5 tips for conquering your first marathon

Oct 17, 2018
“What was I thinking?” ran through my mind several times after I committed to run the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, a first for me.
In the beginning I thought, “I have plenty of time to prepare; I got this!” Fast forward to now, days from race day, and my high hopes of committed training haven’t gone as precisely as planned.
One way or another, though, I will cross that finish line and will stay true to my commitment to both myself, and the cause – for me, it’s clean water for developing countries.
They say it is the journey and not the destination. Well, it has been an emotional journey, and a learning opportunity. Running is not as simple as it seems. Goal setting of any type calls for strategy, and I hope that by sharing tips I’ve learned along the way, you too can conquer your marathon goals.
One step at a time
Remember this with each stride: be patient and take one step at a time. What you wear on your feet for each of these steps is essential. Your shoes are your equipment, and it’s important they fit you properly so you don’t lose a toe nail or worse. Talk to the experts. Visit a variety of stores and try a bunch on. Shoe shopping is fun!
Once you find the right fit, track your miles for each pair and put them to rest accordingly. Every good shoe that works hard for you deserves retirement when it’s reached the end of its race.
Clean eating
Life is a marathon, so eating well is key, marathon training or not. Stay away from junk food, and eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Leafy greens fuel you to go the distance. Marathon training is not an excuse to increase calories but a chance to make better choices.

A woman prepares peanut butter toast in her kitchen.
Joan Kelley Walker prepares a power-packed snack to keep her fueled as she trains to run her first marathon. Photo: Luke McKee

Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel. Do certain foods slow you down? Do you notice some give you more energy? I find it helpful to carry power foods like nuts or a protein bar with me at all times. Everyone’s nutritional needs are different, so it’s important to listen to your body.
Hydration is key
Don’t wait until you’re thirsty before you drink water. It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. Avoid juices and sports drinks that are generally filled with sugars and additives. I fill my water bottle regularly with clean, fresh water and always have it on me while driving, working or in meetings.
Creating a well-balanced and hydrated system prepares you for success no matter what. When it comes to race day, make sure to take advantage of the water stations along the way. It will help you think more clearly and go the distance.  
Acknowledge how far you've come
I’ll admit that some days I just don’t feel like running, so it’s important to have a plan. I find it really motivating to track my progress and my training coach shared some great apps to help me do that. It’s inspiring to see how far I’ve run and how far I’ve come.
Listen to your body and go at your own pace. Doing too much too soon could increase your chance of injury. Stick to your plan, and before you know it, your mileage and your fitness will increase.

A man trains a woman on a treadmill.
Joan Kelley Walker with her training coach Leo Tang. She’s preparing to run her very first marathon and says finding her purpose made all the difference in her commitment to run. Photo: Luke McKee 

Running with friends has been by far the most powerful part of this experience. They help me stick with it. We encourage each other to reach our goals, and in the end, we go further together.
Pick a path of purpose
Running a marathon has been on my bucket list for a long time, but it is a huge commitment. Finding my purpose has made a huge difference. Not only do I want to take my fitness goals to the next level, but I feel good about the fact that the funds I raise will go towards clean and safe drinking water for people around the world.
One of the most powerful moments of my life occurred several years ago, at a well built by World Vision in Mozambique. A local woman turned to me and said, “Thank you for the well. Now I know my children won’t die of water borne disease.” These words are etched onto my heart.
This is why I run and why I will take step after step until I cross that finish line. Find your why. Once you know that, the how will come.

By Joan Kelley Walker