I hated running as a child. In fact, I would find any excuse to get out of the mile testing in gym class. As an adult, I started running after the birth of my first child and was hooked from day one. Since then, I have ran countless 5k's, 10k's and half marathons. Until this year, I had never braved a full marathon. I figured it was time to suck it up and take the plunge. It was one of the most difficult, but rewarding experiences of my life. I would like to share what I have learned...
1. There are no excuses. I have seen a man with one leg, a blind woman, numerous obese people, and countless elderly folks cross that finish line. If they can do it, you can do it.
2. Don't judge the other runners by their looks, the above mentioned people and many others may leave you in the dust.
3. You are only competing against yourself. For most of us, the fun of racing isn't found in winning. Unless you are an 80 pound Kenyan (or any other natural runner with some serious speed and endurance,) then that will never happen anyway. That's not the point. The victory is in finishing. The victory is in improving, in driving yourself to be better and stronger than before.
4. Running with friends is always more fun. While flying solo allows you to set your own pace, friends will keep you company and motivate you when you need it most.
5. The running community is filled with the most amazing people. Runners and their supporters are some of the friendliest and most supportive people I've ever met. Runners that have finished will loop back to encourage those that haven't. Spectators will hold signs for hours to cheer on random strangers.
6. The above mentioned signs will probably be the most entertaining aspect of your run. From Ryan Gosling 'Hey Girl' posters to jokes about the ails of running, they provide encouragement and laughter along your journey. Some of my favorites have included: "Toenails are for sissies," "You smell that? The girl next to you pooped her pants. That's the smell of dedication," "Run easy. You're NOT going to win," "26.2, because 26.3 would be crazy," "I thought you said 2.62 miles," "Worst Disney parade ever. This choreography sucks," "Sweat is fat crying," and "I'm sure it seemed like a good idea 4 months ago," "I didn't get up this early to watch you walk," and "Almost there! Only 26 more miles to go." This list could go on forever.
7. I know, I know, I said don't judge the other runners, but that doesn't mean you can't people watch. The average Joe marathoner will likely finish between 4.5 and 7 hours. That is a long time to be running with nothing else to do. While the spattering of signs along the way are great, your fellow runners can also be a source of entertainment. From people in costume to men in just speedoes, it takes all types to run a race. There was a man running ahead of me that juggled the entire time.
8. Treat the volunteers kindly. Those aid stations are your lifeline. You will never understand how wonderful the aid station volunteers are until you run a race that doesn't have enough of them. These people are angels. Treat them as such. A simple "thank you" goes a long way.
9. Runners are disgusting slobs. I mean this in the kindest way possible. Between the port-a-potties, piles of discarded clothing, and scattered debris of poorly aimed trash, runners make a huge mess. Some of this is beyond their control, but a lot of it is not. It's sad to see how many paper cups line the streets (right next to the trash cans) along a course. It takes an extra fraction of a second to throw those cups away. It takes the volunteers a lot longer to clean them up off the ground. I'm just saying.
10. Though running is one of the few free sports, racing is a completely different proposition. It's expensive, but it's worth every penny.
11. No matter what the pre-race instructions say, you will probably want to bring your own music. A lot of races provide on course entertainment from high school bands to deejays, but it's usually only about once every couple of miles. It can get awfully quiet out there.
12. Less is more. I see people decked out in all the running gear imaginable and then I see their gear stashed on the side of the road a few miles in. If the race is a good one, then you don't need the belt with water bottles and a million packs of Gu. Pack light, your body will thank you for it later. Heck, there was a barefooted man in a loin cloth running my marathon.
13. Wear something comfortable and plan for chafing. Chafing sucks. Guys need to protect their nipples and who knows where else. Girls need to invest in some body glide for any parts that rub together. For me that tends to be the cheeks of my bum. Gross over share, I know, but I wish someone had warned me.
14. Listen to your body. Pain is only temporary, until it becomes an injury. I think everyone hurts toward the end of a race, but know your own limits. Allow yourself enough recovery time.
15. Do your best and have fun. It's all about the experience and it is what you make of it.