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Five Things I Wish I Knew Before My First Marathon

Marathon running is not new, neither is marathon advice. I, however, think these five tips will make your race that much better, from day one of training through your recovery after the big race.

120th boston marathon
Tim BradburyGetty Images

To run a marathon, you'll need a bunch things to go your way, not only on race day but in the months leading up to the race, as well. You need to have the right gear for the job, strong mental fortitude and a lot of time training in the months leading up to the race (unless you're a maniac).

What's the best way to prepare? Well, everyone who has (and hasn't) run a marathon has (many) opinions. And now that I've tackled my first marathon, in Boston thanks to Westin Hotels' RunWestin program. I've got some too. Not because I'm an expert, but precisely because there are things I wish someone had told me.

boston marathon
They call them start corrals for a reason.
Will Porter

Enjoy your long runs and don't stress if you miss one

When you look at your marathon training plan, you'll immediately notice something scary: it's that Saturday or Sunday long run. The number just keeps going up, up, up. About a month from race day, you'll see something insane like 22 miles on the docket. Do not fear, these long runs can actually be really enjoyable. In fact, my long runs were my favorite part of training.

Long Slow Distance, as some have dubbed it, is the name of the game when it comes to marathon training. You're never going to go at race pace on a long run. You'll probably be running splits that are as much as minute longer than on race day. LSD is an apt metaphor for a long run — it's a day to embrace the runner's high and just bliss out. Pop in some tunes (or don't) and just enjoy the solo time.

However, if you have to miss one, that's okay. It may seem insane to miss your longest run of the week — you are training for what is the longest run of your life, after all. Let me be the first to tell you: you will be fine if you miss one. I'm not saying you should be skipping a bunch, but don't stress if you do. I missed at least two over my 16-week training block and I survived. You will too.

Be ready to chafe. A lot.

The most pain I felt in training was not in my knees, not in my feet, but under my shorts. Apologies but this is just something we have to talk about. If you don't prepare for your runs with some anti-chafe solution, you are in for it. Seriously, nothing is worse than hopping in the shower after a run and yelping in pain when the water hits your stingy bits.

My advice? Buy some anti-chafe cream and apply it liberally. Before things are a problem. It might feel weird to coat your undercarriage with creams and lubes before you run, but you will not regret it. Lather it on like Wendy Peffercorn lathers on baby oil.

Body Glide and Zealios Betwixt are my two favorites — put on a healthy dose of Body Glide before your run (it's less lathery but works better than most creams I tried) and bring along a packet of Betwixt for when you start to feel the heat on your skin at mile 10.

Pick your race gear in advance and break it in

There's a saying in running: don't do anything new on race day. Don't eat something on the course that you've never eaten, don't break out some new bizarre gadget at the start line and absolutely do not under any circumstances wear your race kit for the first time. It may be tempting to buy some fancy new gear and break it out at 5 am on race day, but you will come to rue that decision once you realize those shoes are a bit too small and your race top clings too much.

boston marathon
The obligatory kit-layout pic.
Will Porter

I ran my marathon in the new Hoka Rocket X 2, which I now absolutely love. When I wore them for the first time, though, I was greeted by two bloody blisters on the backs of my ankles. Over the next few weeks I put 25 more miles on them, guaranteeing that by the time I hit the start line, I'd be a-ok. The result? No blisters after the race. To finish my kit, I wore Bandit socks and running belt along with some Satisfy shorts and a merino t-shirt I had worn dozens of times before. They all performed exactly how I remembered. No surprises.

Have a race day strategy and stick to it

Your strategy will vary depending on where you race. Boston is a bit of a nasty one — you start with 16 miles of downhill running followed by a handful of treacherous hills, culminating in the notorious Heartbreak Hill some 20 miles into the course.

Before the race, my Westin Run Concierge Chris Heuisler reminded our Boston crew that he was mentoring to go sloooowwwwww for the first 16, despite the urge to speed up on the slight downhill grade. This advice saved my race. I got to the hills with plenty of energy, allowing me to crush the final 10k at a pace I never thought I'd be able to manage.

In terms of nutrition, we've all heard of carbo-loading and, yes, eating a ton of complex carbs in the two or three days leading up to your race is an excellent idea. The hard part is race day, when an early wakeup and nerves can make it difficult to get enough fuel in the tank.

Once you start running, you'll need to keep track of how much you've eaten and how often you're trying to eat more. Roughly every 4-6 miles or every 45 minutes will work for most people, but test it out on your long runs and decide how much intake is necessary to keep you energized for the whole run. Also, don't forget to make sure you actually like how those gels and gummies and rice cakes taste before you get out on the road. Your stomach will likely not be happy after half a dozen gels, so make sure you're not going to have to stop for a mid-run bowel movement (though you might have to do that anyway).

boston marathon
Everything I got at bib pickup.
Will Porter

If you're traveling for the race, stay as close to the finish line as you can

After running a marathon, you're going to want to stop moving for a while, and having the shortest distance to your bed will pay dividends. My room at the Westin Copley Place, Boston was a five-minute walk from the finish line, and the WestinWORKOUT Gear Lending running program furnished the room with Hyperice and Bala recovery gear, which you'll find available to rent and have delivered straight to your room. This plus weekly concierge-led runs and more are available at its Boston location, along with all of the Abbott World Major locations: London, Tokyo, Berlin, New York and Chicago.

I've never traveled for a race before this and, from now on, I will start my search for lodging by measuring its proximity to the finish. I didn't have to fuss with gear check, I had easy access to fresh clothes, a shower and a few recovery beers at the hotel bar.

At the end of the day, you can do a marathon without following a strict program, you don't need to completely change your diet, you don't need to join a running group that feels like a new-wave religious sect. You don't even need to follow my advice!

You just need to stay strong, even when you're tired of running for two hours on a Wednesday night after work. Stay vigilant when you're gagging your way through your sixth gel on a Sunday long run. When you're done, you'll be able to say that you've accomplished something only a fraction of humans have ever done.

boston marathon
Will Porter
boston marathon
Will Porter

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