First Time Marathon Questions

My friend Danni is running her very first marathon at St. George this year and I may be a tad responsible for peer pressuring her into registering.
Yep, this pretty much sums it up.
I reached out to Danni last week to see if there were any questions she had going into the big day that I could help her with. She had great questions and I thought I’d share them with you too!
1. In your opinion, what is the best way to fuel during a run?
The best advice I have for fueling is to not use anything new leading up to race day.  When your stomach is already jittery from nerves and adrenaline it’s best not to test out any new products.  Also, stay on top of fueling during the race, don’t let your body get depleted, this goes for hydration as well. Don’t wait for hunger and thirst as signs to to start replenishing your stores because by then it could be too late and you’ll feel like you’re running out of gas.  I take in calories every 4-5 miles in a marathon or half marathon.  I primarily use EFS liquid shot from 1st Endurance (I like being able to control the intake, but I have to hold the bottle the entire race), Honeystinger gels are great, or Honeystinger chews (2-3 at a time).
2. Is carb-loading necessary and how is this done properly?
Carb loading is necessary because of the glycogen depletion your body goes through over the course of 26 miles.  Read a great article about it here.
Carb loading won’t make you faster on race day, but it will hopefully help you mitigate “hitting the wall” which is essentially your body  running out of energy.
Where it gets tricky for me is finding foods that are carb heavy, but not so high in fiber content.  The weeks leading up to a big race, I am carb conscious, in the sense that I pay extra attention to making sure I am adding  those carbs that my body will need on race day.
3. Is there a specific training schedule you to follow or is there one for beginners that seems to work well?
My training plans comes from my coach Iain Hunter.  After my bonk at last year’s St. George marathon I knew I needed professional help to reach my specific time goals.  I already knew my legs could go the distance, I just wanted them to go faster.  He really helped me focus on tempo (a pace slightly faster than marathon goal pace) and it was a key change to helping me reach my goal.
For my first marathon I had the one goal that all first time marathoners should have…just finish.  That’s it.  And that is a huge thing!
After that, assess and see if you want to do it again (you will) and if you think you could do it a little faster (you can) and that’s when it is a good time to reach out to a coach or do some research into a training plan that will help you get to your new goals.
 4. If there was one thing you could tell me or any first time marathoner, what would it be?
Don’t give up.  You will think you won’t be able to finish the marathon about a million times during the race, but you can.  When it gets hard, and it will get hard, just focus on taking it a mile a time, or even a step at a time if you have to.
5. I’ve heard and kind of experienced chafing during my training runs. Any recommendations or anything you’ve found that works to avoid this?
Yes!  Isn’t chafing one of the worst running words ever?  It’s also one of the most painful because it’s sneaky.  You don’t always know you’ve chaffed until you get in the shower and then you scream bloody murder when the water hits those parts that we can’t believe just got chafed.
I use Body Glide to stop the chafing, prevent blisters, and end the shower screams.
6. This one is kind of gross, I am so stinky after long runs which I know is expected but is there a deodorant you like or use that helps?
There’s no such thing as too gross between runners.  With running friends you don’t even need the disclaimer, “Okay this might be TMI but, ” you just launch right in.  Runners get it.  I actually think I’m stinkier (my lit teachers at UW just rolled their eyes at that sentence starter) on race day because of the nerves.  I use Secret Clinical Strength deodorant (yep and now my mom is extra proud that her baby’s armpits need clinical strength deodorant) and it works really well.
 7. I have read on your blog about the “pain cave.” What is this exactly? When you are in this, what keeps you going?
I remember hearing that phrase “pain cave” when I listened to Rich Roll’s book and thinking that it was a really good way  to describe the feeling because the suffering can feel deep, dark, and lonely.  It can be caused by different issues like fatigue, exposure, burning lungs, or a specific ache or pain that you’re running through.   I think living in the pain cave or being deep in the pain cave means that mentally you are forcing the pain stimulus away and deciding that no matter what is hurting you will keep running.  It is really forcing your will to keep your body moving past the point where it wants to stop.

Do buy your race photos if there is no one to take your picture. These are moments that are worth celebrating.

One thing I like to do is set goals and intentions for each race and mentally prepare my mind for the battle it will have to undertake on race day. Having a mantra or quote really helps me stay strong mentally when I’m in the pain cave.

