Guide for First Time Marathon Runners

A marathon is a long-distance race of 42.195 kilometres (26 miles 385 yards) with around 800 events held around the world annually in 83 countries.  

Its origins began in Greece as one of the original Olympic events in 1896and a year later the Boston Marathon was born as the first annual Marathon event, which is now considered as one of the most prestigious races in the world.  

After Boston many other major cities around the world followed suit including New York, Berlin, London and Tokyo with millions of participants taking part around the world.    

Apart from the various health reasons, for many, running a marathon is a lifetime goal, a badge of honour, and part of ticking off the all-important bucket list.   

It’s not only challenging physically but mentally too, and researchers have identified that training for a marathon improved people’s goal setting, organisational skills and discipline.   

Benefits of Running the Marathon 

Training for a marathon improves your general health and fitness as regular running improves your cardiovascular and bone health.  

Combined with other fitness activities such as Pilates, yoga, cycling, and swimming helps increase flexibility and muscle strength. Given that you will train for the marathon around 16weeks, means that your overall fitness and health will improve dramatically.   

The mental health benefits of regular running are equally beneficial and include stress release, increased focus, mood-boosting and improved sleep.   

Preparing for the event requires a great deal of discipline and motivation which in turn will have positive effects on your overall health.   

Running such a challenging distance often comes with a great sense of accomplishment which can increase your confidence in your work and personal life.  

Challenges of Running the Marathon 

As you train for your marathon, you might stumble across a few challenges. One might be breaking habits such as smoking, excessive drinking, and bad diet. In the lead-up to the marathon day, it is advisable to avoid such habits so you can perform to your best ability.    

You may come across physical and mental challenges during training and throughout the race. Around the 29-34km mark, many runners experience what is known as ‘hitting a wall’ when you go beyond the normal boundaries of fatigue and your body wants to give up.   

It takes physical and mental strength to fight this feeling and push on. Seasoned marathon runners often develop coping strategies to help reduce fatigue and build the mindset.   

You might choose to run the marathon alone or with companions and there are pros and cons to each. Running alone allows you to set your own pace but if you hit the wall, you might find it hard to push through without a motivational buddy at your side.  

Running with companions can help motivate you to complete the race as well as well as motivate you if you hit the wall. The downside is you might find their pace different to yours and you can either struggle to keep up or must slow down to meet theirs. One way to get round this is to find buddies with a similar pace to yours.  

Choosing Your First Marathon 

There are over 800 marathon events held around the world, so you can pick and choose your ideal location.   

If it’s your first marathon you might want to consider a few factors before you land on your final destination.    

Firstly, consider the weather, not just when you run the race but also the type of weather you’ll be training in. Preferably you don’t want to be training or running the race in uncomfortably hot or icy cold weather.  

Next consider the location. Your dream marathon might be the New York one, but if it’s your first one, stick to somewhere with a similar time zone and one that doesn’t involve costly flights, hotels and travel expenses just in case you need to bail due to injury or illness.   

Other thing factor in, is the terrain. If possible, your first marathon should be on as flat terrain as possible and not involve too many hills or inclines as this can make it more challenging than other courses.    

Lastly consider how popular the race is. If possible, pick a low-key race that isn’t too crowded or difficult to get a place in such as the popular New York or Boston marathons.  

5 Pillars of Marathon Training 

When training for the marathon there are five pillars you need to factor into your program.  

  • Consistent mileage 

Clock in consistent mileage week-by week, building distance over time, running three-to-five times per week. When increasing your mileage, make sure you increase by no more than 10 per cent.  

  • Long runs, pacing and speed build up 

Complete a long run every 7–10 days so you can build up to long distances gradually. Over the weeks you want to build up to a max distance of 32kms.  

  • Nutrition 

Ensure you are getting the right nutrition during training. As you’ll be burning more carbohydrates than usual, it’s advisable to up for carb ration from the standard 45 per cent to 60 per cent carbs, 20 per cent protein and 20 per cent fats. You will also need to eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of whole grains, lean protein and fresh fruit and vegetables.  

