I've run one 26.2 mile race—the New York City Marathon—and I made every mistake along the way. Here's how to avoid 'em all
How to Make a Marathon Suck Less
1 of 28All photos
Running a marathon was probably the hardest thing I've ever done in my life—and I've gone through a lot. There's something about those 26.2 miles that takes literally every last fiber out of your being, from the moment you sign up for the stupid thing to the very end of the exit shoot (not to mention the days after). And even as a seasoned health and fitness editor who has over a dozen timed races, three half-marathons included, under her belt, I somehow managed to make every single mistake in the book during my first marathon. Learn from my mistakes. (And find out What Running a Marathon Does to Your Body.)
Photo: Corbis Images
1. Be Realistic
2 of 28All photos
I love to run, but I am no Olympian—or even close. I will never clock a seven-minute miler for longer than, well, a mile. Unfairly just doubling the distance of previous half-marathons (and times), I had my heart set on running a four-hour marathon—a lofty, speedy goal that requires intense training and innate talent. And as a busty woman, I'm definitely don't have a a "runner's body." Or the skills of someone like Kara Goucher. So although I had been running 2:00 half-marathons, running a full—for the first time—under four hours was not only realistic, but downright mean of me to do to myself.
2. Don't Talk About the Marathon Too Much
3 of 28All photos
Although its second on this list, the first rule of fight club should the first rule of marathon training too. Make sure you don't blab too much about your last tempo or set of sprints—not everyone wants to hear about everything. I learned this from constantly chewing my husband's ear off about everything from the possum I encountered on a nine-mile Wednesday night run to how I tacked an extra mile onto the weekend's long run. Point being: not everyone wants to hear every last detail of your training run. But maybe when there's a possum involved, you should say something.
3. Your Friendships and Relationships Should Suck by the End of Training
4 of 28All photos
If you're not being a flake because of a Saturday morning long run or a Wednesday night track session, you're not training hard enough. And no, I'm not really kidding. You should be an absentee wife or girlfriend, shitty employee, and all-around exhausted crank who can only do one thing: break the first rule of fight club. But you should still remember to make time for your loved ones, especially the ones who will be around come race day.
4. Do Not Try to be a Minimalist
5 of 28All photos
Minimal running shoes have been a trend for a while now, and with good reason: They help more experienced runners pick up their pace. But someone like me, who isn't, you know, Shalane Flanagan, has no business trying to run 26.2 miles in lightweight kicks. And while I occasionally messed around with some zero drop styles or minimal sneaks for shorter speed sessions, I missed two weeks of training because I did a 16-mile long in a certain pair of sneakers that definitely were not meant for tackling the NYC streets for that amount of miles. (In the market? Check out New Sneakers That Will Change the Way You Work Out.)
Photo: CLAIRE BENOIST
5. When in Doubt, Just Use More Body Glide
6 of 28All photos
This saves lives, you guys. Especially for someone like me, with big boobs and a small ribcage—I also need lube. I usually have to sport some kind of heavy-duty sports bra, which inevitably destroys my skin and brings me back to why I live by BodyGlide. You can also try Vaseline or Glossier Universal Skin Salve. (Desperate times, desperate measures.) I didn't bring anything with me race day, and by the time spectators were handing out tounge depressor sticks with Vaseline on them, I was already chafed and raw. I spent my time in the shower after the marathon cowering in pain from cuts caused by my bra.
6. Learn How to Fart Quietly
7 of 28All photos
Whether it's during a treadmill tempo session or a practice long run with friends, you're going to pass a lot of gas. Even more so on race day, when your nerves are running high. Try to let it out slow and easy as to not scare (or disgust) nearby runners.
7. Expect to Have Terrible Training Runs (and Times)
8 of 28All photos
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but you're not going to nail all of your training runs. And honestly, you may not even nail your race. Remember that under-four-hour time I wanted? More like 4:56. (And I missed my name being printed in the NYTimes—the paper publishes the race results the next day with as much space as allowed in the print edition—by like, one-tenth of a second. Which left me sobbing for a day.) Own your run, good, bad, or ugly. I am mad at myself for, well, being mad at myself for running a freaking marathon.
