First Time Marathon Advice | Tips To Run Fast For 26.2 Miles

first time marathon advice

The best first time marathon advice I give is to be patient and have fun. Remember, focus on a longer build up rather than trying to cram your training into 4 to 8 weeks.

The optimal time frame to train for a marathon is 16 to 24 weeks. in fact, the best time frame is 20 to 24 weeks. Again, the longer you provide time for your body to adapt the better results you are going to have.

My first marathon was the 2002 New York City Marathon. 

I had never raced further than 13.1 miles prior to the race. Of course, nothing compares to racing 26.2 miles.

I would not advocate running a marathon unless you have built up to a minimum of 30 miles per week.

Training for a marathon is one thing.

Racing in one is another story and you have to have the patience to have built up the stamina and endurance to finish the distance.

What is a Good Time for a First Time Marathon?

I think anything under 5 hours for someone just starting out is a legitimate effort. Is that a goal you have in mind? If so, you may want to check out the the Sub 5 Hour Marathon Bootcamp course. I cover, in detail, every strategy and tactic you will want to follow to run 4:59:59. I also created a course for runners seeking to break the 3 hour and 4 hour marathon. 

You can click on any of the green buttons within this post to learn more about our training resources. Also, be sure to visit the testimonial page. We have a lot of runners getting great results by following the strategies that I teach here. I would focus first on running for at least 4 weeks easily. Also, start implementing strides into your routine.

Strides are short 50 to 100 meter accelerations. In addition, are great for warming up and getting your heart rate elevated. Also, they are perfect for working on you leg turnover and form

My focus in writing this post is specifically for beginner marathoners or people who may have attempted one in the past but did not finish. In addition, for marathoners who are seeking some new strategies to hold race pace longer.

So, do not get discouraged. Give yourself time to succeed at this event.

What Should I Do for My First Marathon?

As mentioned above, start with a legitimate aerobic base-building phase first. The reason being you will strengthen your body for faster, more aggressive workouts. In addition, will minimize the likelihood of you getting injured. So, do not try to move too fast too soon with your training.

My first time marathon advice to you is to not run your long runs slow every single weekend. I would alternate a faster, varied paced long run one weekend followed by an easy, long run. Below is an example of a faster long run I was doing prior to running 2:19:35 for the marathon.

  • 2 mile jog, 6 miles@5:30 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:15, 5 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 2 mile jog cool-down (21 miles)

Remember, some of the world’s best distance runners have had to suffer a DNF (did not finish). So, know that even the best runners deal with setbacks and challenges. I, too, had to run many slower marathon times before I broke the 2:20 marathon barrier. So, be patient and remember to always run slow the weekend after your faster long run.

Remember, this race is not like the 5K or 10K which is over in a few minutes.

What you do in the weeks and months leading into a marathon will make you successful.

There is a massive difference between interest versus commitment. Which one are you?

The fact that you have come to RunDreamAchieve seeking answers shows me you are in the latter category.

Here are a few first time marathon advice tips I wish I would have adhere to when I first began running marathons.

Is 30 Miles a Week Enough for Marathon Training?

Yes, 30 miles a week for most runners is sufficient to train for the marathon. Of course, I would recommend running between 50 to 70 miles a week to optimize your results. That being said, every athlete is different. In addition, some runners get much better results on lower mileage.

Remember, higher mileage is not a guarantee that you will set a new personal best. Again, if you are running too slow too often you will only become a superior long, slow runner. 

I would also check your iron levels if feeling chronically fatigued in training. 

The body doesn’t produce iron.

You have to obtain it in your diet and far too many runners who feel fatigued. In addition, stressed and overtrained athletes could very well be anemic without knowing it.

I never considered taking an iron tablet back when I first started running.

You always want to take an iron tablet with a glass of orange juice or with Vitamin C.

Vitamin C helps absorb iron into the body more efficiently.

Eating foods high in iron will guard you against fatigue and performing below your potential.

If your body runs low on iron its ability to transport oxygen to your working muscles is diminished.

I never never knew anything about iron and what it exactly did for the body.

You lose iron through sweat and through foot strike hemolysis. This is the bursting of red blood cells when your foot strikes the ground.

Females lose it through menstruation and are more susceptible to anemia than men.

How Much Should I Run 3 Days Before a Marathon?

My first time marathon advice would be to not run more than 2 to 3 miles 3 days before a marathon. In fact, you could take a week off completely before a marathon and not lose any fitness. That being said, I would jog easily and do some strides leading into your marathon. I would do a 3 mile run at your goal marathon pace 4 days out from your race.

The remaining days should be either completely off or light jogging only.

Eat foods rich in iron like red meats, spinach, nuts, cereals high in iron such as Total Raisin Bran among others.

If I were to give a debut marathoner first time marathon advice I would share this tip.


You and I sweat often and a lot.

This is something most runners miss

You lose iron through sweat.

Runners have the training down.

The motivation is there but it is the little things sometimes we miss.

I started running in 1992 and it wasn’t until 2007 before I went in and got a blood test.

Can You Run 20 Miles a Week Before a Marathon?

I do think that 20 miles is sufficient for your long run. So, my first time marathon advice to you is to not run too far. For example, a 30-mile long run may not make much of a difference versus a 20 miler. I think the optimal distance for most runners is between 18 to 20 miles. 

Yes, there are some other advanced runners who may run between 20 to 24 miles for their long runs. That being said, if you stay between 18 to 20 miles you should be fine during your first marathon.

