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Things I learnt from my first marathon

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

My first marathon was Canberra in April, 2014. Long before I actually planned to run a marathon, someone told me you could estimate your time by doubling your half marathon time, and adding either 10 minutes or 10 percent. I thought I could run a 90-minute half, and went with the 10 minute option, which gave me the goal of 3:09. I wrote it on a post-it note and stuck it on my mirror.

I was already a member of a running club, so my training was based around their sessions. I didn’t follow a specific plan. My first long run was towards the end of December, but training really stepped up after the Maui half marathon in mid-January. That race was about 700m short, but I ran it in 4:15/km pace, a big PB and confidence boost. After that, I had 12 weeks to get ready.

I had a block of about a month where I did over 60 kilometres each week, which was more than I have ever run, and my parkrun time came down. On race day, I finished in 3:09:32, and couldn’t have been happier.

It is often said that you learn more from bad races than ones that go to plan, but there are quite a few things I learnt from my marathon.

So much of it is mental – I started feeling tired at around 27km, and 10km later was just hanging on. There is a hill at around 39km in Canberra, which lots of people were walking up. I was so tempted to join them, but knew if I did, I wouldn’t start running again. It was definitely mental strength that got me up it.

Simple training worked – my training for my first marathon wasn’t overly complicated, in part because I didn’t know what I was doing. Prior to the days of a GPS watch, my training usually consisted of a 10-12km run on Tuesdays, intervals on Thursdays, and sometimes a longer run (12-17km) on Sundays. When I started training for the marathon, I added parkrun on Saturdays, a few midweek 15km runs, and extended the Sunday runs. I didn’t do tempo runs, fast finish long runs or race pace training (at least not intentionally). Some of those things, I have added in since. But the thing I think I got right, was that what I needed most to prepare for a marathon was an endurance base, so lots of solid running was important (and still is today).

Having a goal helps – marathon training is exhausting, but the thing that kept me going was knowing what I was trying to achieve. Whether you are training for a specific time or to get the finish line, it’s good to remind yourself what it’s for when the going gets tough.

Sometimes things don’t go to plan/it’s important to be flexible – I had planned to do a 30km race as part of my training, which was three laps of an out and back course. On the way back on the first lap, a guy I was running next to realised something was wrong when the leaders hadn’t come out again. We got back to discover that work needed to be done on the power lines overhead, and the race had to be called off. I was frustrated because I needed the training, but nothing could be done. I drove home and ran another 20km there. It wasn’t ideal, and sometimes missed sessions can’t be made up, but a flexible approach is always needed when life gets in the way of training.

It pays not to start too fast – this one isn’t new, but it is important! Lining up in Canberra, I had no idea what I was in for having never run 42.2km before. I was excited and wanted to see how fast I could run. The start line announcer gave a good piece of advice, aim to have your last kilometre take the same amount of time as your first. My pace went up and down a bit during the run, but both my first and 42nd splits were 4:35. When I was starting to fade over the last few kilometres, I was definitely glad I had gone out at that pace!

The feeling at the finish line might be different to what you expect – The marathon requires you to push yourself to your limits, and the finish line is usually a rush of emotions. In Canberra, all I felt was exhausted and relieved to stop. After sitting down, having some sugar, and cheering my friends home, it finally sunk in that I had achieved my goal, which was a great feeling.

The marathon is scary – before my first marathon, I had no idea what to expect. I even thought I might be able to run 3:05 (luckily I didn’t attempt it). In the couple of months after the race, when I thought back about how much I was hurting in the last 6km, I had no idea how I got through it. I started to wonder if I would be strong enough, not only to deal with it again, but run faster. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter a second marathon, I did. But it can be a different feeling when you know what you are in for. It could help you prepare better, or it could take a few more lessons to master the distance. For me, it was the latter.

Image of me crossing the finish line of my first marathon
Nothing left! Pain face after crossing the finish line of my first marathon

After the first one went so well, I thought I would try again. Things I learnt from my second marathon!

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