Five Hurdles to Overcome on Your First Marathon

By Virgil Maia - 10 September 2019Views : 1353

If you're currently training for your first marathon, you're probably following a training plan, and have some sort of strategy for how you'll run on race day.

But no matter how much you prepare, running 42,2km is a long way - and there's a good chance that you'll hit some rough patches during the race.

Here are five hurdles (not literally - save that for the track events!) that you may encounter during your first marathon, and what to do about them:

1) Going out too fast

With all the nerves you're likely to have lining up on the start line, you can easily make the mistake of going out much faster than your ideal race pace - which means you risk losing steam later. Rather, start slowly and steadily so that you conserve energy for the second half when you can speed up (or maintain your pace). Learning how to do this comes with experience, so for now, err on the side of caution: go out even slower than you would normally, sticking to your normal "weekend run" pace where you can still have a conversation and don't feel stretched.

2) Trying something new on race day

You may have heard the advice many times not to try anything new on race day, but it's amazing how easy it is to do - whether it's trying a new brand of energy drink, wearing a new pair of socks or a new t-shirt. But whatever you do, every single thing you wear, eat and drink on your first marathon should have been tried and tested before the actual day. You never know how your body will react to something new - whether it's nausea, blisters or chafing - so stick to the same clothing, food and drinks that you know your body is already comfortable with.

3) Hitting the wall

There's no getting away from the fact that running a marathon is a long way. Many marathoners hit what's known as "the wall" in the later stages of the race (when exactly it happens varies between individuals, and some don't experience it at all). In general, the wall refers to the point where your body's glycogen stores have been depleted and you feel grumpy and sluggish. Some scientists believe that your propensity to experience this is due to genetics; others think it is due to diet and other factors. So, what should you do if it happens? Most importantly, fuel yourself with something that will give you a rapid boost of energy. This means foods with a high glycaemic index, such as gels or sweets. You could also slowly sip on a carbohydrate drink, as a way of easing fuel back into your system without upsetting your digestion.

4) Dealing with bad weather

Out of all the hurdles, this is the one factor that is completely out of your control. Whether you're dealing with a heatwave, strong winds or even freezing temperatures on the day, the weather can play a large part in how you enjoy your first marathon. The only thing you can do is to prepare as much as you can beforehand: check the weather forecast and make sure you have the correct clothing (layers are best for cold weather, for example). For hot weather, things like a cap and sunglasses can help - as well as making sure that you're adequately hydrated throughout.

5) Getting your nutrition or hydration wrong

Along with going out too fast, having a lot of adrenalin at the start of the race can also give you a boost of natural energy, so you may completely forget to fuel yourself in the first half of the race. But it can be disastrous to run on empty and only start fuelling halfway or later. That's why long training runs are very important, as they allow you to practice exactly when you'll eat and drink - both before, during and after the race. In general, your aim is to be sufficiently hydrated, but not overhydrated either. In terms of food, you'll want to keep your blood sugar levels relatively stable by eating properly beforehand, and taking in energy/carbohydrates at regular intervals during the run, rather than leaving this until it's too late.

Next up on the South African running calendar is the Cape Town Marathon on September 15th. Are you running this race as your first-ever marathon? If so, get inspired by learning more about Fedhealth's Dream Chasers, including a participant who is running the marathon on her 40th birthday!

Your first marathon is a huge milestone - it's an iconic distance that involves mental strength as much as physical stamina. Due to the nature of the distance, you're likely to encounter at least a few hurdles during the race. But with the right preparation, and knowing what to do if you do hit them, chances are you'll cross that finish line having conquered the challenge!