8. Also, Expect to Miss Training Runs
9 of 28All photos
Life gets in the way. All the time. Whether it's an extra-long day at the office, a friend's birthday party gone a bit wild, or just exhaustion, there will be times when the desire to stay in bed or on the couch will far outweigh that of going outside to pound the pavement or to the gym and hop onto the treadmill. I promise missing that one run won't ruin everything. I obsessively squeezed in every run, despite everything else going on in my life—which left my seriously overtired come race day.
9. Train in the Morning When You Can
10 of 28All photos
At the time of my marathon, I had a crazy-demanding job. Because I loved sleeping in, I usually ran after a rough day at the office, never before. I wish I had been bright-eyed and done morning miles. I know this is stuff you've heard before, but I would feel defeated, tense and frustrated before runs between four and ten miles during the week. Not a good look at 9 p.m.. (Related: "How I Turned Myself Into a Morning Exerciser.")
Photo: Corbis Images
10. For the Love of God, Rest If Your Body Asks You To
11 of 28All photos
I fought through hip bursitis and an achy IT band throughout training because I refused to take a day off. Remember what I said about missing runs? Well when I missed one, I made up the mileage somewhere else. And that totally burned me out way harder than I expected it to. Sleep is also so good.
11. Don't Let Taper Madness Get the Best of You
12 of 28All photos
There's this thing called "taper madness" that occurs when you're tapering your training off for a race, and it can manifest itself in a variety of ways, like the desire to overtrain, overshop at the expo (SO guilty), or find yourself with a total aversion to the sport. It'll all pass, but don't indulge in any of the behaviors. My wallet is still paying for it.
12. Skip the Pedicure
13 of 28All photos
I know you want your feet and legs to feel good, but hardened calluses are clutch for distance runners. Plus, it's not like your sneakers have peep-toes, anyway. I totally forgot this and decided to get a pedicure to feel pretty about two days before—and splurged for callus removal because I wanted to get pretty for race day. Which was pointless, of course, because sneakers. Save the pedi for post-race and make it a spa one—you'll thank me later for the extra leg rubdown.
13. Dress for Storage, Not Looks
14 of 28All photos
I totally screwed this up. Thinking about my #instagame, I wore some NYC marathon-branded swag (another mistake: nothing new on race day!) that was skimpy, with a small belt instead of my usual, sturdier, and roomier FuelBelt and a seven-pocket windbreaker or something of the like. I wanted to look ~SiMpLe~ but instead I felt stupid—I had no storage for the stuff I needed, which caused me to drop several things along the way. (We like this Functional Running Gear for the Track and Beyond.)
14. But Also, Overdress, Overdress, Overdress
15 of 28All photos
For the same vain reasons I cited above, I refused to bundle up and dress as warm as I should have—race day was remarkably and unseasonably cold, not to mention crazy windy. (Remember when I said I saw a medical tent fall down?) But since I had my "costume" picked out, I didn't budge from my pre-10 Day Forecast decisions. So while yes, you should plan your race day outfit, plan on adjusting it too. And when it doubt, you want to be warm and able to strip layers off—not freezing cold. (You'll smile more in those pics, anyway.)
15. Socks Are Everything
16 of 28All photos
So small, yet such a huge part of the running equation, socks are kind of everything. But my stupid no-shows kept falling down. All because I wanted my ankles to look thin. (I KNOW.) Anyway, pay attention the socks you train and race in. (Try 10 Socks—Yes, Socks—That Make Workouts Feel Better.)
16. Undereat a Bit the Night Before
17 of 28All photos
I'm not talking starve yourself, but do not have a full plate of Spaghetti Carbonara. With garlic bread. Cheesy garlic bread. That will absolutely destroy your 5 am wakeup call—I wound up hoovering antacids and milk, completely abandoning the race-day diet I had tried to religiously practice and follow. (Stock up on The Best Foods to Eat Before & After Running a Marathon.)
17. Practice Your Mug Shot
18 of 28All photos
This isn't vanity speaking, but rather, reality talking: You're gonna wanna 'gram at least one race photo, so practice how you'll wave and smile at the cameras during your 26.2. It may seem ridiculous, but when you wind up looking like you're gritting your teeth unhappily in all of the 189,576 shots of you, you'll thank me later for practicing your face. Case in point: I didn't buy a single photo from the NYC Marathon because I looked so freaking fugly. And while the weather was terrible (more on that later), I insisted on wearing certain things that were far from flattering—and also made me look like I was in dire pain the entire 26.2. (Which I promise I wasn't.)