  • Drills and exercises 

Increase your cardio capacity with both tempo and interval runs. Tempo runs are longer and where you will build up endurance. Interval runs are shorter but faster and where you will focus on your speed.  

  • Rest, recovery and injury management 

It’s important to factor in rest days for recovery and injury management. Letting your body rest in between runs is crucial to avoid burnout and potential injury. If you feel you still would like to work out opt for low impact exercise like swimming or yoga.  

Marathon Training Timelines

Your training plan will be around 16 weeks and it’s advised that you consistently run between 3-5 times a week, with rest days in between building on the distance each week. Here is a week-by-week breakdown: 

  • Week 1: Start by easy jogs, building up the time with 1-2 day’s rest in between 15/20/25/60-mins 

  • Week 2: Carry on the jogs, building up the time with 1-2 day’s rest in between 25/30/35/75-mins 

  • Week 3: Carry on the jogs, building up the time with 1-2 day’s rest in between 30/40/45/90-mins 

  • Week 4: Carry on the jogs, building up the time with 1-2 day’s rest in between 35/45/35/60-mins 

  • Week 5: Start with a 20-min run, rest, then 50-min jog, rest for two days, then do a 2Km timed race, then a 10Km timed race the next day 

  • Week 6:  Start with a 25-min run, rest, then 55-min jog, rest for two days, then a 25-min run, followed by a 1hr and 45-min jog 

  • Week 7: 4x 30-minruns followed by a 12Km long run with rest days in between 

  • Week 8: 1x 35-min run, 1x 60-min jog, 1x 30-min run, 1x 35-run, 1 half marathon run with rest days in between 

  • Week 9: 1x 40-min run, 1x6km run with timed intervals, 1x 30-min run, 1x 40-min run, 1x12km run with rest days in between 

  • Week 10: 1x45-min run, 1x8k timed run, 1x 30-min run, 1x35-min run, 1x20km run with rest days in between 

  • Week 11: 1x 40-min run, 1x6km run with timed intervals, 1x 30-min run, 1x 30-min run, 1x28km run with rest days in between 

  • Week 12: 1x35-min run, 1x8k timed run, 1x 30-min run, 1x25-min run, 1x half marathon run with rest days in between 

  • Week 13: 1x 30-min run, 1x6km run with timed intervals, 1x 30-min run, 1x 20-min run, 1x32km run with rest days in between 

  • Week 14: x 25-min run, 1x6km run, 1x 20-min run, 1x 15-min run, 1x10km timed run with rest days in between 

  • Week 15: 20-min run, 1x6km run, 1x 30-min run, 1x 15-min run, 1x90-min run with rest days in between 

  • Week 16: 3x runs 20/30/20-mins with rest days in between then race day 

Tips for First time Marathon Runners 

Here are some top tips for first time marathoners:   

  • Be mindful of changing circumstances 

Although you have a training plan to stick to, be mindful that you might fall ill or the change in weather might impede your schedule. Don’t stress if this happens. Take an extra rest day and pick up your training when you can.    

  • Do not skip warmups 

It’s very important to not skip warm-ups as to avoid injury. You need to do at least 5 minutes of stretching and warming up the muscles before every run.   

  • Use a training plan and don’t forget nutrition 

Ensure that you follow your training plan and that you keep nutrition at the forefront of your mind. Ensure you are eating plenty of good carbs, whole grains, lean protein and fresh fruit and veggies. Make sure you are well hydrated before and after a run.   

  • Get help and support 

Before and during your marathon training, ensure you get professional advice from a personal trainer who can help and support you through your training.   

  • Be mindful of pace 

Don’t be tempted to go too fast and too hard! Many first timers fall prey to running themselves out before they hit the half marathon mark, making it hard to make it to the finish line. Make sure you pace yourself and don’t run too fast too early.   

  • Have faith in yourself  

You might find the training challenging at first but have faith that you can accomplish your goal. Come race day remember you have completed 16 weeks of training to prepare you for the race and you are perfectly capable of making it to the finish line. Don’t lose hope and if you hit the wall, dig deep to push your way through. You can do it!