My First Full Marathon – 4 Tips to Lessen the Pain
In December 2022, after 20+ years of competitive running, I finally finished my first full marathon! Not gonna lie, it was VERY painful – I didn’t finish in the time I expected due to acute knee pain that hit me hard about halfway through. This was especially disappointing given that Robert’s expert-level coaching and training plan had thoroughly prepared me for the distance. I truly felt stronger than ever, both physically and mentally! Sadly, my stubborn old knee pain flared up at precisely the wrong time. Not only did this bring me physical discomfort, but I really beat myself up mentally because I felt like I could’ve done so much better. This race has taught me 4 very specific, helpful things that I want to pass along to other athletes who may be training for longer races to help lessen the pain, both physically and mentally.
1) Fall in Love with a Foam Roller on Day 1 of Training.
If I could go back and train all over again, I would religiously roll my quads, hamstrings, and calves at least twice a day, every day. When I began rehabbing my knee post-race, my physical therapist recommended using a foam roller (I had never used one before). I started rolling out my quads before my runs, and to my complete surprise, my knee pain has almost completely subsided just from that one change to my routine! I learned that, while training for longer races, our muscles and tendons tense up and start to put strain on our bones and joints. Rolling helps keep those muscles loose by releasing tension. In addition to icing and compression, rolling after workouts is key to injury prevention and recovery. (For more information, talk to Robert about foam roller recommendations and techniques specific to your personal needs!)
2) Don’t Race with New or Untested Accessories (Duh)!
This is a “duh” for me because every semi-experienced runner should know better. That being said, the day before the marathon, I decided that I needed a new race belt with an extra pocket so I could carry more Honey Stinger gels. (These are delicious – talk to Robert about where to find them if you haven’t already!) Well of course, the belt didn’t quite fit right – it moved around too much on my waist and kept falling down. Even though I had put on the belt, tightened it all the way, and jumped around in it the day before, it wasn’t fully evident that it didn’t fit until I started actually running in it. Had I trained with the new belt, I would’ve known that it wasn’t going to work. I ended up having to take off the belt and hold it (and my phone) in my hand during the entire marathon. This was not fun! Bottom line: no matter how much you’re convinced it’ll work, don’t try to race in new clothes/shoes/accessories!
3) Thoughtfully Plan Your Race Fuel.
Although I LOVE LOVE LOVE Honey Stinger gels, I didn’t really need the 8 of them I tried to carry (in the belt that didn’t work, see above). Turns out, the marathon I ran had an endless supply of energy gels and other random snacks throughout. If you are uncertain about what types of fuel will be offered for free on race day, check with the race director or look on the website before you weigh yourself down with “all the things.” Of course, Robert can help you make sure you’re planning your race fuel correctly and efficiently as well – he helps you calculate your caloric/sugar intake needs according to your body composition in the weeks before the race. Also, if you plan on using the free race fuel, it’s a good idea to try out the different types of gels/powders that will be available on race day to make sure they sit well with you digestively (I will spare you the horror stories I’ve heard)!
4) Lower your Expectations a Little and Be Proud of Yourself for Showing Up!
This was the MOST IMPORTANT LESSON for me. Indeed, most of the psychological pain I experienced during the marathon was due to my expectations not being met. It really is just like they say; when you lower your expectations, you limit your disappointment. Don’t get me wrong; it’s important that you set goals for yourself. Realistic goals are empowering and motivating! But you should be fully aware that your goals can be derailed at any moment. Unforeseen circumstances sideline even the most experienced athletes. Speaking from my own experience: if your sense of self-worth is often defined by your achievements, you are particularly vulnerable to disappointment if you do not live up to the expectations you set for yourself. Awareness of this is the first step to showing yourself kindness if or when you don’t meet your goals. Give yourself some grace and be proud that you undertook the journey in the first place!
Written by Dana Mays