I did the Shamrock Marathon last March. It was hard, but I’m so glad I did it!
Here are some of the things I learned:
Find a group or training team and get a training plan, or use various resources to create a training plan to include mileage increases and recovery weeks, cross training, and rest. I developed my own plan and found some local running groups to do some of my runs with. There was one group in particular that always did a certain course (about 8 miles) so I would plan my routes to include that loop plus whatever I needed to add on to get my mileage. I was lucky enough to meet two other runners training for spring races who were able to keep me company on some of the longer, more brutal runs.
Learn to dress for the weather. I wore lots of layers and figured out fairly quickly which ones I could tolerate either carrying with me as I shed and what I couldn’t. One sneaky little trick I came up with was to buy a pack of knee high men’s tube socks, cut the toes off, and roll them up my arms like sleeves (normally I wouldn’t run in cotton but I was cold and when my nose got runny I could wipe it on my sock/sleeve, and as I warmed up I could just toss them in the trash). I also invested in a nice, lightweight, insulated, moisture wicking jacket. My other favorite item was a headband that covered my ears, but also had a hole for my ponytail.
Learn to run in the dark. I bought a reflective vest, two reflective ankle bands, a headlamp, and a whistle. The whistle was purchased with the intent of using it in the event I were mugged or attacked, but it came in handy when idiot drivers nearly ran me over in the crosswalk. It also came in handy one particularly early morning when I approached a small group of raccoons. The last thing I wanted to do was startle them by running right by, so I tooted my whistle a bit before I got to them and scared them off. Also, I ditched the iPod. It was terrifying to think I could be jammin to music in my head and not hear or notice a car or person approaching me from behind. If you absolutely require music, try using just one ear so you can remain aware of your surroundings.
RACE DAY! The number one, biggest, most important lesson I learned was on race day. I learned that alllll of those long hours, dark runs, and cold miles had prepared me to run for a long time, in the dark, in the cold. It happened to be sunny and 70 on race day. I got hot, my feet blistered (hint: wear thinner socks on race day than you wear in January… just sayin’), I got a sunburn, I threw up… a lot. The heat kicked my ass in a way that my 22 mile training run didn’t even come close to. Be prepared, wear sunblock or a hat with a visor, shed layers, hydrate, experiment during training with various nutrition (Gu, gels, blocks, etc…) to find something that won’t upset your tummy if it’s warmer than anticipated.
Even though I had some obstacles on race day (OH MY GOD THE HEAT!) I still finished, upright and alive, and I would like to try for another marathon in the future. You can do it! Good luck!