Top 10 Tips For Your First Marathon

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Running your first Marathon is always a daunting prospect, even for the most seasoned of runners. With many Spring Marathon runners beginning their training in the coming weeks, here are ten tips for first timers.

1. 22+ Club

Run at least one 22+ mile run in training. The pace can be easy – It is not about the speed as these runs are crucial for many other reasons.

Mentally, you will know you have covered the majority of the distance prior to the start, and physically, it will get your body used to running for such a long period of time as your easy long runs will often last longer than your Marathon. Whilst the pace is obviously harder on the day, having that time on your feet in training will definitely help.

2. Manage your Taper

The taper is the time when you gradually reduce your mileage by around 25% each week in the three weeks prior to the Marathon.

Let your body recover, build up your energy reserves for the race, and just generally ensure you are fresh and injury-free on the start line. Choose time-based tempo sessions over short distance sprints or hill sessions to avoid picking up an injury.

You will feel anxious as you have more time on your hands and you’ll think that by not running as much, you are going to lose the fitness you have trained so hard for.

You won ‘t, so just relax, the negative thoughts and stress will use up more energy than you think.

3. When To Travel

This is obviously not always a decision that is yours to make, as work/family/financial reasons may mean you have to fly at different times.

If running a Marathon abroad, try and arrive two days before, especially if flying long-haul where you will likely encounter a time difference. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with the city and the public transport.

If in the UK, travel the day before as it allows you to avoid the early alarm and mad rush to park and register. By doing all this the day before, you can get a good night’s sleep and spend the morning of the race focussing on your race plan and pre-race prep.

4. Choose Hotel Carefully

Key essentials for your hotel are a bath tub (for post-race ice bath), a double bed and close proximity to the start. Kitchen facilities are also a bonus if you need to prepare your chosen pre-race food, such as porridge.

Upon booking, most hotels allow you to make special requests. The best thing to do is to find out the postcode or street name of the race start, then just use a hotel search engine and search by proximity to that location.

You can then use the short journey as your warm-up by jogging to the start. If you are too far away you may have problems as a lot of roads will be closed, and the last thing you want is a frantic last-minute taxi dash to the start.

5. Get to the start early

Most marathons will operate starting pens based on your predicted time, but with most likely thousands of people running, unless you have qualified or have an elite start place your pen is going to be crammed full of runners.

You have to get there early. You have trained for months for this race, the last thing you want is to pick up and injury, get stressed out or lose minutes of time because you are stuck behind slower runners that you have to weave through over the first two miles.

Aim to arrive 45 minutes before the start and take old clothes that you can wear if it’s cold and then throw away just before the start.

6. Know your splits…

This is crucial, you should know what your target splits are. You don ‘t have to have every mile mapped out as the course is likely to undulate meaning some miles will inevitably be slower than others, however you should look to have 5-8 targets, as well as your overall target average pace.

Write these on a bit of paper, or write them on your arm and ensure you know whether the race markers will be in KMs or Miles.

This is important because if you just have a halfway and finish target, you could get to halfway and realise you are several minutes ahead or down and at that point it is will probably be too late. It is especially important early on to ensure you get into your rhythm and can settle into the pace.

7. …and stick to them!

Right, you have worked all these out and written them down – now stick to them!

This is easier said than done as the adrenaline, the nerves, the crowds, the mass of other runners and the anticipation from months of training and three weeks of easy Tapering will put you out of your comfort zone early on.

Unlike a 5k or a 10k race, a Marathon is effectively a time trial – it is you versus the distance and the clock. If you can get into that frame of mind and ignore everyone else, you should be on for a good run. 

8. You can ‘t bank time

Again unlike short races where there are race tactics involved, you really can ‘t bank time in a Marathon. If you go out hard, you are almost certainly going to pay for it at some point later. The nature of the Marathon means you will deplete all of your energy reserves; it is just a case of when.

If you are hoping to be a sub 3:00 marathon runner, you will not suddenly become a 2:30 runner on the start line! The longer you run at faster than your target pace, the longer you ‘ll be running on empty later.

9. Mile 20 is halfway – Prepare for hell!

Adrenaline will get you through miles 1-5, your training and energy gels will get you from 5-18, but from there it is all how much you want it. It is generally accepted that after 2 hours, your energy levels will be near empty and your body will be dipping into its fat reserves. You are now running on fumes, and once you’re out, you are out.

It has been known in many times for runners to have to stop through sheer exhaustion. But probably the biggest challenge is mental. As the field strings out it gets very lonely and you will find yourself looking at your watch more often.

Your legs will be on fire, your brain is frazzled and your legs can ‘t understand why they still have to move – everything will tell you to quit. Don’t! The feeling of relief, pride and satisfaction when you cross the line will be like nothing you have experienced before.

10. Enjoy it!

Having read everything above, I ‘m sure this sentiment sounds quite difficult! However, do try and enjoy the race. It is unlikely you will do too many in your lifetime, so you want to make sure you maximise the experience.

Try to take in some of the atmosphere during the race, there will most likely be big crowds if you are running a big city marathon, so it is probably the closest most of us will get to replicating what it must be like to play football at Wembley or Rugby at Twickenham.

Whatever the outcome, just completing the race is something to be proud of and over time you will be immensely proud of your achievement.