26.2 Things I Learned From Running my First Marathon Abroad

Here's what it was like to run my first marathon abroad.

Back in June, on a hot and humid day in Rio de Janeiro, I finished my first marathon. I wish I could tell you I’d trained for months consistently and that I felt ready, but life got in the way and I actually felt extremely underprepared. However, with all of my flights booked and the race paid for, I decided to run it anyway.

It wasn’t glamorous, and it definitely wasn’t fast, but given my half-assed training schedule and my red-eye flight to Brazil, I felt so accomplished and proud when I crossed the finish line. It ended up being a really challenging and fantastic experience. Here are a few things I learned on the messy, sweaty, toiling 26.2 miles of the race.

26.2 Things I Learned from My First Destination Marathon

1. You’re going to feel like you’re on top of the world at mile 1. Don’t forget take things slowly and don’t forget to pace yourself.

2. Wear things that make you feel comfortable, but also powerful. I wore my trusty purple racing tutu and it helped me fly when I needed it the most.

3. Don’t count miles. There are too many and it will get discouraging really quickly.

4. …just kidding. You know you’re going to count miles anyway.

5. Read people’s signs. Seriously. Some of those things are hilarious.

6. If you’re going to listen to music, plan your playlist to span 4+ hours. That way, you won’t have to repeat songs (unless you want to).

7. Make sure you’re well-stocked with energy gels, gummies, etc. You’ll likely need more than you think you do.

8. You’re hopefully still feeling fresh by mile 8, but be sure to put on your hat or sun protection before the sun starts coming up directly overhead.

9. Set small goals to make the race more manageable. I’m going to make it to that lifeguard post before I eat other gel! I’m going to tie my shoes then run 2 more miles straight!

10. If you’re starting to feel tired here (I got a mini-wall at this point), remember all of the training and hard work you’ve done to push you into the second half.

11. If you are pacing yourself well, you should be able to talk to people briefly. Make a friend along the way.

12. You’ve almost reached the halfway point! But after that, you still have 1 more half-marathon to go, so pat yourself on the back and keep moving.

13. Your time here doesn’t accurately indicate your finish race time, so try not to think about it. In fact, if it’s your first marathon, you may want to focus on simply finishing the race, instead of going for a time.

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14. You’ll eventually reach a point where water feels better dumped on your head than anything else. Don’t forget to hydrate too!

15. When you start to get tired, walk through the water stops. These give you a little bit of rest to look forward to every couple of miles.

16. Your music is probably getting old by mile 16. Try taking out your headphones and listening to the world around you for a bit.

17. Also, don’t forget to take a look around every so often. The scenery and landscape can help momentarily distract you from any pain or exhaustion you are feeling.

18. There is NO SHAME in walking some of the race. You may need it in your last 6-8 miles more than ever. And if you need it, do it.

19. Here’s where people start approaching territory they’ve never run before. My longest pre-marathon run was 19 miles so after this point, I started to feel the strain.

20. There is no wrath like the wrath of hitting the mental wall at mile 20. No amount of sympathy or sugar will cure it.

21. And when that wrath comes, rely on the positivity and strength of those around you to push you through. Turn your anger into energy to finish off your last few miles.

22. You may also learn some new curse words along the way. Or, even better, you may make some up yourself.

23. People, especially other runners, are incredibly kind. When I was hurting or feeling down towards the end, people offered me their water, their energy gels, and their words of encouragement almost every step of the way.

24. You might want to stop at some point. Listen to your body. If you’re 6 miles out and feeling impatient, stick it out. If you’re feeling sharp pain, take a break. Your body knows best what you need.

25. Running this marathon would have been nearly impossible without the amazing cheer squad (my boyfriend and his family) and the kindness of fellow Brazilian runners.

26. Finish strong. Even if you’re hurting or frustrated or exhausted, this is the moment that you’ll remember forever. Don’t even look at the clock. Just pick up your feet and race through that finish line, enjoying the glory of finishing your very first marathon.

26.2. If you’re going to run a destination marathon, especially without preparing properly, do it in the most beautiful place in the world.

Rio de Janeiro
Photo Credit: Sama093 (Flickr)

Featured image: Jimmy Baikovicius 

Kay is a full-time media professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare day of time to travel the world. In the last year alone, she's visited over 10 different countries and taken a dozen short trips in between. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

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