You can always choose to run a more challenging marathon down the road.

I would advocate finding a marathon that is flat.

Great options would be Chicago, Berlin, Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Frankfurt or the Scotiabank Toronto Marathon.

A flat marathon course will be the easiest on your body. Also, consider investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245. Heart rate monitors will ensure you are not running too slow during your tempo runs. Also, they are perfect for staying at the correct heart rate during your long runs and easy runs. In addition, are great to make sure you are not over training. 

The last thing you want it to run your first marathon with multiple hills on the course.

It is best to find a flat, fast marathon to run.

There are more challenging marathons like Big Sur, New York City or the Boston Marathon you can run later.

How Painful is Running a Marathon?

You will experience pain both mentally as well as physically in the marathon. Of course, training properly for the race will lessen the fatigue you will feel. That being said, my first time marathon advice to you is to enjoy the experience. I believe in a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper.

Remember, 10 days is plenty of time to recover from the hard training that you are doing. You want to go into your race feeling fresh and rested. A major mistake many runners make is dropping their volume and intensity too soon. So, wait until you are 10 days out. Also, all of the running courses and training plans available here have this strategy already built in.

Make sure you are wearing the proper shoes in your race. I strongly recommend On shoes.

We are all different.

Some of us are tall, others are short.

We are heavier or thinner.

The good thing is it doesn’t matter what you look like or how much you weigh.

Anyone can run a marathon with enough work ethic and focus.

It takes those two key characteristics to truly make big things happen.

You want the right shoe on your feet when you race though.

Have a shoe specialist do a gait analysis test on you to see how you run.

If you have a flat foot the last thing you want to do is to try to compete in a marathon with a shoe that is built for someone with a high arch.

Read this post on the best running shoes for flat feet.

The marathon is already difficult enough as it is.

Running a Marathon for the First Time Training Schedule

As mentioned above, a longer build up is always going to be better than a shorter one. So, my first time marathon advice is to focus on a minimum of 16 and preferably 20 to 24 weeks for your race. Remember, it takes between 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress load being placed on it. 

So, do not try to cram all of your training into a short 4 to 8-week build up. Of course, you will gain fitness in a 1 to 2 month training block. That being said, longer will provide adequate time to produce superior results.

There is no sense in making it any more difficult than it needs to be.

If you are are a supinator you don’t want a shoe for a pronator.

Get to the start line healthy and don’t wear the incorrect shoe.

Find a Mentor or Coach

A sport consultant can help you make dramatic results in your running performance. It is an investment in yourself to work with an elite athlete.

This isn’t about hitting a world-class time or qualifying for the Olympic Trials.

Runners who can finish a marathon are overachievers.

Finishing a marathon in and of itself is a massive accomplishment.

Find that mentor or coach that will help you get to the finish line successfully.

You can never stop searching and a coach can help assist you in finding your way and help you to master this distance.

Increase Your Mileage

That being said, be cognizant of junk miles.

The marathon demands a lot out of you.

You want to buildup your stamina by running longer at faster speeds.

Your first goal is to build a strong base of mileage.

Do not try to go out and do a 20-mile long run the first week into training.

What I want for you is to see the process and not to take your eyes off the event itself.

Start off doing a 8 mile long run, then 10, then 15 and so on.

Success in this race is all about the process and it doesn’t come in a matter of days but many weeks and months.

What are you doing in the hours after you complete that workout?

Additional First Time Marathon Advice Tips

Am I allowing myself enough rest?

Did I eat enough after that long run?

I need to set out a time to get to bed earlier so I can get the most back from the work I put in today

What would a veteran in this event do to ensure they were ready to run a great marathon?

Buy A Heart Rate Monitor

Training with a heart rate monitor is a great way to take your mind off of worrying about hitting splits and focusing your energy on maintaining a constant effort.

The Garmin Interactive is an outstanding heart rate monitor.

I have used heart rate monitors since I was a freshman in college.

Jack, the 2012 London Olympics head men’s and women’s distance running coach, advocated using heart rate monitors to ensure we weren’t running faster than we needed to be.

It is very easy to go out and run faster than you should.

An effort that may seem feel comfortable may be too aggressive and if you are not yet recovered from your previous hard workout.

Be Patient

A heart rate monitor can keep you from overtraining.

Everyone is different and you may or may not feel comfortable wearing a heart rate monitor.

This is only a first-time marathon tip that you can consider.

Running with a heart rate monitor doesn’t guarantee you or I marathon success but it can assist you in getting to the race in the best shape possible.


  1. It makes training more enjoyable. It is very difficult at times when you are trying to hit a specific pace on a run. Furthermore, wearing a heart rate monitor can take your mind off the pace. Also, it helps you focus on running at a planned pace.
  2. It will guard you from running too fast on recovery days. A heart rate monitor can guard you against pushing too hard on the gas pedal.
  3. Heart rate training helps you train the body’s energy system more efficiently

Closing Thoughts

Stamina is being able to maintain a sustained and more challenging effort for a longer period of time.

Endurance is simply being able to cover that distance, regardless of time or effort.

A heart rate monitor can you help you finely tune your training so that you can learn to understand where your heart rate is at different efforts.

You can then fixate your mind on maintaining those efforts in training. It takes the guesswork out of training for a marathon.

I hope these first time marathon advice suggestions will hep you get to your debut marathon healthy, ready to race and better prepared. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I created new videos each week to help runners such as yourself get to the next level.

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