Beginner's Guide: From the couch to a 42km marathon
Often when I read articles about people’s first marathon experiences, they always seem to have been running for a while beforehand, and or even completed a half marathon. But what about people that are all or nothing? See a challenge and go for it… is it even possible?
Well, this post is for those people! The ones that literally get off the couch and finish their first marathon; the ones that really only run to sales at designer boutiques. As I write this here today, I have finished two full marathons but I never got to finish writing about how we went with my first marathon, so I will cover it all in this post too. For those that never read why I ended up doing one, you can read that post HERE.
FIRST MARATHON - DISNEY WORLD
To recap, I did my first marathon with my sister. We are all or nothing types and basically thought it would be a cool experience to try, an excuse to go overseas and shop, and curious to see if we could actually do it with a simple training app. We love Disney and the fact that the marathon we did was their 20th Anniversary of marathons, made it even more appealing. Some family members were sceptical about us even finishing it, which is understandable, but we proved them wrong! :) We successfully got off the couch and ran our first full marathon.
What we did to train: Donnah did some research and to do the marathon training you need to be able to run 10ks first, so we used an app called Ease into 10k; and then for the marathon training part we used Hal Higdon's marathon for beginners app called Marathon Novice 1 -both can be purchased from the app store for iOS or Android.
The apps make everything less overwhelming! The Ease into 10K really just does that, it builds up your runs and tells you when to walk/run/rest with countdowns etc, and you can still have music on in the background. With the marathon app, you just put in your race date and it works back to when you need to start training. It has short runs, long runs, cross training days and rest days, and you can set the days you need to do your long runs or rest days on so it's easier to work with individual schedules. It also talks to you throughout the runs with pep talks like it's your personal trainer, and you can also still have music on too. There are other in-app settings to help track your progress as well. We did our 10k training separately and the shorter runs for the marathon training too, but as the ks increased we did the training together (say from around 13ks).
Fees: Whether you choose a destination or to do it locally, doing a marathon is going to have some expenses. We chose overseas because that's half the motivation for us, it keeps you sticking to your training days and keeping to the commitment because of the money involved. Also, booking some of it at the beginning of your training schedule helps to keep the commitment, instead of having the option of giving up because you haven't booked even the entry fee yet. Either way, you will have costs for the race entry and some gear to get you across the finish line; everyone is different and will have their own opinions, so try a bunch of stuff on to get whats right for you. I also did a post on my running essentials HERE, which will help to get you started. The other thing is you don't want to do all that training and then realise you haven't got enough money to do it. I did a budget at the beginning and then put money aside every week to make sure everything was going to be covered.
Things to think about: While the training program takes care if itself, the big thing is making the time to do it. People will think you're crazy, and that's ok, but you need to have supportive people around to encourage you, not enable you to make excuses. Some nights we even finished our long runs at 10 pm. If you are accustomed to binging Netflix all night long, you will have to reschedule and do that after your training for the day..smirk. You need to look after yourself, get lots of sleep, make healthy food choices and no swanning around bars! We even went to our work Christmas party sober and barely drank Christmas day.
What you do when you aren't training makes a big difference to your performance level and preventing any potential injuries. Like I said before, its a commitment. The other thing is, if possible, train in the weather that you will be doing the race in. This allows your body to condition itself to the expected temperatures and will make a big difference in your endurance. Also, make sure you have read everything you need to know about the chosen race and download the course map beforehand; some courses will have hills and you need to adapt your training to include those conditions; some will have cut off times too.
You should also do some general reading on marathons to help you as well, things like what you should snack on during the race and refuelling etc... We ate nuts and dried fruit. Candy eventually gives you the sick feeling and I couldn't stomach bananas if I ate them before a run. I also hated the gels!! enough said lol. GAG!! Test that stuff out while you train so you know what works. Another tip is to make sure whatever you wear come race day, you have worn before on a long run! You don't want to be in the middle of it all and a clothing tag is chaffing and bugging the hell out of you.
RACE DAY: At the running expo a few days prior, you get your race bibs and information that you need, along with getting to see new fitness products and race merchandise to purchase; you can also sign up to run with a pace keeper on the day. They run with a flag to the pace that you want to keep and achieve the desired marathon time. We decided to do that and at least start the marathon with them as a gage to help us a bit better. Along the race there are also water and medical stops; you can find out how many and where along the course they will be usually beforehand, on the specific marathon website. It's actually quite handy as through training you will already know what points you will need to hydrate and then can see if you will need to allow for a different stop. During the race remember that there will be lots of people stopping and if you are set on a specific time to achieve, you need to allow for those minutes not running, the same with toilet stops. Some runners won't stop, or they have their own water/Powerade with them. When we were training we knew that being our first marathon, we should allow for any needed stops and to make sure when running the pace we kept allowed for that.
Disney World marathons are extremely organised and a really fun way to do for your first! there is lots of entertainment along the way to distract you and the race commences with fireworks. They put you into groups of your expected race time, so prepare at the start to weave your way through the crowds without exerting yourself too much; as it continues you will find yourself in a comfortable spot to run.
