A beginner’s guide to running your first marathon
Distance: 4.31km. Duration: 23:37 minutes. Narration: First run of marathon training, now to multiply the distance by 10. With 187 days to go.
With gassed lungs and more of a ‘drenching’ than the standard ‘slick’ of sweat, I stretched out after the above run – a casual 37.885km short of the distance I was hoping to tackle in just over six months’ time for my first marathon.
I was standing at the bottom of my metaphorical Everest.
My thoughts (in order) at this moment: How the (you can choose the next word) am I meant to do this? Can I still drink wine while I train? Can I commit to training for my first ever marathon or do I lack the dedication?
These are common thoughts (especially the wine part) for anyone about to tackle their first marathon, but it’s not a park run for a reason. It’s a test. A true test. And as a first-timer, I can tell you the journey is as exciting as the summit!
If you’re contemplating your first marathon (or are already in training-mode) and want help picking the perfect marathon for you, some tips on how to make training as enjoyable as possible and how to celebrate like a champion, strap on your running reading shoes and power through this post.
Can I be like Mr Gump?
If you’re on your running training-wheels don’t fret, marathons and running festivals are more than just 42.195km of pavement-pounding, with most events including a 5km run/walk, 10km races and a half marathon. No matter your fitness level, you can still kick some running goals, just choose your distance and go for it!
But before you start, ask yourself, do I like feeling unbelievable elation? Enormous self-achievement? And wearing memorabilia that reminds everyone around me that I’ve completed something pretty awesome?
If you ticked two of the above three (I’ll let it slide if you’re not up for the ‘finisher’ shirt like I am) then a marathon is for you.
There are also obvious physical benefits, a big boost for your mental application and we still haven’t discussed the cherry on top – the destination.
Picture running along the Noosa foreshore, the Gold Coast beachfront or ripping up the seam between two UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Wet Tropics Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef) in Port Douglas.
If you’re going to push yourself to your limits, it might as well be somewhere mind-blowingly beautiful.
Left foot. Right foot. Repeat.
You shouldn’t start building a house if you don’t have an end design in mind. Simple logic. Running a marathon is much the same, if you just lace up your shoes and head out on day one with no direction you’re likely to crumble.
Before you take your first physical step, you need to pick your marathon (and if you’re as goal-orientated as me, booking it straight away helps a lot too). But where to start?
Firstly, open your diary (or our pre-prepared endurance calendar) and plan ahead – you’ll want at least six months for training so any marathon running in a couple of weeks’ time is off your list.
My recommendation? Choose the marathon in your ideal holiday destination. Keen to go diving the following day? Pick the Great Barrier Reef Marathon Festival or the Cairns Airport Adventure Festival. Love surfing? The Gold Coast Marathon or Runaway Noosa Marathon are for you.
If I had to pick one that would be THE best for a first-timer, it would have to be one of Australia’s flattest marathons (you’re welcome), the Gold Coast Marathon. #hillskill
Date confirmed and marathon booked; check! But before you run out the door (nearly there!) you should book flights and accommodation.
Top tip: Look at the marathon course and the transfer options to the starting line and pick accommodation that will make your morning easier. The Gold Coast Hinterland is beautiful, but may not be the best place to stay for the marathon.
With the marathon and everything else locked in, it’s time to head outside to practice your left foot, right foot, repeat.
The road ahead
Historically, I train for a month, do well, feel great, lose commitment, quit. It’s a recurring nightmare and I’ve tried a lot of varying methods to break the cycle.
All failed until I started marathon training – gradually scraping away at my goal kept me on track throughout. The motivation only increased which was a very pleasant surprise.
Training is a long road, so here are a couple of hacks to keep your motivation up:
Get out and explore
National parks, hiking routes (specifically around the Scenic Rim), beachfront esplanades and quiet country roads were some of my training routes. Marathons are about exploring the outdoors so don’t run the same loop around your neighbourhood every time. By taking your long runs somewhere new, it will keep the mind busy and ensure there’s more than just more running around every corner.
A tracking app is an absolute must for the science of running and keeping on top of your distance. Apps like Map My Run and Strava also allow you to measure, analyse and compare your results with others in your network and enable you to reflect on your growth whenever you’re lacking motivation.
Grow a support network
You’ll be surprised to find out how many people you know have already completed a marathon. My workplace was littered with finishers and admittingly, some of them I would have never predicted. Lean on others for advice or sometimes just a pat on the back.
Verbalise your goals
I told my partner, close mates and team at work on day one that I was running a marathon later on in the year. They checked in every so often to see how I was going, which provided a needed lift.
Think of the pasta
Before I even got to race day I booked my post-race meal. I’d been craving tiramisu (and half the menu, really) from Brisbane‘s Italian stalwart Pane E Vino for months and all through race day I was thinking about my Italian feast. It doesn’t have to be a carb-fest, but whatever your favourite meal is, book it for that night or the next day.
Reward yourself along the way
Maybe I went a bit hard with the rewards, but during month four I escaped to Heron Island for a couple of nights. Running was substituted for plenty of ‘water-based rehab’ AKA snorkelling and diving with rays, sharks and turtles to give the muscles a well-earned rest.
If a mini-break midway through training doesn’t fit, a post-run experience in your chosen destination is a good idea. You could visit parts of the Great Barrier Reef if your marathon is in Tropical North Queensland or explore the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and enjoy the Glass House Mountains from a quiet cabin with a bottle of local wine. You’ve completed a marathon, you deserve to treat yourself.
Game on: Prepping for the big day
The big day is nearly here. Anticipation builds. You abnormally worry about the possibility of getting sick, a thought that hasn’t entered your mind for months but now you’re a germaphobe.
Squash your anxieties and remember you’ve done the hard stuff. Lots of it. Now you’ve just got to keep focused for a couple more days.
Triathletes have a bike to pack down and organise but you, in reality, just need your shoes, so don’t forget them. The rest of your pack list is standard holiday attire, along with:
- Running headphones and accessories if you use them
- Your running clothes and any gear you take such as gels, visor or cap
- Did I mention shoes? And spare socks
- Foam roller (my roller was my lifeline throughout)
- Band-Aids and similar for running repairs
- Stretchy pants for your post-race meal ?
Your final step before jumping on the plane or hopping in the car is to print and read your race pack, specifically looking for where to collect your bib and when, how to get to and from the race, how to book an onsite post-race massage and where the post-race party is at.
Standing at the starting line I was surprisingly calm – I was only 42 and a bit kilometres away from the summit that felt so far away in the beginning. My Everest was about to be conquered.
The race, in short, was hard. I knew it was going to be – it had to be, it is a marathon after all. But I did it, I kicked all my goals and the elation, enormous self-achievement and completion memorabilia I promised earlier was all mine.
So… now what?
One down, plenty to go!
Some people finish a marathon and decide never again, others are addicted for a very long time. Me? I want to include a swim and a ride now, so I’ll be reading this beginner’s guide to triathlons and tackling a tri next, chasing the ‘big daddy’ end goal of Cairns IRONMAN in 2020 (I’ve verbalised it so now I have to, right?)
If you’re ready to plan your next fit-cation in Queensland we have you sorted with a calendar of endurance events. If you want to tackle something more specific, Velothon Sunshine Coast or one of these ocean swims (including some on the Great Barrier Reef – hello!) might be perfect for you.
A note from the writer: I’m not a doctor, personal trainer or anything of the like so I have purposely not touched on health-related issues and benefits in this post. When tackling your first marathon, or any endurance event please seek the advice of a healthcare professional before you begin training. Running coaches are also very helpful to correct technical flaws and to help you run at your best.