Photo: Adrienne “Dren” Asselmeier at the finish of this year’s Sleeping Bear Marathon in Empire, Mich.
With fall race season in full swing, many of us are logging lots of training miles, celebrating PRs or the experience of a run in a new city, and trying out new-to-us race distances. Grand Rapids runner Adrienne “Dren” Asselmeier took on her first marathon earlier this month and shares here some hard-won wisdom having reached her goal of running 26.2 miles. (Way to go, Dren!)
Welp, I did it. I ran a marathon. 26.2. I’m pretty sure now that I’ve done it once, I know all there is to know about running marathons. I might as well quit my job and become a running coach, right? Not quite, but the experience still taught me a lot about how to make my next marathon better. With those thoughts fresh on my mind after running the Sleeping Bear Marathon, I’d love to share my top ten tips from a first-time marathoner!
1. Check your clothes, especially socks! I was wearing the same pants, sports bra, shoes, and tech shirt that I wore all through my last couple months of training. I did have to buy a rain jacket at the last minute during my taper because I found out it was going to rain during the race (yeah—it poured), but all of that was fine. The problem arose when I didn’t think to check my shoes or socks before putting them on, and I ended up with a tiny piece of wood jabbing its way into my foot. I finally took off my shoe and sock as I used an aid station and got it out, but by then, the area was really irritated and ended up becoming my best blister. I definitely could have done without that extra bit of pain!
2. Prepare for the worst weather. Hell, prepare for locusts. Think about investing in a good rain jacket ahead of time, and have layers that could be thermal or much cooler than average. Since most races tend to fall in the spring or autumn, being prepared for everything from freezing temps to abnormal heat is important. I know I have most weather scenarios covered from Florida-hot to Alaska-cold (this is Michigan after all), but I don’t make myself run in the rain. That’s why I did not have a rain jacket ahead of time, and found myself wishing I had one that I had practiced in during my training.
3. Don’t time it. Some people need personal goals and competition to enjoy running. I do not. I thrive on of the joy of experiences that are intense, enlightening, or challenging, without the added pressure of timing. For that reason, I didn’t time myself. The race volunteers called out splits at the half marathon turnaround, and at the marathon turnaround, but I didn’t have any idea how I was doing after that. I wanted it that way. Instead of being anxious about keeping up my pace—or being upset about slowing down as I hit a wall and dumped rain out of my shoes—I enjoyed the time on the road.
4. Enjoy the scenery. Look around! I didn’t load my phone with music and wouldn’t have had service anyway, so I didn’t bring it with me. Instead of a nice, distracting soundtrack, I tried to take in the scenery and the sounds of the run. Granted, some “Eye of the Tiger” may have helped when I thought my legs were going to fall off, but it was nice as a first time marathoner to really be a sponge and take in the beauty and craziness of it all.
5. Get a designated driver. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had a friend to drive our car. I figured I’d be fine because I was fine after running twenty miles in training, but I was very wrong. I had to use my arms to lift my feet into the vehicle, and there’s no way it would have been comfortable (or even safe) to drive that afternoon. For a first-timer, plan on having someone else drive.
6. Take a few days to recover. I had vacation time to use up so I took two days off after the marathon. I normally bike commute around my city and to work, but I took four days off from that. I know I could have gone into work on Monday because I would have just sat at my desk like a typical office-job day, but it was great to be at home in my sweatpants instead. If your work involves a lot of movement, stairs, or any kind of muscle control, I suggest using a couple personal days after your first marathon. And remember, often it isn’t the day of, or even the day after that is the worst. The key is to remember that the D in DOMS stands for delayed. [DOMS=Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness]
7. Train for the course. It was nice that I had the experience of doing the Sleeping Bear half marathon last year, and nice that I knew the area, because I knew that I had to train for hills. A lot of people pick a flat course for the first marathon on purpose. That’s probably a good idea, but for those of us who pick a race that’s not flat, make sure you train for it. There’s nothing worse than pre-race anxiety about hills, or running toward a hill that you’re not prepared for–that can really make the experience a drag. I found the biggest hills in my city and ran them as part of my distance runs most Saturdays. That might have been the smartest thing I’ve ever done!
8. Cross-train and strength train. Varying training is another thing that I feel like I got right. I joined a few 30-day fitness challenges with my friends on Facebook and we worked through 30 days of increasing squats, planks, and core exercises. For over two months during training, I was doing these and body weight exercises to help with strength training. Between that, bike commuting, hiking, paddling, and swimming, I got my cross-training in and I’m glad I did!
9. Pick the perfect race. You only get one first marathon! Weigh all of the factors that matter to you. Do you want something scenic and nostalgic like I did, or would you rather have something comfortable and familiar? The sky’s the limit on this and there are more and more races happening all the time. Want the fanatic crowd support and fun of a Disney or Rock ‘N Roll race? Go for it! Would you prefer a nice flat race in your own city so that you can run the course for practice? Sign up!
10. Don’t freak out. The first rule in life is no matter what happens, don’t freak out. Very rarely does freaking out help. Injuries happen, plans change, friends can’t make it, weather goes bananas, life gets in the way—just don’t freak out. You’ve trained for it. You can only do your best. You’ll be happy that you did it no matter what, so just trust in your training, and know that you can do it!
As I passed the 20 mile mark and hit the wall, I bargained with my legs to keep moving. I had to walk, especially when I walked through aid stations. It was so difficult to get running again. It took everything in me to just keep going, so I promised my legs that I’d never run again if they just didn’t stop moving. Thankfully, I tricked my legs into running those last six miles (I wasn’t breaking any records) and adrenaline kicked in toward the end as I approached the finish line. I realized that I’d done it. It was the most incredible feeling. I highly encourage all runners to try it at least once. Even with the horror of taking off my socks when it was done, and the pain of trying to hobble up stairs, and the inability to do normal tasks with my body for several days after, it was still worth it. It’s so worth it.
Adrienne “Dren” Asselmeier is a runner, writer, and Director of Marketing and Communications for a women’s business center in Grand Rapids, MI. In 2011, she fought a fierce battle to quit smoking for good, and started doing a Couch-to-5K program. Two years later, she completed her first marathon and now enjoys helping others achieve their own running victories. She blogs for fun on her site Drenergy, and tweets mostly pictures of beer, running, and kitties at @Drenergize.