Thoughts on My First Marathon

2012 Chicago Marathon
Old Town, near mile 10

Now that it’s been over a week since my first marathon, I have some thoughts around how I approached the race, including training and race day preparation. Hopefully you might learn something from this, or not. Whatever. This is more just for me to gather my thoughts and I can re-read this in the future if/when I do another marathon.

I’ve been running more or less for three years now, and have been consistently running (40+ miles/month) since March 2011. (So, for 19 months.) I’ve done a lot of races (33 so far) and the majority of them have gone well. So, going into marathon training, and the marathon itself, I felt very prepared.

I officially started training for the marathon during the first week of June. (Four months before the marathon.) However, I had very strong base built before I started my training plan. 40+ miles/month since March 2011, 90+ miles/month since January 2012. This was intentional. I knew I wanted to go into marathon training without any doubt that I could finish the training plan and also the race. (Aside from unexpected injuries or life events, which thankfully did not happen.) I probably didn’t need quite this strong of a base, but mentally, I wanted to feel strong going into it.

2012 Chicago Marathon
Running over the Kennedy, around the halfway point

I followed Hal Higdon’s Novice 2 training plan. I debated doing the Intermediate program (since I have done so many races and had such a strong base), but erred on the side of caution because this was my first marathon. Novice 2 called for 4 days/week of running, which I was already used to. Intermediate called for 5 days/week, which I was not used to. I knew I could run 4 days/week without injury, so I went with that plan.

I actually did every run on the schedule, although there were a few (not many – maybe 3) runs that I cut short by a mile or two for whatever reason. (I was dealing with terrible allergies, it was hot and the group I was running with was doing 12 miles instead of 14, I had plans and needed to finish up my run and get home, etc). I feel that following this plan prepared me very well to finish 26.2 miles. However, this is still a novice plan, so it’s more for finishing the distance, not for hitting a spectacular time or something. But since my goal was to finish, that worked for me.

2012 Chicago Marathon
Chinatown, between miles 21-22

This summer was a hot one, but I didn’t shy away from running in the heat. Actually, I embraced it, telling myself that it would make me a stronger runner once the weather cooled off. Most my my weekday runs were around 6pm, when temps were still near the daily high. I did plenty of runs in 90 degree temps. I just slowed down and carried my water with me, and occasionally ran shirtless and/or with ice in my sports bra.

Also, you never know what kind of weather you’ll get on race day. The Chicago Marathon has been pretty warm for the past couple of years, and I was trying to mentally prepare myself for a warm marathon. Luckily, that wasn’t the case, but I think “hope for the best and train for the worst” is a good way to approach training.

I tried to figure out my fueling plan early, and stuck to it throughout training. Breakfast before long runs was bread or a tortilla (no whole wheat or whole grain) with peanut butter and a banana. Fuel during the run was Clif Shot Bloks (usually margarita flavor – not my favorite, but it has extra sodium), with pretzels for the really long runs. This worked well for me, although now I am sick of tortillas, bananas and margarita Clif Shot Bloks. (Hopefully that’s only temporary, because I still have half a box of that flavor.)

2012 Chicago Marathon
The last aid station, on Michigan Ave, near mile 25

My training plan did not call for any speedwork. Just long runs, [marathon] pace runs and easy runs. I love intervals and tempo work, so during the early weeks of marathon training, I would do one or the other for my mid-week long run. But then it got really hot, and I started to feel burned out, so I was lucky to do a pace run during the mid-week long run. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten slower since the spring and early summer, but, my goal wasn’t speed, it was finishing. If I do another marathon, I plan to make a better effort to incorporate regular speedwork.

I had very realistic goals going into the race. My primary goals were to finish, and have fun. I didn’t want to have a time goal, but I did want to finish in under 5 hours, which was very conservative based on my previous races. I don’t know if it was a self-fulfilling thing, but I find it funny that I finished 5 minutes under 5 hours.

I’ll be honest; I was very conservative during the race. I think that’s the only thing I did “wrong,” and I don’t even consider that wrong because this race wasn’t about my time. I kept my heart rate a little bit lower than I probably could have, but I did that intentionally. I didn’t want to walk during the race, and I didn’t want to hit the wall. (And I didn’t do either.) There were also points during the race where I got caught up looking at the crowds, and the signs, and looking for my family, that my heart rate was dipping lower than it needed to be. But this was supposed to be fun, so no biggie in my mind.

If I do another marathon, I will likely push my heart rate a little bit more than I did. And it will probably be easy to PR! [Hopefully …]

So … would I do another marathon? I would. The training is a huge commitment of both time, planning and mental focus. But I enjoyed the event itself so much. I did get a little burned out during training and longed for the days I could just run whatever I wanted, but I think the next time around, I might be more flexible with my plan or not have such tunnel vision about it. I think I was so worried about doing my easy/long runs too fast, and risking injury, so I really forced myself to keep those runs slow, and started getting really bored. And then I stopped doing the speedwork that I enjoy so much because I was feeling tired and/or burned out.

But I’m definitely open to doing another marathon, I’m just not sure when. I don’t want to do a spring marathon next year; I plan to focus on speed during the winter and spring. But maybe I’ll do Chicago 2013. We’ll see how I feel when registration opens, and what my summer and early fall look like. But I’m pretty sure I will be back for another 26.2 someday.

Meeting my Facebook friend Dave Mari early in the race!

This last photo was taken by Dave, all of the other photos in this post were taken by my mom or dad.

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4 Comments on “Thoughts on My First Marathon”

  1. Totally agree with getting plan tunnel vision versus being more flexible. I was a lot more flexible with my plan the second time around and enjoyed the training so much more.

  2. Congrats on Chicago…it was a great day for a marathon. I can appreciate the tunnel vision and tired of the training plan. Hope to do it again soon and maybe see you there! 🙂

  3. Congrats on the marathon again! You trained during a really rough summer and obviously were well prepared for the race :).

    I think it’s common to run a first marathon conservatively. It’s so hard to know what to expect and if you’ve trained well the last thing you want to do is go out too hard and have a terrible race. I’m glad you were able to enjoy it!

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