8. How do you pace yourself so you’re not dead by mile 19? 
Great question!  First, make sure that you’ve hydrated and fueled correctly throughout the race.  Then, to save your legs on the St. George Marathon course you need to try and run a negative split.  That means that the first half is SLOWER than the second half.  The first 6 miles of the course have a lot of downhill assist and if you go out too hard, the whole race can blow up.  Even if you’ve slowed 10-15 seconds per mile it will help your legs feel strong the rest of the way.  You will have to slow down on Veyo hill, I don’t even look at my watch, I just get up it nice and easy.  For your first marathon, just continually gauge your energy reserves.  Check in with and assess how you are feeling constantly.  Once you’re past the Ledges on the course, it’s a pretty safe place to start to pick up the pace if you’re feeling good.  If you’re struggling, then back off and let the downhill portions carry you to the end. Remember that there is no shame in walking, I walk through every water stop.  There is no shame in stopping and getting more water and fuel.  Your number one goal, the first time, is just go the distance.
9.  What does tapering look like? 
Tapering looks like moodiness, crankiness, and a super clean house, it’s the only time you’ll see me cleaning baseboards and reorganizing closets during the school year.
A typical taper for me is three weeks long. My coach bases my taper off my highest weekly mileage.  For week 1,  I reduce my overall miles to 80% of my highest total, so for this training session I ran 80 miles that week down from 110.  I still do tempo work and finish out with one last 20 mile run. On week 2, I drop my mileage down by 55% of my highest total which puts me around 60 miles for the week and one last shorter tempo run.  For week three I average 40 miles total which includes the 26.2 marathon distance.  It’s a very light week with no strength training.  You don’t want to feel sore on the starting line.
That being said, there’s nothing like a taper to make you question everything.  Pains start cropping up, your appetite increases even though you’re running less, and it typically feels like an “off” week.  Trust the taper though, you have to invest in rest and recovery leading up to race day.
Danni and all other first time marathoners inspire me so much, sometimes the bravest thing we can do is have the courage to try, and I promise a marathon will change your life in a really powerful way.  Happy running friends!
Visions of Snow Canyon at mile 16 on the St. George Marathon course.

Visions of Snow Canyon at mile 16 on the St. George Marathon course.

Add your two cents to any of these questions! Lets help first time marathoners have a great first race.

What’s your best advice for finishing your first marathon?  

When and where was your first marathon? 

8 thoughts on “First Time Marathon Questions

  1. Regina says:

    Also some definite things to remember
    1) shave the night before with new razor (helps mentally to havel smooth gams), 2) trim toenails at least 2 days before (in case you get too close you’ll have time to heal), 3) walk and enjoy the expo treats 2 days before (if you wait until the day before your belly may not like all the new things you’ve tried and you may be on your feet longer than planned) and 4) day before look over the course in detail check out elevation and mentally prepare.
    Those are my go-to items that I tend do!

    • Katie Guisinger says:

      Hi Regina!
      You are so right about those toenails. All of those little things can make big differences on race day. Mental preparation is so key, that’s where I’ve got to focus this week. I’m so glad you shared this!
      Happy running!

  2. Denise says:

    Great tips! This was a great reminder that just finishing should be the top goal for a first marathon. I am preparing for my first marathon in two weeks: the Portland marathon. Unfortunately after 14 weeks of great consistent training for a time goal I strained my groin 🙁 and had to take 2 weeks off of running (one of which I was able to lightly cross train). After getting this injury I have had to abandon my time goal and go for a just finish goal. I’m feeling much better now but trying my best to go easy and not re-injure it in the process of getting in easy runs before race day. Good luck with your race!!

    • Katie Guisinger says:

      Oh no Denise! I’m so sorry to hear about your injury. I think you’re so smart to just focus on finishing, but you might even surprise yourself and have a great race! Best of luck to you! I would love to run the Portland marathon one day! Happy running!

    • Katie Guisinger says:

      Molly that is so exciting! I’m really glad you found this information helpful. Best of luck at your marathon! Happy running! -Katie

  3. greenzgirl says:

    I Love your comments and tips on prepping for a first marathon. Really good information! I’ve run over 35 marathons to date and I learn something new from each race. That’s the exciting part: the distance stays the same, but the experience that day is completely unique and new. Go get it and Good luck!!!!!!

    • Katie Guisinger says:

      Amber that is so true. Each experience is unique and teaches us something new! That really is one of the things I love so much about racing. Happy running sweet friend! -Katie

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