It takes months of preparation, training, and planning in order to execute the race you would like to run. But what if you’ve never run a marathon before? What is there to know?

This week, Coach Sage will take you through everything he wish he knew before running his first marathon. Many of these tips can also apply to even the most experienced runners, so hopefully there’s something in here that you will find helpful.
First, let’s start with the “prerequisites” that come into play even before you get to race day.I tell all of my athletes that they need to be following a training plan. Typically, these range from 12-16 weeks long, and that’s not even counting the aerobic base you need prior to beginning the training plan.Use our FREE Aerobic Base Building Plan to help build your aerobic base.Browse our Marathon Training Plans and find a training plan that works best for you. From very beginner, to very advanced, we cover all experience levels!

It’s smart to factor in a half marathon race midway through your marathon training plan. This will help you see where your fitness is and allow you to get the feel for what race day may be like.

Now let’s jump into what I wish I knew before running my first marathon:

Tip #1 – Understand how a marathon can differ than a shorter distance race. 
The marathon is such a fickle distance and unlike anything you’ll run if you’ve only ever done up to a half marathon. Don’t get me wrong, even a 800m or 1600m race on the track is difficult, but when it comes to 26.2 miles, there are more factors that come into play. You start getting into a zone where things feel different. The pain and fatigue manifests itself in such a different way that you are going to have to control yourself up until mile 20 in order to not bonk the last 6.2 miles. Your long runs will hopefully teach you how to pace yourself, as well as give you a sense of what your body is capable of when you start getting to that mile 20 mark.

Tip #2 – Don’t go trying anything new (nutrition wise) the week leading up to the race!
 Now is not the time to start Googling “food to make you go faster in a marathon,” only for you to come across some very… eh…interesting… food/nutrition options. Stay consistent with what your body is used to while focusing on whole, plant based foods. One thing you can try is drinking water with some electrolytes mixed in. There’s no need to drink gallons and gallons of water leading up to the race, as this can actually lead to overhydrating yourself. You can, in fact, drink too much!

Tip #3 – The Morning of the Race: When it comes to race morning, I always like to wake up about three (3) hours prior to the start. This partially depends on transportation, but I also want to make sure I get my breakfast in with plenty of time for me to digest it. As for other #ProTips I’ve learned over the years:
Be prepared to wait in looooong porty potty lines. There never seems to be enough for how many people there are! Try to think of alternate (and legal) ways to relieve yourself if the line is too long (i.e., gas stations, getting close accommodation to the start line, etc). Bring a trash bag or old, used sweatshirt that you can bring to the start line in case it’s cold and you’re forced to stand and wait. When it gets closer to the race time, you can just throw it away (typically there are donation boxes for old clothing, or give it to the person who came to the start line with you, if any).

Tip #4 – For your first marathon, I simply want your goal to be to finish and have a positive experience. Yes, it’s great to have a goal finish time in mind, but for most first-timers, the primary goal is to finish. The way to achieve this is to start a pace that you feel completely comfortable yet. If it feels too easy in the first mile, just remember, you have another 25.2 to go. So you’re probably right where to need to be!

Tip #5 – Fuel consistently and continuously throughout the race.
 You’ll be working really hard throughout the race. What I mean by fueling consistently and continuously is that I take a couple of gels, namely Spring Energy (enter discount code “Sage” for 10% off), each hour of the race, for the whole race. Hopefully, you were practicing fueling on your long runs and training runs, but you want to be eating and/or drinking some sort of carbohydrate for the duration of the race. There should also be aid station tables for you along the course to stop and grab some food or liquid. You can usually find information about where these are in your marathon brochure, or you can try to ask a race organizer/volunteer before the race. NOTE: If you like a personal nutrition brand, be sure to bring your own! It totally varies what type of snacks and drinks the aid stations will carry. I usually carry a handheld bottle that can store several gels, or you can also use a running belt. Here’s another #ProTip I learned over the years: If you decide to go through an aid station for fluid, there will typically be two tables. One will be water, and the other will be an electrolyte-type drink (e.g., Gatorade). You can choose what you want depending on what you’re feeling, but I actually pinch the top of the cup to create a spout. Most people will grab it like a normal cup, but that will just result in more water spilling.

Tip #6 (Bonus tip) – Treat Mile 20 (32km) as if you’re only halfway through the race. If you’re ahead of your goal coming into mile 20, you can easily lose all of that in the last 6 miles (10km). If you can go into mile 20 feeling good, give everything you’ve got to finish strong.

I hope you found some of these tips useful. I wish I could say that these tips will make it feel so much easier, but the reality is, is that running a marathon is tough no matter who you are. But I think that if you follow these methods you can improve your chances of succeeding. Finishing a marathon is an amazing accomplishment, so I’d love to hear how your first marathon went!