Tips for Running Your First Marathon

April 19, 2012 

Fun runs, 5K’s, half marathons and full marathons are popping up in the horizon, giving racers the thrill of anticipation as they hit the pavement.

“I enjoy the marathon because it is such a test of strength and endurance and tests not only your physical strength, but your mental strength as well,” said Dr. Dan Sutton, family physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca who ran both track and cross country in high school and college and has been in three marathons, including the 2008 US Olympic trials, and countless other races.  

Dr. Richard Canlas, sports medicine physician with ThedaCare Orthopedic Care in New London, has been running since junior high school and ran in four marathons and a variety of 5K and 10K races.

I just like the runner’s high that you get,” he said, adding that races “are always fun. You meet a lot of people. You always try to do your personal best.”

If you’ve never participated in a race, consider the following tips from these local healthcare providers.


“The key concept for any race distance is to slowly build your fitness level and not try to increase training too quickly,” said Dr. Sutton. “You should not increase your weekly mileage by much more than 10 percent each week, or you risk injury.”

Stretching before and after running is also critical. “Take a few minutes before the run or workout to get the muscles warmed up and then do some gentle stretching,” said Dr. Sutton. “After the run, be sure to either walk or jog slowly for a few minutes to gradually bring your heart rate and muscles back towards more of a resting level and do some gentle stretching afterwards. I would pay particular attention to the calf muscles, hamstrings, and quads.”

Consider looking on-line for training regimens, said Dr. Canlas. “They have training regimens that will take you from a couch potato to 5K or marathon,” he said.

And three weeks prior to the event, taper your training. “Often people think you need to run right before the race but you don’t,” Dr. Canlas said. “Tapering will keep you well rested and sharp.”

Find motivation and encouragement with a friend or a running group, added Dr. Sutton. “Training for a marathon is hard and it is a lot more fun to have a friend with whom you can train,” he said. “Plus, it is a lot harder to skip out on that workout if you know someone will be waiting for you.”


A good pair of shoes is essential in training and race day, said Dr. Sutton. “Go to a good running shoe store and get assistance from one of the salespeople to help find the proper shoe for you,” he said, noting that shoes should be replaced about every 500 miles. 

If you are running in a different pair of shoes in race day, practice in them at least once before the event, he said.

Be mindful of the weather forecast on race day and bring some layers, said Dr. Canlas, noting the early morning start for most races. “I think you should expect the best but prepare for the worst,” he said.

Consider racing attire like a pair of shorts and a top and “wearing this outfit for at least one long run to make sure that it is comfortable and won’t cause chafing,” said Dr. Sutton who also recommends a product called BodyGlide that “works great on the armpits and thighs for preventing chafe.”

Also always “wear sunscreen and a good hat when training and racing as skin cancer is quite common in runners,” added Dr. Sutton.


Avoid heavy food and alcohol prior to the race. Eat smart the night before and light the morning of, said Dr. Canlas. “You need the fuel to get you through the race,” he said.

Dr. Sutton agreed. “If the distance is less than a half-marathon, it is not critical to carbo-load,” he said. “Stick with foods that you know and eat only to the point that you are comfortably full. The morning of the race, for most people the optimal timing of something to eat is three to four hours before race time. This should be something relatively simple to digest, and again something that you have eaten before.”

Hydration should begin several days before the race, said Dr. Sutton. “The morning of the race you should be continuously sipping on fluids up until the time of your race,” he said. “If the race is longer than 10k, you might consider carrying fluids with you, but if you do so this would be something you would want to practice with during your workouts.”

Dr. Canlas said hydration during the race is important. “Make sure that you stop and drink at all water breaks,” he said, adding that for longer races, water and energy drinks aren’t enough so consider taking along and eating energy bars during the race.

Race Day

Dr. Canlas provides a variety of tips, from anticipating delays in traffic to going to the bathroom before the event. “There is a lot of hoopla” surrounding race day, he said, and the many emotions from excitement to anxiousness “depending on if this is your first time.”

When the gun goes off, try not to get caught up in the excitement and bolt out of the starting line, said Dr. Canlas. “I typically start slow,” he said. “You don’t want to get caught up” and peter out later.

Above all, he says, have fun. “You meet a lot of people,” said Dr. Canlas, noting the first timers and the professionals. “You get a lot of tips and goodies throughout the day.”

After the race, cool down, stretch, hydrate and refuel with the food provided, said Dr. Sutton. “Though it is tempting, try not to just finish the race and get in your car and drive home,” he said. “Cool down, hydrate, and try to meet a few new friends.”