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26 Important Lessons I Learned During My First Marathon

I can’t believe it’s been a month since I ran my first marathon, the Rock n Roll Savannah Marathon. Since then, I’ve had ample time to think about what worked and what didn’t work, the lessons I’ve learned and what I’ll do differently for my next one.

Here’s some of the things I learned throughout training and for a race day breakfast.

These are in no particular order. 

If you ever plan on running a marathon, I hope this list can be helpful for you! And if you think you have no time now, wait until you train for a marathon with a toddler

Girl with hands on hips

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1. Follow a Training Plan

You need some sort of structure and routine, whether it be running 3 days a week and one long run, or running 5 days a week. Ed made a rough one for me, and then I sort of combined it with some others that I found online.

I ran 4-5 days a week with one day of cross training. I chronicled a week of marathon training and subsequent weeks, too!

I also talk about my nutrition plan here

2. Incorporate Speedwork

While speedwork can help improve your speed, it also has other benefits. It can help with endurance, training your body and mind to fight through the pain and those feelings of, “I can’t hold this any longer.”

I love this pyramid workout when outside. When inside, I preferred treadmill workouts because they were easy to track!

Running track for speedwork

3. Prioritize Sleep

Sometimes, sleeping in is way more important than getting the miles in. I had a few long runs planned but I was just too tired to wake up when I had to. So, I slept in later and therefore had to cut my run down.

Sleep is important for recovery and helping your mind and body be at its best! Adequate sleep is also important for preventing overtraining and exercise obsession. 

4. Eat More Complex Carbs

Sweet taters, squash, brown rice, whole grains, veggies.

They release slower in your bloodstream, helping with more sustained energy, plus they provide fiber and ample antioxidants.

Closeup of acorn squash stuffed with pomegranate seeds, chicken sausage and kale

5. Practice Your Race Day Plans

Don’t just practice once and think you are set. Practice during each long run before to nail your race day nutrition

Tweak a little something each time, whether it be a gel flavor, the amount of calories or water you take in, or your pre run meal or snack.

More about hydration and undereating effects for running here!

Date stuffed with peanut butter

6. Recovery, Recovery, Recovery 

Stretching, foam rolling, ice baths, epsom salt baths, massages. And sleep.

I have a whole post about 11 things to include in your marathon recovery plan. 

Foam rolling and running stick

7. Your Training Cycle Won’t be Perfect

Expect things to fall out of balance and mess up. The weather, an unexpected late night out, a stomach virus, an injury (hopefully not!).

There will be days where you JUST DON’T FEEL LIKE RUNNING.

And while you can’t not run every single time you have this feeling, it’s smart to listen to your body.

What you start with on paper for your training cycle will likely not be what you end with.

Flexible marathon training is my motto!

8. You’ll want to talk about running more. Or even if you don’t want to, you will.

At least I did. I wanted to seek out others who were going through what I was going through. Or, who had run a marathon.

My Nail Your Nutrition Course was great for this!

I wanted to hear what worked for them, what didn’t. How they trained. I wanted to talk to Ed about my training plan, and how we had to tweak it.

The Nail Your Nutrition Course


13 modules of sports nutrition information to help you PR, feel nutritionally adequate, confident and strong for your next 13.1 or 26.2. Learn how to fuel your endurance activity, recover quickly and get all the right nutrients to keep you fit and healthy to meet your performance goals.

What did we talk about? Shoes, sweat, bodily fluids, food, pace, chafing, etc.

Heck, even my clients would ask me about training. Some were in some sort of training of their own, and others were just curious about the process.

cartoon of girls running with text

I wrote alot about marathon training. 

9. Do some group runs or races.

If you train alone, like I did for the majority of my training cycle, this is so so important. You need some scenarios to simulate race day. You need to get up and go through the motions like you will the morning of your marathon.

Have all the feels, the butterflies, the nerves, and practice your pre run ritual.

If you prefer not to run races before hand, try to join in some group runs. Learn what it feels like to be running with others.

Nike Run Club Sign, "Come Run With Us"

10. Prioritize Your Commitments

You have to balance your life. I found it nearly impossible to keep up with all my social obligations. Honestly, after a long run on Saturday morning, you just want to chill for the rest of the day.

Eat and lay on the couch.

Don’t overbook yourself and don’t underestimate the power of rest. Even if you’re not sleeping or napping, you’re resting and rejuvenating your muscles.

11. Stop worrying about how your appetite changes. Just accept that it will.

Some people gain weight during marathon training due to the increased appetite and need for fuel, while others lose weight. I pretty much stayed the same. Just listen to your body and follow your hunger

You need to be eating sometimes double the nutrients and calories as someone who isn’t training.

Here are some easy meals for marathon training

While I’m not a fan of calorie tracking, this is one instance where I think it can be beneficial, at least for the short term. Every few weeks, or after a long run, I’d track my meals and snacks to ensure I was getting enough.

Sometimes you don’t feel like eating after a long run, but you and your muscles need the calories. It’s a difficult habit to keep up (tracking requires time) but for my runs that felt pretty crappy or my energy was really low, I could look and see what I ate and if it was enough.

Or, maybe it was the wrong foods.

Chocolate Chip Cookies with Kombucha on wooden table

12. Wear Good Shoes

Make sure you like your shoes because you’ll be spending a lot of time in them. Also, buy an extra pair or two because the shoes that you’re training in months before your marathon likely won’t be the same pair you’re racing in, unless you have a very short marathon training cycle.

