Expectations vs. Realities of Your First Marathon

Running your first marathon is a whirlwind. I went into my first marathon with all these expectations and they STRESSED. ME. OUT.  I was scared out of my mind in an oblivious and naive kind of way. Fast forward a year later, two days into my taper and I am starting to get nervous! This time knowing what to expect makes me EVEN MORE terrified! I am wet tiny dog shaking scared. On a scale of 1-petrified, I am like blonde girl in a horror film scared. But the terror is all part of the process! It’s totally normal to freak the (you-know-what) out. In lieu of my taper-crisis, I thought today I would share some expectations and realities of running your first marathon.

Expectation: Your marathon pictures will all look very impressive.

Reality: You will see photos of yourself that will personify misery.

Expectation: You will die.

Reality: You probably won’t die, but there will be moments when you feel very close to death.

Expectation: It will be the greatest 26.2 miles of your life.

Reality: There will be great moments, there will be moments, and then there will be moments of extreme effort.

Expectation: You will be able to run a realistic goal time.

Reality: Your only goal will become finishing.   

Expectation: You will make a plan and stick to it.

Reality: You will forget everything you ever knew about running a marathon. (Don’t worry, once you calm down it all comes back.)

Expectation: It will be just like a half marathon, only longer.

Reality: The first 13 miles will feel like a half marathon. Then it will feel like a marathon.

Expectation: It will hurt.

Reality: It will hurt and then it will really, really hurt.

tried and hurt

Expectation: The race will happen all too quickly.

Reality: There will be moments when you think it just may never end.

Expectation: The crowds will help you along.

Reality: The crowds will become a lifeline.

Expectation: You won’t think you are ready.

Reality: You are more than ready.

Expectation: You’ll be able to celebrate once you cross the finish line.

Reality: Someone will probably have to help you get off the porter potty.

Expectation: Finishing will be one of the greatest moments of your life.

Reality: Finishing will actually be one of the greatest moments of your life.  

Expectation: You will want to do it again.

Reality: You will most definitely want to do it again, only faster.

Expectation: It will be life changing.

Reality: It will be life changing.

One thing I did before my marathon was read as many “my first marathon” stories as possible. I probably read 20-30 different personal stories and while they helped calm my nerves and wrap my head around some of the possible scenarios, the experience itself was incomparable. My calves cramped at miles 17 and 23. I had salt packets that I took to help but it didn’t feel like it did much to help. I cried at mile 13 when I saw how incredibly far away the finish line was. I stopped to walk more than I had wanted to. I spent 20-30 minutes stressing out about seeing my parents in the crowd. I lost track of mileage and went all out at mile 24 thinking it was mile 25.

If there is one piece of advice I can lend to anyone running a marathon its hold on tightly, let go lightly. Make your goal to finish but give yourself permission to make decisions in the moment.  You are going to experience things mentally and physically that you can prep all day for (and I recommend being ready for it) but how you act amidst the fatigue and exhaustion will vary. Stay in the moment and do whatever it takes to get to the finish line. Start really, really, painfully slow. Don’t let the adrenaline shoot you in the foot. Make a game plan, know your goal paces, and be ready to re-adjust throughout the entire race. You really don’t know what kind of race you are going to run until you start to run it.  

Remember your training and all the work you’ve done. You are ready. Remember that despite the fatigue and exhaustion, you actually can keep going. There will be speed bumps you just have to welcome them with open arms. A marathon is difficult. It’s in a completely different ballpark than a half marathon. It seems illogical that so much agony, pain, joy, and pride can all coexist so cohesively. A marathon is a huge giant dichotomy.  From training to race day, each mile you log builds up to one of the greatest experiences of your life. All the fear and all the doubt are all a part of the journey. Trust that you are ready.  Stay in the race, smile, and lean into all the pain because there will be plenty of it. 19 days you guys! It’s almost here!!!

Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.


Kelly Roberts

It all started when a silly joke made headlines back in 2014 when I took selfies with hot guys “hottie hunting” my way through the New York City Half Marathon. But ironically enough, I haven't always been a runner. As the self-proclaimed former President of the "I f*cking hate running club", I spent most of my life finding ways to avoid physical activity. Growing up, I missed over 70 days of PE my senior year. Working out was something I thought I had to suffer through in order to lose weight. 

Then, in 2009, my younger brother passed away unexpectedly and struggling to manage my grief, I gained more than 75 pounds. With the weight gain came a new fight to regain my sense of self and learn to love the body I saw when I looked in the mirror. Then one Thanksgiving morning, drowning in grief and self doubt, I decided to go for a run. I didn't make it half way down my street before I had to stop to walk but for some reason, struggling forward made more sense than getting back into bed. It turns out that running is a lot like grief, neither ever really get easier, you just get stronger. 

Over time, I realized that while some people are in fact born runners, others are made. I created this blog Run, Selfie, Repeat and my new podcast by the same name with the hopes to inspire others to say yes to themselves while making them laugh hysterically because laughing, in my opinion, is the solution to everything. 

Named by Women's Running as one of twenty women who are changing the sport of running and by Competitor Magazine as one of 12 Influential and inspiring runners under 30, my mission is to inspire others to get embrace a healthy lifestyle and pursue the strongest version of themselves possible.