I never dreamed I would be one of those types of people. The type of person who not only runs marathons, but encourages others to do the same. I used to laugh at people like this, who would say with a completely straight face, “if I can do it, so can you!”
I’ll be the first to say this, and I promise this won’t be the last time I say it: if I can do it, so can you. The truth is, anyone who wants to run a marathon absolutely has the capability to do so.
Body type, athletic ability, speed levels, none of that matters even a little. We’ve been lied to by Nike ads and many of the running fit-fluencers. Literally anybody can run long distances if they want to.
The want to is the biggest part of this. To be completely transparent, running does not feel good in the beginning. It takes a couple of weeks of consistent running to achieve that “runner’s high” that people rave about.
So if you want to run long distances, just know that it takes a bit of getting used to and don’t beat yourself up if you are hating it the first couple times you lace up your sneakers.
Here are some of my tips for if you’re just starting to get bit by the running bug. Remember that running and exercise in general should feel good in the long run (no pun intended), so if you decide running isn’t for you, there is ZERO shame in that!
Top Tips For Running Your First Marathon
For many first time marathon runners, the goal is just to finish. That was my goal, anyway. Here are some of my top marathon training tips for a successful marathon so you can cross the finish line and feel good doing it!
1. Go Slower Than You Think You Need To
The worst thing you could do to yourself while training for running a marathon for the first time is focusing on the minutes. The minutes, the minutes, the minutes. We do not care how long it takes!
As you’re starting your training, focus on finishing the mileage and not on how long it takes you to do so. There is nothing as unimportant in the first weeks of your training as your speed.
So, go even slower than you think you need to. The most important aspect of the beginning of your training is to build miles and enjoy yourself. The slower you go, the more likely you are to actually enjoy yourself and finish the run.
Do. Not. Worry. About speed. If you’re a complete beginner, I think it’s safe to say, leave the speed work to the pros.
2. Use A Buildup
When you start training, start with low mileage. Training for a full marathon is extremely taxing on the body, so you don’t want to ramp up too soon.
The buildup is slow. Very slow. Your first week of running may even be just a couple miles or two. Or a walk/run. When looking at how to run a marathon for beginners, they’re really are no wrong ways to go.
3. Buy A Running Book
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a running book. Unless you have enough cash to spend on a running coach (which, if you do, slay), then a book should suffice as your guide for how to prepare for a marathon for beginners.
Most marathon books are written by seasoned and even professional marathon runners. From the city marathon to the rural, they walk you through setting a goal pace, foods, training schedule, training guides and cross-training.
My favorite is pro runner Shalane Flanagan’s Run an Rise. This book is my Bible. It has some of my favorite recipes, and a super intuitive pacing guide in the front of the book. One of the best purchases I’ve made through my marathon journey.
If you need an extra boost of motivation, Whimsy Editor Taylor highly recommends Atomic Habits for general habit setting and No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You A Lifetime of Fitness which completely changed her mindset on working out.
4. Run With Friends
Running with friends is a true joy. Adult life makes it hard to manage the very simple need of seeing friends. Between work, working out, relationships, kids, even laundry, it can be hard to squeeze a friend in.
I have found that marathon running has allowed me time to carve out to meet up with friends. So many of my friends have started running, and it has quickly become one of our favorite ways to hangout that doesn’t include a restaurant or spending money.
Running long distances also can get very dry and boring. Keeping a buddy around helps you take it all one day, one mile, one step at a time.
5. Build A Banging Playlist– But Don’t Limit Yourself To Just Music
The playlist is nearly as important to long runs as hydration. Okay, not really, but you get my point. For those of you who like to run to the sound of traffic and nature, this is not the tip for you.
If you’re more like me (meaning you enjoy drowning out your thoughts on runs with loud music for your own mental health), then definitely look into some long playlists.
The Nike Running Club Spotify account has some excellent ones that go by heartbeat. If you’re doing sprints, pick a playlist with a faster heartbeat setting. For long runs, lower heartbeat to make sure you don’t burn out too quickly.
One of the best tips I got from an experience running was to include podcasts into my routine. I was starting to get sick of my own music, so she suggested I switch it up. I love the podcasts on Spotify including Smartless, The Daily, and Ride With. Comedy, news, comedy. Depending on your mood.
As always, be sure to keep the volume on the lower side if you’re running alone. You want to be able to hear traffic and any people around you.
If you’re looking for more podcast recs, we also recommend My Favorite Murder (so much, we have a cocktail recipe inspired by it!), The Liz Moody Podcast and Maintenance Phase. See more team recs here!
6. Run During Daylight Hours
I get it– it is very tempting to squeeze in a run either early morning before work or after to burn off steam. I really, really suggest– especially for all the girlies out there– that you run in daylight hours.
This can be hard as we head into winter time, when daylight is hard to come by. Switch to the treadmill if need be, but definitely do not sacrifice your physical safety for a run before work!
7. Make Time For Recovery and Cross Training
No matter what you’re training for, recovery is essential for your body to get stronger. Why? When you’re building muscle by moving your body in anyway, it’s causing stress on the body (good stress!) and your body requires rest to build up those new muscles. That’s why every training program include rest days.
