• Helen Phillips

10 Top Tips for Training for Your First Marathon or Half


10 Top Tips for Training for Your First Marathon or Half

WOW you’ve entered your first big race. Running your first marathon or half is an amazing experience, one you’ll never forget, especially if you were never ‘the sporty kid at school’.

Right now you’re on top of the world. You’ve pressed that big orange “ENTER” button, got a “YOU’RE IN” email or your favourite charity has confirmed your spot at the start.

If you’re entered an autumn half, or even a spring marathon, then you’ve got months to train. Plenty of time to get fit, in shape and ready to run the race of your life.

To help get you on your way, I asked class of VLM18 first-timer marathon runners what tips and advice they’d give to first time runners to get them off to a storming start.

This blog is a summary of their 10 Top Tips for Training for Your First Marathon or Half

Tip 1: Commit to Your Training

Committing to your training is key to getting to the start line and having a brilliant race day experience. But, if you're training for a marathon, be prepared for your training and preparation to take over your life … for months!

“Be prepared for your race to take over your life physically, emotionally and mentally. If you aren’t our running then you’re thinking about running and planning your next run.”

You want to get to the start-line knowing you’ve done everything you can to get there and have a fantastic day.

“Plan getting there, plan your training, then just enjoy the day and soak it all up.”

The long runs in your training plan are particularly daunting, and will start to take big chunks out of your weekend as you get into your plan. But the long runs in your plan are the foundation stone or your marathon running and will give you the confidence to know you can go the distance.

Try to find ways to fit training around your life. Your kids can join you on their bikes whilst you’re running. Try combining your long runs with Parkruns (run to and from your local Parkrun) so you’re finished early on a Saturday and longer distances can be combined with local races or with your running group runs.

Make sure you run your long runs slow, build up gradually and leave a few weeks between your final long run and race day, to allow your body time to recover and rest before the race.

Get the mileage into your legs over the weeks, and listen to your body. If you’re super tired take an extra days rest.

Tip 2: Don’t be a Slave to Your Training Plan

You need a plan, not just any plan. You need a plan that’s right for you, for your current fitness, running experience and marathon goals.

Once you have your plan you should schedule in your important runs, to make sure they don’t clash with ‘life’ and your holidays and then get started.

“Life happens, and it's usually more important than a training run.”

If you're training for a marathon most plans are 16 weeks long. Four months is a long time to put your life on hold. You might catch a cold, which (in my experience) usually knocks you out for a few weeks. And if you’re new to running, stepping up your distance and speed lot there is a good chance you’ll get at few niggles that will require additional rest to resolve (or more serious requiring a visit to the physio).

I’ve learnt to start my marathon training a few weeks early. That way I have ‘contingency’ built into my schedule from the outset, so there’s no chance of me being tempted to play catch up with my plan.

Once you’re into your plan stick to it as much as possible, but also cut yourself some slack if you have to miss the odd training run. You can also switch runs around a bit, depending on life, work and the weather!

If you have to miss a few runs, through injury, illness or the busyness of life, don’t try to play catch up with your plan. It can be counter productive. Cramming in more runs could lead to overtraining, niggles and being forced to take more time out!

Trust that if you do the majority of a training plan you WILL get round.

Tip 3: Find a training buddy

It can get lonesome training on your own. Long runs, go on forever and it can be tempting to quit early if you’re feeling a tad tired and the weather is terrible.

Running with a friend, or family member can really help with motivation, to get out the door, commit to training and completing hard runs.

Find running buddies that will run all or part of your long runs with you, or to act as an ‘accountability partner’ to keep you on track.

Tip 4: Run in All Weathers

Winter 2018 we trained in some bitter horrendous weather, then VLM marathon day it was a scorcher! You have no idea what the weather will be like on the day.

So when it’s raining get out there, it’s not always sunny on race day.

Tip 5: Do Some Strength & Conditioning Work

Training for a marathon or half is not all about running. You need a strong body, legs, hips, glutes and core to run well and with good form, and protect you from injury.

So make sure you include strength and conditioning work in your week, and make sure you stretch!

Tip 6: Rest Days and Sleep are Important for Training

You don’t get fitter and faster from just bashing out hard runs and workouts day after day. Rest and sleep is when your body recovers from the work you put it through. If you don’t take enough rest days and get enough sleep you’ll be putting yourself at risk of injury.

Getting to the start is so important. Rather than risk injury, if you have a niggle that won’t go away take a few extra rest days.

Remember rest days and sleep are all part of the training.

Tip 7: Record Your Progress

Document your journey, keeping a record of all your runs both the good and the bad. It’s great to look back and see how far you've come, especially when you're struggling with long training runs in horrendous weather.

Post your progress on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Strava). This helps you friends know what you’re up to and can be a great boost to promoting your fundraising too.

Talking of which …

Tip 8: Start Fundraising NOW

If you have a charity place, start fund raising NOW. If your fundraising target is huge the sooner you start the sooner you’ll raise the cash you need.

A cake sale and a car boot are easy ways to kick it off!

Tip 9: Don’t Try Anything New on Race Day

You’ll hear this over and over again. Don’t try anything new on race day.

Use your long runs to practice your nutrition on your long runs and wear your ‘race’ running clothes on at least one long run to make sure it doesn’t chafe.

Practice eating on the run and find what food suits you both before and during your run, and practice drinking too.

Also try and do a couple of races for your long runs to get to experience what race day will feel like.

Tip 10: Ask for Advice and Share Your Worries

If you have a question ask it - there’s no stupid or too embarrassing question. There is a wealth of experience in the London Marathon Training & Support Facebook Group (click HERE to join). If you’re not already a member come on in, regardless of which marathon or half you’re running!

“Share your worries and experiences with this group. I learned so much on here and didn’t feel ‘lonely’ in the starting pen because I knew we were all there and feeling the same.”

Bonus Tip: Believe you can do it

Most importantly believe that you can do it. Mental strength is as important as physical strength, especially for us slower runners in the race.

Everyone has times when they have doubts about completing a marathon. Focus on and trust in your plan and the process of getting there, and just keep saying to yourself “I can”.

“It’s the training that matters! Race day should be enjoyed. Soak up the atmosphere of the crowd”

If you're training for a marathon download my FREE Get Ahead Marathon Preparation Guide. Click HERE to download NOW!

Good luck with your training, have an incredible journey and see you at the finish line!

Helen, The Cheesecake Runner x