As we progressed through the race we found that we were fine and doing well. That was until around the 25k mark, well for me anyways. I started getting shooting pains up the side of my knee and I had no idea what it was! I applied the numbing gel they had at various medical stops, but it didn't get any better, only worse and it was excruciating!! I just kept trying to focus on getting to the finish line! The last 10ks it got so bad that I had to powerwalk/runner shuffle. It was really frustrating because I wasn't tired and just wanted to get our desired time, and mentally just wanted to keep running! We may not have gotten our time in the end, but I made it! Donnah kept telling me to forget the pain, just think about how big the medal is! hahaha!!
We went got back to the hotel a lady (another runner) saw me hobbling along and suggested to get straight into the pool, which made a big difference! The next few days I kept going and went through all the Disney Parks bung leg and all. Other than that recovery wasn't hard for us. I have heard people not wanting to eat etc, but we didn't feel that way. I later found out the pain in my leg was my IT band (Iliotibial band) and quite a common running injury.
What I learnt: Doing the training app definitely gave you what you need to complete the race. No matter how much planning you do, you can't plan for injuries so just do everything you can to train properly and then hope for the best. When we got back I gave my leg a rest for a few weeks and then did continue to run for a bit, we did a twilight half marathon but a deadly storm swept in and it was cancelled halfway through -it was certainly an experience running through rain and flood water! I would do a long run every week but eventually stopped, which became my biggest running regret. The main thing I learnt was that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve your goals! We hadn't even done a 1km before, let alone a 5km! I would recommend the Disney World Marathons, its a really fun weekend and great to do even if you want to do the shorter running events and/or take it easy and just enjoy the experience. Lots of families do it together and in all shapes and sizes, so no, you don't have to be an elite athlete to participate, we certainly weren't.
SECOND MARATHON - HAWAII
Last year I was feeling gross and needed a new fitness challenge to get me motivated to run again. I hadn’t run for about 2 and a half years so I decided to do the Honolulu marathon as it was on my bucket list; it was also the other option we would have done instead of Disney. Donnah wasn't able to do it with me, but I knew it was something that would keep me motivated.
What I did to train: Basically it was starting from scratch again! This time around though, I knew I was capable of doing it properly so I decided not to do the Ease into 10k, but do some light jogging and then get stuck into the same marathon training app. It also gives you a decent amount of training time so I knew it would be ok. The other thing I wanted to focus on was getting the time I wanted. The first time it was all about just being able to do it, so now I wanted to step it up. A guy at work does long distance running and suggested I combine it with some fartlek training to increase my pace, he did it in the army and knew it would work. You will find that some days are just tough and feel like you will never get through any of it, believe me, I had plenty of those! Just as long as you get out there and just do something, you will see the progress you made come race day. On the tough days I made sure to do the fartlek and on shorter run days -it helped a lot! Other than that I kept everything the same. Fartlek is the Swedish word for "speed play"; you may have heard about interval training and tempo workouts, which all help, but with fartlek it's about playing with speed by running at faster efforts for short periods of time (to that tree, to the sign) followed by easy-effort running to recover. I found this version to be less stressful and not having to think too much, just doing, compared to the other training workouts and whether you were doing it right, because fartlek is unstructured and more my style.
Things to think about: This time around I definitely found it hard to run without someone beside me. I can keep going with someone, but by myself, I had some kind of mental block where I would keep stopping no matter how short the run was. It was really weird and I couldn't figure out why. So, to counteract it, I found doing the fartlek training when that happened helped a lot. The other thing I found that made a difference compared to the first marathon, was what work environment you had. The first time around I was in an office, so running after sitting all day felt great. Whereas this time around I had a physically demanding job, and the dreaded pain from my IT band started flaring up. it did worry me how I would go in the race, but it mainly happened at work, so I had it strapped up with Rock tape which helped a lot during the day. I also did special exercises using a foam roller. I rested a little more than I needed to right before the race and continued to strap it.
RACE DAY: The two main things I was worried about was whether I would keep stopping and my IT band playing up. Also, for me it doesn't matter whether I run 5ks or 19ks, it always takes a few ks for me to get into it -I pretty much feel super unfit regardless! Then at the halfway mark, I get a sudden burst of energy. So to start the race I made sure to take it easy knowing how I was going to be. In the end, I didn't feel the need to stop at all with all the people around and nothing seems to matter come race day; every doubt disappears and you naturally focus on the only goal you have. Though, at around 6ks my IT band started causing me problems -I couldn't believe it! I decided to ignore it as much as possible, this time I actually knew what it was and kept going without stopping. Again I was mentally fine and not tired, but around the halfway mark, I thought I would stop a few ks and powerwalk, to give my leg a rest and then keep going. When you think yesss only 18ks left I can do this, you know your training paid off despite all the doubts you had. Though it got to the point that I didn't even think I could make it across the finish line if I didn't ease up and had to do the powerwalk/runner shuffle till the end. Much to my annoyance, my race ended up the same way, time screwed up and in tears from the pain. But I did it and that's all that matters. I was also informed that there was a steep hill and a lot of people aren't prepared for it... In Australia, we don't call those hills! I kept thinking is there a hill coming up?? lol. You can't even bolt up that section either, there are too many people and it's narrow.
What I learnt.... Will there be a next time? I really liked the Honolulu marathon and would like to do another marathon to get the time that I know I am capable of, but only if my IT band isn't going to give me the same problems. I'll probably do a half in between so I can see how things go. I had planned on doing the half this year but my timing isn't going to work out.
*disclaimer: Apart from spurts of laziness, I don’t have any weight issues or underlying health issues/conditions. For those that do or are unsure, consult your health professional first.