Personally, I love the Mizuno Wave Inspires and the Wave Riders. I’ve also become a huge fan of Altra’s Torin and Escalante

More of my favorite running stuff here

Supplies for long run on deck board

13. Cross train and incorporate yoga.

I could have done a better job with my strength training. But, I did make a conscientious effort to improve my core, and I did see a difference with that.

Sometimes, it’s less about running and more about time on your feet and exercising. I did a lot of yoga and walking as my cross training.

Girl holding yoga mat

14. You don’t have to give up alcohol.

I still enjoyed my favorite wines and beers, but not to the same extent. Where two or maybe three drinks used to be normal for me, I would stick to 1 or 1.5.

Mostly wine for the antioxidants 🙂 I’m not an extremist, so I say, enjoy it if you want to.

15. Put together a playlist before the Marathon

Mine included many of my favorite songs and those that I knew could pump me up when I needed it.

I also had a podcast or two downloaded for the beginning, where I didn’t want to come out of the gate too quickly and just wanted to relax.

16. You’ll have awesome days. And then you’ll have bad days too. That’s Normal. 

Sometimes, these days could be back to back and your runs could feel so opposite that it’s hard to imagine how you felt the day prior. Totally normal.

Girl after running 22 miles

There were many times where I felt like I wasn’t as prepared as I “should have” been. I couldn’t imagine running x amount more miles than I had on that day.

17. Changes don’t happen overnight

This is obviously not a sprint. It takes time for your body to change and adapt. Be patient throughout the process.

Bike in a workout center

18. Be consistent.

You want to try to do your speed work (if you are incorporating any) on the same day, your long runs on the same day (ideally the same day as the marathon) and your off days on the same days.

This will help your body adapt and change quicker.

19. The week before your race, focus on complex carbs, sleep and hydration.

Don’t worry about carb loading the night before. Use the two weeks leading up to the race as the time to fill your muscles with glycogen. Refine your marathon nutrition plan. 

And drink more water and electrolytes than you think you need that week.

There’s no telling how you’ll react to water during the race. Since our bodies don’t change overnight, giving your body plenty of time for this preparation is essential.

Smoothie with granola over toast topped with peaches

20. Remember All The Hours You Put In

Why did you sign up in the first place? Think about how many sacrifices you’ve made to get to that point, especially when you start to fade. 

The early nights to bed, the early mornings to rise, the extra attention to groceries and cooking, skimping out on the late bar nights, and how far you’ve already run in the race.

Road with "just run" text

21. Your Whole Body Will Hurt

Think about those extra pump up songs, or the mantras to repeat to yourself during these times. If you have an idea of when this will happen, plan for your spectators to be at that point in the race.

Find a buddy to run with for a bit, or just focus on staying behind the person you’re behind currently.

Look ahead, not behind. 

Have a good massage tool. 

22. Take in the sights

Yeah, I get it. You will be hurting. Hard. But, not many people can say they’ve run a marathon.

And rather than thinking about how bad you feel, think about how pretty the course is, how enthusiastic the fans are, how much you love the song you’re listening to.

Or, heck, just think of happy things or your best runs.

Girl running on the beach

23. Often times, the long runs are more about time on your feet rather than pace

I would get discouraged at my long run pace, as I would try to mimic my goal marathon pace. That often didn’t happen for me.

But, I realized that just getting my body used to running for 3 1/2 hours was the important lesson.

Garmin watch after 16 mile run

24. Remember that nerves are a good thing.

They serve as a reminder that we have feelings and we are anticipating something great to happen. Running a marathon isn’t an easy achievement.

It’s normal to be nervous. Enjoy the nerves – you’re alive.

25. Be appreciative of the support you’ve gotten along the way. You’ll have a chance to pay it forward.

There are so many people and gestures that made a difference for me in my training – my husband’s endless support and having a water and snack prepped for me after a long run, those who wished me luck leading up to the race, my coworkers who put together a goody bag and card for me before the race… take time to thank these people.

A marathon isn’t something we can do alone. My readers who read my posts and commented with well wishes, thank you.

Thank you to all the volunteers throughout the race and the spectators who cheered me on.

The people around you will play a part in your whole experience.

Husband Kissing Wife after finishing marathon in green park area

26. Reward yourself after the race!

Pick something you want and reward yourself. For me, it was this little nugget!

picture of golden doodle puppy on the grass

PIN it for later

Girl running on trails with text overlay

If you’ve run a half or full marathon, or accomplished something you’re proud of, what did you learn throughout the process?

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  1. Love these tips and congrats on your finish!! Check out Kukimbe Race Connect for your next race. It’s the first mobile app to find races across the country and it’s totally free. Thanks for your great blog, loved reading it!

  2. You really covered it all here! I learned many of these lessons as I trained and completed my first in Philly! I think that getting enough sleep is SO important, and I love the tip to get ready for carbs earlier than race week…that’s probably what I should have done!

  3. This is a wonderful list that I suspect will help many, many others with their first marathon (or second or third, etc).. #21: I think some people expect they won’t hurt or struggle if they’ve trained properly. I say it’s going to happen anyway as you will continue to push yourself even harder if you are feeling strong. #26: I think about my reward during those last difficult miles, I love what you rewarded yourself with! Thanks for linking, Sarah!

    1. I think the hurt is a positive sign in a way – our bodies are working to their max and we are feeling pain, pride, goals, accomplishment, excitement, happiness, nerves, frustration all in one!

  4. I enjoyed your post and loved hearing about your training. Whenever I accomplish something, it makes me believe that I can do more in other areas of my life as well. 🙂