18. Strategically Stagger Family and Friends
19 of 28All photos
I put my husband at Mile 14 with a towel, and my parents at Mile 20 with extra fuel. Having my support team at key race spots enabled me to get a bit of extra energy when I was otherwise suffering—or wipe the sweat off my brow, at least.
19. Pee and Poop As Much as Possible
20 of 28All photos
Seriously, I mean this hardcore. I cannot tell you how many stories I've heard—runners who have peed their pants or pooped during a race. And while I made it through this one race with just one Port a Potty stop when there were no lines, I regret not spending more time in line at the pre-race Port a Pottys—and definitely don't binge the night before on Disneyland Rice Krispie treats. When I ran the Disneyland Avengers' Half Marathon on November, I just did that—and spent the last 5K in GI distress. This also applies to my earlier idea of not overeating the night before. Actually, it's like, proof.
20. Stop Stressing
21 of 28All photos
Once you pass the starting line, let go of any unecessary stress, and also, try to keep your mood stable. Which is hard, trust me: I was jubilant at Mile 2, freaked out when I saw the wind tent blown over at Mile 3, dead at Mile 9, alive at Mile 14, and well, I can go on forever. That was a ton of unnecessarily expended energy. Which probably contributed to my crappy time. And remember: Almost all of these factors were beyond my control, so it's not like I could have done anything anyway. I just stressed and wasted energy. Sigh. (That emotional roller coast is just one of the 17 Things to Expect During Your First Marathon.)
21. Don't Go Out Too Fast
22 of 28All photos
I do this in almost every race, but never has going out too fast bitten me as hard in the ass as it did for a full marathon. Since my longest training run was 20 miles (totally average for a beginner training program), that was a full 10K extra I hadn't run in one session before—and I hit that dreaded wall harder than I ever thought possible. So, like, just walk the first mile or something. I don't know. Just don't get all fancy.
22. Don't Use Your Phone's GPS on Race Day
23 of 28All photos
I find myself attracting technical issues wherever I go. Exhibit A: My iPhone dying (whilst using an app to track myself) at Mile 18. (Good times.) And what if your app is down or there's no Internet connection or it's too woodsy to pick up your GPS? Plan for multiple scenarios so you can pace yourself (or at least have any idea of how you're doing). And at the very least, PLEASE pack a spare charger if you're gonna use a GPS app. And make sure it works beforehand.
23. Pack at Least One Extra Pair of Headphones
24 of 28All photos
If you like to tune in when you run, I recommend packing a spare pair of headphones in your running belt or shorts pocket. Whether you've got a Bluetooth set that could lose charge or just a lousy old pair that could get rain-soaked from bad weather, if you run music, pack an extra set. They don't need to be fancy, but they'll help you if you get stuck in a less-than-ideal situation. (Mine, again, was the phone dying, but I did pack spare headphones. So that's something, I guess.) (Or, learn to love running without music.)
24. Don't Listen to the Crowd
25 of 28All photos
Sure, the signs can be funny AF, but that's because you're reading them. Do NOT listen to anything anyone says. Especially towards the end. Like when someone at Mile 23 is like, "You're almost there!" Guess what? You're not. So don't think you are. Sorry. (These, however, are the best marathon signs we've seen.)
25. Figure Out Your Escape Route
26 of 28All photos
If I told you that not only did I not expect the mile-plus exit shoot that felt like the tunnel of death, but that I got blocked from meeting my family for an hour because the Dalai effing Lama happened to be on that exact block and there were protestors, would you believe me? I'm assuming at this point, yes. Point being, learn where you're going to meet your crew.
26. Plan for a Day Off (or Two) Post-Race
27 of 28All photos
Seriously, you're not going to be able to walk. (Check out this video to see what I mean.) The struggle is assuredly real. You won't want to walk much of anywhere, let alone focus on anything requiring effort (or moving beyond your bed). Take a day off. Hell, take two. Stretch, sleep, eat, repeat. Best recovery plan possible. I only took off one day and was a freaking zombie until about Friday.
26.2. Do Not Take Yourself Seriously
28 of 28All photos
I mean, who did I think I was to be all demanding about a time or a goal or a distance? I should have just been all ~*cHiLl*~ and enjoyed the ride. Please enjoys yours—for me, at the very least.