rest, fuel, and time, so let the marathon be your victory lap. Running a marathon is not something the majority of the population can do, so relish in the fact that you’re about to do something pretty extraordinary.

10. You Deserve to Treat Yourself

Marathons are hard on the body so when you finally cross that finish line, take a minute (or two) to celebrate your hard work! Whether that's going out to a restaurant you've been dying to try, buying a new outfit, getting a massage or even a mani-pedi, remember you earned it! Just don't go try to do any of those things the day after the marathon. You might be too sore to walk.

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