You’ve poured in countless hours of training. You’ve read the articles on when to run, how to run, and what to eat. You’ve made sure your timing is impeccable. After all of the time, effort, and personal cost, you’re finally ready for race day. Your first marathon is here.
You probably have a picture in your head of what it’s going to be like. You imagine getting the gold—no silver, you want to be modest—and totally killing this marathon thing.
I hate to break it to you, but your first marathon probably won’t be like you’re imagining it. Marathons can be full of surprises even for experienced endurance runners, and running your first marathon can be especially startling!
Here are six things you can really expect from your first race day.
6 Realities of Running Your First Marathon
1) When you start, you’ll feel really excited.
There’s an incredible energy that surrounds marathons of all sizes. To be around so many runners who are just as excited to be in this thing as you are is an incredible feeling. It can give you an energy boost and make you feel wonderfully alive and excited. Beware, though. This extra excitement causes a lot of novice runners to feel invincible in their first few miles of the run and they end up pushing too hard, breaking their running plan, and burning themselves out in the beginning. It’s incredibly important that you pace yourself and go slow-and-steady as planned.
2) The crowd is a game-changer.
As you have likely been training either by yourself or with a buddy or two this whole time, the idea of having a crowd watching you as you run that whole 26.2 miles might seem a little strange at first, but the crowd is an incredible boost for runners. It’s a psychological thing, but we actually perform better when we’re receiving active encouragement and praise. That’s exactly what the crowd offers!
Embrace the crowd. They’re awesome. It’s easy to think of the throngs of people as a distraction from your focus, but allow yourself to bask in the cheering a little. Let yourself have fans. It just may give you a performance boost.
3) You’ll be tempted to deviate from your plan.
Because there are so many excitements and new psychological elements to factor in on race day—things that spike our adrenaline and have us hyped up—many first-time marathon runners find that they perform better during the first half of the marathon than they did during training. It’s a surprise, and it feels great, but it can lead to a big mistake—deviating from your plan!
Most training runs only cover about half of a marathon’s total distance. That second half is where the going gets tough, so there’s no room for you to start experimenting. Trust all that your training has prepared you for.
4) You’ll probably hit the wall.
For most first-time marathon runners, the wall hits somewhere around mile 20. Not every runner hits it, but when it hits, it’s likely that you’ll feel like stopping and dying for a little while. The wall is rough. The wall is when you hit utter exhaustion and then force yourself to push past it.
One strategy to help you survive is simply making yourself get through small goals. Run past that tree. Okay, now a street sign. That intersection. Make small landmarks for yourself and you’ll find yourself leaving the wall behind in no time.
5) It’s a teamwork experience.
While a marathon is a race, it’s also not at the same time. There’s such an air of camaraderie and you’ll find that there’s rarely anyone at a marathon who doesn’t want everyone to do a great job. If you start to struggle, you’re going to get encouragement not just from the crowd but from fellow runners. When you start, you’re not racing for gold, you’re running for the experience of it. It really does form such an incredible bond with the people around you!
At your first marathon, meet people. You might make some life-long running buddies.
6) So much of the marathon is won in your mind.
As much a endurance running is about the body, it’s so much more about the mind. The wall can only be conquered by your will and determination. The race can only be won if you allow yourself to be in total sync with your body, too. You can be angry or disappointed when you think you’re not running at peak performance—instead, focus on listening to the rhythm of your body. Thirsty? Drink. Hungry and running low on energy? Eat a snack. You have to be one in mind and in body if you want to be at your marathon best.
While your first marathon may surprise you at every turn, it's a beautiful thing if you embrace the unexpected. There's one thing you'll probably notice about every race: it's all over too soon.