Top Ten Tips for First Time Marathon Runners

By Rick Morris

Are you a marathon newbie? If you are you are in an envious position. There’s nothing like the feeling of running and finishing your first marathon. You should take in and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience. There’s a lot of mystery and maybe a bit of apprehension involved in training and running your inaugural marathon. You’re entering uncharted territory where you don’t really know what to expect. Entering a new running realm is both exciting and problematic. Not knowing what to expect can make proper physical and mental preparation a wee bit challenging. No worries! Here are out top ten tips for first time marathon runners that will get you through your training and across the finish line with a minimum of stress or problems.

Respect the Distance

This may seem like an obvious time for first time marathon runners, but it is often overlooked. I fully support the idea that you can accomplish any reasonable goal that you set. However, in recent years I think that the popularity of the marathon has made successful marathon training seem easier than it really is. Anyone can train for a marathon, but keep in mind that it’s 26.2 miles. That is a long way to run. Remember to respect that distance and commit to proper training. Don’t take the marathon lightly. Running 26.2 miles without the proper training can result in a miserable experience, injury, illness and could even sour you on the sport of running. Respect the distance, commit to your program and train consistently. You will be rewarded with the best experience of your running life.

Get Real

You always need a goal when you’re training. Your marathon goal should be challenging but achievable. Don’t make the mistake of setting a marathon goal that is unrealistic. I would love to go out and run a 2:05 marathon. I could very easily set that as my running goal. But is it realistic? In my case, it’s not even close. Setting a goal like that would be self defeating. I would just be setting myself up for failure. Take a close look at your fitness level and running experience. Set an appropriate goal. For most first time marathon runners, a goal of simply finishing is both challenging and very achievable. Does that mean you can’t set a goal pace or finishing time? Not at all. Just make sure the goal you set is one that you can realistically achieve.

Do It For You

First timers decide to run a marathon for many different reasons. Some want to lose weight or gain fitness. Others may want to change their life. Some are experienced 5K or 10K runners that want to move into the marathon distance. Whatever your reason is be sure it is for you and is internally motivated. Scientists refer to this a intrinsic motivation. If your reason for running is intrinsic you are much more likely to successfully finish your training program and meet your training goal. If your reason for running is external or extrinsic you are less likely to train properly and your ability to meet your training goal is greatly diminished.

Be Flexible

You should consistently stick to your training program or plan. If you begin to skip workouts or fall behind in your training you will probably struggle mightily to catch up. While you do need to consistently follow your program you don’t want to be overly strict. You have other responsibilities in your life. You have a job, a family and friends. You may get sick, have a business trip pop up or have other engagements you need to take care of. Meeting those other responsibilities will require some flexibility in your training program. You may need to move a workout to another day or later in the same day. You might need to rearrange the order of your workouts. An illness might force you to move a long run to another day. It’s important to keep up with your training, but be flexible. An unyielding attitude towards your program can cause both physical and mental burn out.

Eat Up

Low carb, low calorie eating and  marathon running  are like water and oil, they just don’t mix. Marathon running not only burns a lot of calories but also uses up a lot of nutrients. If you don’t have a steady intake of an adequate supply of quality nutrients, including carbohydrates, your body will break down in response. Be sure you are always eating the proper portion sizes of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and essential fatty acids. It will keep your body operating at peak efficiency and will support your marathon training.

Be Strong

You spend a lot of time running when you train for a marathon and the last thing you probably want to do is spend additional time with strength training. Don’t make that mistake. Stronger muscles are not only more injury resistant but are also more powerful. Adding in some strength training will help you run better, more efficiently and you will suffer from less injuries. It really doesn’t take a lot of time. Just 15 minutes per day, two or three days per week is all you need.

Be Tough

You will need to be both physically and mentally tough to complete your training and finish your marathon. Part of your training is intended to help you become a tougher runner. The gradually but relentlessly increasing distance of your long training runs makes you tougher as a person and a runner. When things become difficult, don’t allow negative thoughts to enter your mind. Stay positive and keep going.

Rest Up

The stress of marathon training takes a toll on your body. That is why most marathon training programs follow a hard/easy pattern and also have built in rest days. Take advantage of those rest or easy days to allow your body to recover and strengthen. Don’t forget that all important taper during the final two or three weeks of your training program. Your mind and body need the rest provided by that taper to get to the starting line at full strength.

Loosen Up, Don’t Warm Up

I always have to laugh at the staging area of marathons. It’ not uncommon to see groups of runners going out for one or two mile “warm up” runs. A long warm up is the last thing you need or want before a marathon. Not only does the moderate pace of a marathon eliminate the need for a long warm up, but warming up burns valuable carbohydrates that would have come in very handy during the final miles of your marathon. Instead of a long warm up simply do some dynamic drills to loosen up just before race time. That will be sufficient to get your muscles up to operating temperature without wasting valuable carbohydrates.

Stick to the Plan

The start of your first marathon will be one of the most exciting moments of your marathon life. All that excitement will get your adrenaline flowing and could encourage you to run faster than you should be. Avoid going out too fast. If you burn too many carbohydrates early in your race you might pay a heavy price at mile 23. Focus on sticking to your planned pace, especially during the early miles