A few of my favorite ways to recover from a long run are foam rolling, yoga and basic stretches! Cross training is also incredibly important to help build muscle and also just add some variety to your workouts.
What to Wear When Training For A Marathon
Time for a full fit moment. Running clothes are different from other, more strength training based workout clothes, especially when training for a full marathon. Here are some of my top, tried and tested clothing items that I could not run without.
Running shoes are probably the most important piece of gear you need to purchase. Throughout your training cycle, your feet take some pretty heavy damage. You want to keep them as healthy as possible in the best shape to prevent injury.
I am very partial to the Brooks Ghost sneaker. I’ve worn these sneakers for the past two marathons, and they are fantastic for stress fracture prone bones. They come in a wide size too, which on training runs for a wide set foot like mine.
I have also worn Hoka sneakers. My girlfriend adores these, both because they’re great running sneakers and because they’re very cute. I like Hokas, I just think the heel is a bit high for someone as clumsy as me. And they’re more expensive than Brooks for reasons I do not understand.
A great way to find the perfect shoes for you is heading your local running store, and working with someone who knows what they’re doing. They’ll typically watch you run a bit and make suggestions based on your stride, form and pronation/supination.
I had no idea just how much drinking was involved in beginner marathon training. And not the fun kind.
For every mile and a half you run, you should be drinking a few sips of water. This completely changed the way I run. Running while actually hydrated? Revolutionary experience.
I use the Aonijie Hydration Vest. It’s super breathable, lightweight, and stays in place with every step. And the price is super low.
If you are looking to invest in something a little higher end, the Salomon Second Skin is ALL the rage on runner’s tok. I have heard nothing but good things about this hydration pack– I just wanted to wait a bit longer (till Black Friday or Cyber Monday) to invest.
As dorky as they are, watches are great for keeping track of your heart rate, allowing loved ones to track you on long distances, and yes, tracking your time.
The top two watch brands are Garmin and the Apple Watch. I have used both, and I am happy to say both are excellent! They’re just a little different.
When it comes to racetime, the Garmin watch might have a slight edge. The GPS is slightly more advanced, and it has metrics such as VO2 that track breath intake.
However, I still prefer my Apple Watch. Not only does it have more general capabilities (texting, keeping track of your cycle, photos, all the excellent Apple perks), but it syncs to my Spotify account more easily. I love being able to change my song right on my wrist.
What to Eat When Training For A Marathon For The First Time
When it comes to running a marathon for the first time for beginners, one of the most surprising things is how much you have to eat. It’s the part of sports medicine I did not anticipate, but intaking as many calories as you burn is so important for your health during your marathon training time.
The absolute last reason to run a marathon is any sort of dieting or to lose weight. Prioritize good food and drink water (plus your favorite sports drink for extra electrolytes!) to avoid running injuries and reaching your finish time goals.
Your nutrition plan will be super personal depending on you, your body, and how many calories you burn while running. The goal will always, always, always be to replace every calorie burned so that your body is recovering in the most efficient way possible.
Personally, I eat a lot of red meat and pasta during training. The red meat keeps my heart rate low and the pasta keeps me super fueled.
During my runs, I fuel myself with honey stinger gels. They’re the tastiest and easiest to carry around. Again, you’ll have to experiment with how many and how often you need them, but I have just about one gel per every four hours!
What to Expect the Day Of Your First Marathon
Okay, these are the things no one tells you. You get your bib, and show up at the starting line, but what else do you need to know? Here are mistakes I made so you don’t have to from training to marathon day for overall marathon race day success:
Not listening to my body
Somedays, you need to put the training plan aside and take a rest day. It is the best course of action, and the best piece of advice for how to prepare for a marathon for beginners. Let your body be the guide!
Marathon running tips are usually full of strength programs, healthy eating habits, and split times. But rest days or canceled runs can be equally as important to avoid overuse!
Allowing chafe to run my life
There is no room for chafe in a marathon race. I just didn’t know that there was an alternative!
Chafe can be helped! I have been shown the light! Body glide is one of the best things that has ever happened to me, and I’m here to share the good word. I practically coat myself in it every long run I do.
Running a marathon without training
Okay, so I didn’t actually do this one, but I have a friend who did! To be fair to her, she was injured the final six weeks of her training and decided to just wing it the day of.
Despite being happy to have finished, she says it was the hardest thing she ever did. And next time, to wait out the injury and run from full training.
Not enjoying the day as much as possible
I had an absolute blast running my first marathon. It was a range of emotions, and one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
No one ever told me how fast it goes. You train for all those months, listen to all those podcasts, sip all those Gatorades, and then it’s over in a flash.
Of all the important tips for marathon runners, enjoying the day is the most important. You’ve worked so hard for this goal– let go of the stress and enjoy the ride to the finish line.
There are tons of marathon advice columns and marathon training plans out there. All of them are great for different reasons, and you should definitely browse around.
But when it comes to running from someone who didn’t run much beforehand, take it from me– it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! Running the New York City marathon was such a rush, I signed up for the following year the next morning.
As always, stay safe and listen to your body. Lean into what feels good. Enjoy the ride!