6 Ways to Not Ruin Your First Marathon

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There’s a lot you can’t control on marathon race day. Maybe a guy will bump into you mid-getaway from the cops. Maybe a moving train will get in your way. Someone could go into labor next to you.

Or if you’re Mark Coogan, and you’re 23 miles into the Boston Marathon and fading away from the lead pack, you could accidentally throw Gatorade on your face instead of water. “Everything was sticky and it was just a terrible last three miles,” he says on his worst race-day mishap.

The former 1996 Olympic marathoner and current New Balance running coach does not want the same to happen to you on your marathon debut. He’s offered this veteran advice to keep you from making a rookie mistake on race day. 

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Your Best Sleep Shouldn’t Come the Night Before

“You really won’t have a good night sleep the night before the race,” Coogan says. 

You’re afraid you’ll oversleep. Maybe you’ll get lost at the starting line. Did you remember to pack your running shoes?

Too many anxious thoughts will keep you up. Plus, you’re probably going to have to pee every few hours from extra hydration.

Don’t worry, Coogan says. Everyone sleeps poorly the night before. You’re best sleep should come two to three nights out, when your jitters are a little less extreme. 

Even if it’s not quality rest, Coogan recommends trying for at least eight hours before you hit the starting line. 

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Eat Something, But Eat Simple

Keep it simple. Keep it light. Don’t stuff yourself.

According to Coogan, the food should be easy to digest. He usually recommends a banana and a bagel with peanut butter that you should eat two to three hours before start time. 

As for hydration, “you should always be nursing a water bottle or sports drink,” he says. Don’t go too crazy, but sip more liquid than you normally do so you won’s get dehydrated during the race.

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A Marathon is Long, Warm Up Accordingly

Don’t waste too much energy warming up. Coogan recommends doing some light dynamic stretching an hour before the start. The key is to keep your body warm. If it’s fall and your marathon’s early in the morning, it’s probably going to be chilly. And you could be waiting in the start corral for more than an hour. You will want to make sure you keep your body temp up while you wait.

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This is Not the Time to be Adventorous

You’re going to see some sweet new shoes or a fancy, chia-infused protein latte at the expo. 

You could let some severe mid-sole blisters and a few course-side bathroom treks teach you not to try them before the race. Or you could just take Coogan’s word for it.

“Never try anything new the week of the marathon,” he says. “If you’ve never eaten Mexican don’t go to a Mexican restaurant the night before the race.”

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Fuel Right

The elites far, far ahead of you drink a few ounces of liquid about every three miles. For them, that’s about every 15 minutes – a strategy you should follow as well. 

It doesn’t have to be a ton of liquid, just a few sips, according to Coogan. But make sure you replenish your fluids at every aid station. He also recommends taking a fuel gel, or something equivalent, approximately every hour.

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Be Able to Walk Up the Stairs a Little Sooner

It’s the last thing you will want to do, but Coogan recommends running a few slow miles the day after the race to “flush out a lot of the waste products.”

That is, of course, after you celebrate your feat with a few beers, he says. “It’s such a huge accomplishment that you need to reward yourself somehow.”

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