14 things you should do to prepare for your first marathon
When I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, my first try at running 26.2 miles, I knew it would be hard. I had previously never considered myself a runner and the longest race I’d ever completed was a 5K. But as my training ramped up to 13, 16, 18 and finally 20 miles over the 18 weeks leading up to the race, I felt confident. I signed up last-minute for a half marathon just as practice and finished strong, even sprinting to the finish line and leaving with enough energy to meet my friends after for boozy brunch.
However, on my way to the marathon starting line, my confidence totally sunk. This was actually a distance that I had never run before. Not to mention, it was raining (raining really hard actually). My shoes and socks were soggy before I even got to my corral.
I tried to remind myself that all I had to do was finish and to think about all the miles I had run up to this point—26.2 miles paled in comparison! I had put in the work and I was well-prepared, or so I thought. During the wet and soggy course, there were a few things I was glad I had with me and a few I wish I would have packed in my running belt.
Here’s everything you’ll be glad you prepared while running your first marathon:
1. Wear the right shoes for you
The right running shoes are the ones that you feel most comfortable in. For me, that’s Brooks Ghost 12. They're a neutral shoe but provide just enough support and cushion, so my feet felt just as good at the finish line as they did at the starting line. One tip, however, is that if it is raining on race day, you should wait to put your shoes and socks on as close to the starting time as possible.
SHOP: Brooks Running Ghost 12, $130
2. Wear the right socks
It might not seem like it, but socks are a huge deal. Get a pair that doesn't slip into your shoes and that will wick away moisture. The best are those that are made with nylon, spandex and polyester.
SHOP: Brooks Launch Lightweight Tab Running Socks, $12
3. Use Body Glide or something similar
Body Glide or plain old Vaseline isn’t just for leg chafing. You can use it under your arms, under the clasp of your sports bra or around an annoying seam. One runner on the MCM course shared he wish he would have put it between his toes, because apparently toe-chafing in the rain is very real.
SHOP: Body Glide Original Anti-Chafe Balm, $9.99
4. Make a good playlist and download it
If you like to listen to music while you run, make a good playlist and make sure you download it. If you’re traveling to your race, you might not have great cell service and downloading your songs will be crucial for solid listening.
5. Pack extra headphones or a charger
Your headphones might (probably will) die during the race, so pack an extra set in your running belt, or if you’re using AirPods, the charging case. However, if you can, try running with just one ear bud in so you can take in the cheering of the crowd—there’s nothing like it.
SHOP: New adidas Fwd-01 Bluetooth in-Ear Headphones, $149.99
6. Wear a bright color
I love an all black ensemble as much as the next New Yorker, but during a race, it can make it hard for your friends and family to find you (just ask my mom). Try a bright colored shirt, hat, shoes or even wristband to stand out. If you need the extra push, putting your name on the back of your shirt will most definitely have fans along the course cheering you on by name.
SHOP: Break New Ground Tight 28" lululemon x Roksanda, $168
7. Ask your “fans” to wear something bright or memorable if you want to see them
As you’re running, fans and signs start to look, well, a bit the same. I ran past my family two to three times, even after texting them begging for a banana. It’s always heartwarming to know they’re there, but even better when you see them along the course with a beacon of hope (again, for me, that's a banana).
8. Practice your nutrition beforehand
Don’t try eating new gels or gummies on race day. To fuel your body best, you need to know what works for you. (Unless, of course, you’re hitting a wall and need some of the fuel passed out on the course.) Pack a few of your go-to products in your pockets or running belt, or even give some to friends and family who are there to cheer you on.
9. Eat right not just the day of, but the week of
Leading up to the race, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating healthy and a few days before, that you’re getting a majority of your calories from carbs. The morning of the race, wake up early enough to give yourself enough time to eat and use the bathroom—you will never regret doing this.
While you're at it, you might want to take Imodium beforehand or pack it in your running belt (especially if you have a sensitive stomach or are prone to runners’ colitis). Again, you will not regret this.
10. Check out the course ahead of time
During your training, it will be good to know whether or not your race involves tons of hills or in my case, one gnarly bridge at the end. Practice accordingly, and if you’re the need-to-know-type, make a mental note of where major mile markers will be.
Pro tip: Download your race’s app (if there is one) to find all the information you need.
11. Practice running in all weather conditions
Whether it’s too hot or too rainy outside during your training, try to avoid the treadmill and hit the pavement. You don’t know what the weather will be on race day, and you’ll be glad you tested not only your skills, but your outfit and gear for all conditions.
SHOP: Arc'teryx Cita SL Jacket, $129
12. Remember why you signed up
For me, I love having a new goal to crush, so as daunting as it was, signing up for my first marathon felt like an accomplishment I needed to hold the bragging rights to. However, you could be running for a charity or a family member or another personal reason. Remind yourself of your motivation on the course and if you have to, write yourself a note in your phone as a reminder to look at periodically as you crush those miles.
13. Give yourself time to recover
You might have plans to celebrate with friends after the race, but give yourself ample time to stretch, foam roll, shower and relax a bit. If you traveled for it, see if you can postpone your return home to the next day so you’re not immediately sedentary (which won’t help with your soreness).
SHOP: Theragun G3PRO Percussive Therapy Device, $599 ($700)
14. Relax! Have fun!
Running 26.2 miles is intense, but try to stay relaxed. As Shadrack Biwott, a professional marathon runner with Brooks Running told me: “Don’t be scared, it’s just running.”
And, have fun! You wouldn’t be running for this long if you didn’t enjoy it, so take it all in and be proud of your accomplishment.