On March 2, 2014, I ran my first marathon as a long training run. What this meant was that I was treating the race as a conservative effort in order to gain experience in the long distance prior to running a later goal marathon.
I’m an older beginner runner who started running in February 2013 at age 43. I had been doing no exercise up until that previous fall, when I began to walk on the treadmill daily. Although I was not overweight, I was severely out of shape. But I had a goal of running the Philly Rock n Roll half marathon, so I finally got the courage to begin run/walking, using a couch to 5k app to start. I also began working with a personal trainer once a week to build my overall strength and balance. Injuries are no joke at any age, nevermind at mine.
My running began improving beyond my hopes, and I added yoga 2-3 times a week to my schedule. I won some local race age group awards. My times are not super special, but given where I started, I was pretty excited.
I ran my first half marathon in June 2013 as a Jeff Galloway run/walk effort. With just shy of 4 months of running under my belt, I wanted to do a test run of the distance. I finished in 2:06 when my goal had been 2:15. I count that trial run a success. I ran my Philly half with a foot injury, but I did (barely) beat my previous PR. In November 2013, less than 8 months after I ran my first continuous mile, I ran a Disney half marathon in 1:57.
So when I decided I wanted to try a marathon race in the hopes to eventually qualify for the Boston Marathon, I decided to use an actual race as another test run. There are many benefits to this sort of race, not the least of which is having aid stops along the way and crowd support. The biggest challenge was not starting off too fast. But it is a great opportunity to practice fueling and see what works and what needs work.
I went into this race with (deliberately) no taper and a loose goal time of 4:30, and I completed it in 4:31. I was back to running again in two days.
I highly recommend running a test race before a more serious effort. Both my half and full marathons done this way were so much fun. I think my attitude and confidence were helped by these low-pressure exercises. And while both were difficult, the experience underscored just how much I love running.