How To Survive Your First Marathon
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How To Survive Your First Marathon

How To Survive Your First Marathon

Running in a marathon for the first time is one of the greatest challenges that runners will face in their athletic lives.

Unfortunately, it’s surprisingly common for newbie marathoners to eagerly sign up for a race then turn up on the day woefully under-prepared.

They are usually unprepared because of disruptions in their training routine or because they didn’t train in the right way.

In some cases, they didn’t understand the marathon route or wore the wrong pair of shoes!

As a result, the race becomes an extraordinarily gruelling affair that involves a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and other bodily fluids (trust me, you don’t want to know).

This guide will share several essential tips to help you correctly prepare for your first marathon.

If you follow these tips, the marathon will still one of the toughest races in your life — but you’ll make it to the finish line with a smile on your face!

Start Training Well In Advance

The human body is remarkably capable of adapting to changing physical demands — but it does take time for that transformation to happen.

That means you need to give the body’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and cardiovascular system plenty of time to get ready for a marathon.

Most trainers recommend that first-timers with moderate fitness levels begin training for their first marathon at least 16 weeks in advance.

During this training period you should:

Run at least three to five days a week

This should include at least one long run, two short-medium runs (faster pace), and a couple of relaxed runs. Include some hill runs to build strength.

Increase weekly mileage by no more than 10%

Consistent improvement is important, but you should always ease into it, so the body can adjust.

Add no more than 10% to your weekly mileage each week

Have some recovery weeks

Every third or fourth week, slow down a little and run easier distances.

This will give your body additional time to recover.

Listen to your body

Be aware of any niggles that occur during training, like sore tendons and muscle strains.

You may need to take an extra day or two off to recover if these niggles occur to prevent them from becoming long-lasting injuries.

Test Yourself on Smaller Events

Even if you that are in great shape and can already run long distances, you should test your abilities in a competition before entering a marathon.

This will ensure that you have the endurance required to maintain a decent pace as you compete in an actual race.

Look for local 5K (3.1 miles), 10K (6.2 miles) and half marathon (21 km/13.1 miles) events.

Pace yourself and monitor your heart rate throughout the race.

This will give you a clear indication if you are close to ready for a marathon.

Keep A Training Log

A training log is very useful tool for keeping track of your progress and for maintaining your motivation levels.

Use it to keep track of details like:

  • The length, duration, and average speed of your training runs
  • Your max and average heart rate during the run (indicates changes in fitness and fatigue levels)
  • Morning heart rate (gradual lowering of your morning rate indicates improvement, a spike indicates fatigue)
  • Details of any interval training performed
  • The mileage on your shoes (most pairs of shoes will need to be replaced every 800-1000kms)
  • How you felt after each run
  • Notes on how you could have performed better
  • What you ate before the run
  • Any aches or pains you have experienced 

Having this information on hand will help with training analysis, motivation and accountability, confidence building, and will make trouble shooting your performance easy.

Research The Race

Marathon newbies often assume that their ability to run 42 kilometres means they are ready to run a marathon.

They soon discover that running a training route is completely different to running a 42 kilometre race.

Many factors can be different on race day compared to your typical training day.

The most obvious difference will be the course.

The geography and running surface could be very different to what you normally run on.

The best approach is to take a close look at the route, consider your personal strengths, then plan your race accordingly.

For example, if you are weak on hills and there is a steep climb at the half way point, pace yourself in the early part of the race so you have plenty of energy available to tackle the hilly section.

You can also read reviews and race reports from people who have run the race before to discover where the most challenging sections are.

This can help you prepare physically and mentally for the challenge that lies ahead.

Other factors to include in your research are the humidity, the road surface, the weather, locations of water stops and so on.

Fuel Your Body Properly

The body requires a lot of fuel in order to finish a marathon.

Create a fuel and hydration strategy well in advance of the race to ensure you are covered in this area.

Decide how much food and drink you will need, and choose which types of food and drink you will have on the day.

Be aware that some aid stations along the way may not have the types of beverages and food you eat while training.

Wear Comfortable Clothing

There are some horror stories of first-time marathoners who decided to buy a new shirt or pair of shoes a week before the race.

They then discover that the fit of their shoes isn’t quite right or that the shirt begins to cause severe chafing or blistering after the 20 kilometre mark.

All of their training amounted to nothing because they had to quit after the pain became too much.

Avoid this issue by using the clothes that you find most comfortable wearing.

If you need to buy some new clothes for the event, spend a couple of weeks wearing them beforehand.

Run Your Own Race

The start of a marathon is very exciting.

After all, it is the moment that you have spent months training for.

However, when you start running, remember to stick to your game plan and run your own race.

Ignore what other runners are doing, as they may have completely different strategies compared to you.

Avoid running much faster or slower than you had planned and don’t panic if people are running past you — many of those runners won’t even finish the race.

I hope you enjoyed reading How To Survive Your First Marathon.

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Stephen Coleclough
Stephen Coleclough

Stephen Coleclough is a personal trainer and online fitness/nutrition coach from the UK. He loves heavy squats, smashing PRs and bacon sandwiches. You can follow him on Twitter at ColecloughPT.

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