Each year thousands of people who have no prior running experience decide to run the marathon. Whether it is for charity, a personal goal, a check-off on life’s bucket list, being the in thing to do or just because, the decision is made.
They eagerly sign-up for a race no matter how soon it might be in the whirlwind of excitement surrounding the decision to do it.
Many of these runners have maybe causally jogged or maybe completed a 5K at some point in their life. They certainly haven’t educated themselves on everything that is involved in a marathon.
Often times the first marathon training schedule they find in Google is printed off and off they go, regardless of how much running base is mentioned as a pre-requisite to starting. No attention is paid to pace, proper running form, different types of running workouts, what they should be wearing, hydration, fueling needs and that pain they start feeling on the longer training runs is normal right? After all no pain, no gain?
Assuming the runner makes it to the starting line they get caught up in the anxiety of race weekend and eat different food before the race, load up on “energy gels and GU” despite having never tried them before.
As soon as the race starts, they run almost full sprint out of the gate in the excitement and by the second or third mile realize they have gone too fast wasting precious energy.
And herein lies the problem.
Each summer I watch hundreds of runners slogging it out on the lakefront path in Chicago in “survival mode.” The training and the marathon are something to survive, rather than an event to train for. This is because they are so overwhelmed learning everything about running while training for one of the most demanding athletic events you can attempt.
The marathon is no place for a crash course in running.
I am not saying that you can not decide to run a marathon and complete it within the same calendar year. I certainly did many years ago when I first ran one – but I had a lot of prior running experience and was in good athletic shape.
I know some that had never run a race before and were successful as well. But just about all of them said they wish they started off with a shorter race first as they would have learned so much that would have benefited them on marathon day. Quite simply, 26.2 miles is a long distance. So many things can happen over the course of that distance.
My question to you or anyone you know that is considering doing this is why would you do this as your first race?
A marathon takes a lot of preparation – mentally, physically and in some cases emotionally. If you don’t have a lot of experience running you really would stand to gain so much starting out smaller with the marathon as an end goal after some shorter distance race experiences.
If you have no running experience at all start with a 5K or a 10K. They are fantastic intermediate running goals. Get comfortable sticking to a training schedule. Build a base of miles. Learn what your pace is. Experience race day and the atmosphere that surrounds it. Then, evaluate your readiness to tackle something greater.
Before the marathon, train for and run a half-marathon. A half-marathon is a serious race and a respectable distance. You’ll gain so much from experiencing a larger event and longer race distance. While preparing for the half you will be setting the foundation for a successful marathon training period and a spectacular race. You can even train for the marathon and the half-marathon at the same time, substituting a weekend long run for a formal half-marathon race.
I want you to have that success, which is why I recommend you give strong consideration to building up over time. Get some racing experience. There is no substitute for running experience.
Should Your First Race Be The Marathon?