Running A Marathon For The First Time | How to PR Faster

If you are running a marathon for the first time I commend you. Welcome to I am glad you have arrived here and hope this post will be helpful to you.

running a marathon for the first time

It is an achievement that a small portion of the world will ever consider doing. In addition, it a task that will intimidate a significant amount more.

I remember my first marathon well.

It was the 2002 New York City Marathon and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

The only thing I did know is that I wanted to have a good time and try to finish.

I started in last place (32,189th) for charity and finished in 253rd by races end in 2.43.36.

I was relieved to have even finished and didn’t know the difference between a good time and a bad time.

If you are running a marathon for the first time it is totally normal to be nervous. Additionally, many athletes don’t know what to expect.

My goal here is to provide some suggestions that will help alleviate the stress you may be feeling.

How Long Should a Beginner Run a Marathon?

Below are some tips I would keep in mind as you prepare for your marathon. I think the optimal time frame to train for one is a minimum of 16 and preferably between 20 to 24 weeks. Remember, the longer your build up the better trained and prepared you are going to be. It takes a minimum of 3 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress load being placed on it.

So, start slow with your mileage. I would focus on running easy for at least 4 weeks before starting your training plan. Of course, our mile to 50k training plans focus first on aerobic training. We then focus on moving into faster workouts later on. Make sure to click on any of the green buttons on this post to learn more about our resources. You can also visit the testimonial page to see what other runners are saying about RunDreamAchieve.

1. Gradually build your mileage and try to increase no more than 10% per week.

There are a lot of runners running a marathon for the first time who think you have to run 80-120 miles a week to finish the race.

Not true.

You can still finish the marathon and run a great time with as little as 20 to 40 miles a a week.

Remember, the goal should be to finish the full 26.2 mile race unless you have a specific goal in mind. There are other factors that go into training for marathons pertaining to race pace but that isn’t the objective here.

How Painful is Running a Marathon?

You will experience moderate to severe pain in the marathon. That being said, this is temporary. Of course, it is natural to be sore and tired after you run the race. Remember, make training the most difficult part of your preparation. The race itself is the celebration of all of your hard work. So, let your competition be overly uptight and nervous, not you.

I would highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245. It helps me to ensure that I am not over training. In addition, running at the proper intensities during my tempo runs. Also, ensure that you are jogging during your easy days. The real benefits of our hard training come from with recovery period. So, ensure that you are jogging easy so that you can adapt to the hard training you are doing.

2. Sleep well.

You can do all the training you want but if you are not sleeping properly or enough you are not getting the benefit from all your hard work.

Rest is really important  and can make or break performance in a marathon.

The benefits of the workouts we do don’t come from the workouts but in the rest.

It comes down to the other hours of your day that matter.

What Should I Expect from My First Marathon?

It is normal to feel nervous prior to the start of your race. That being said, if you have trained well the race itself will be more fun. You will most certainly deal with mental challenges throughout the race. Again, this is 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers, not a 5k. So, the race is much longer. Make sure you are paying attention to hydration during the race.

I would highly recommend dropping water bottles out along your long run routes. Remember, the best runners drink, they do not sip, in their marathons. Also, your body is going to depend on that hydration and ingest of calories during the race.

So, you want to make sure you keep your glycogen levels in check. The faster we train the better prepared our body will be to use fat as its main fuel source.

3. Do not do anything different the night before or the day of the race

If you have had a set routine leading up to the marathon there is no reason to change anything the night before or morning of the race.

Runners already tend to over think things but it all stems mostly from just wanting to do a great job at their performance

Do not change up your routine. Remember, there is nothing to worry about. You have trained well for this upcoming event and will be fine.

Can You Run a Marathon as a Beginner?

Of course. Remember, pay attention to your nutrition. I would stock up on carbohydrates the week before your marathon. Beginners who prepare for this race can run just as competitive as any veteran. In fact, many beginners run faster than veteran athletes. The average time most runners finish their marathons in is around 4 to 6 hours.

It is the food we eat the week before the marathon that is the most important.

In addition, it is important to eat as you normally would the night before.

Ingest some pasta, perhaps a salad and drink plenty of water

Focus on eating a lot of fruits, vegetables and foods that are high in glutathione the week leading into the marathon.

Don’t know what glutathione is? Here is a great resource.

You want to be fully stocked up on carbohydrates.

Your body has around enough stored glycogen (muscle sugar) to get you to 18-20 miles into the race, your training will get you to the finish line.

What Happens to the Body During a Marathon?

The body will most certainly rely on carbohydrates during the race. The best way to run more efficiently is to train the body to rely on what it has more of, fat storage. The body only has about 1800 calories of glycogen stored up at any given time. That being said, we have a large amount of fat storage.

So, we want to teach the body to use what it has more of (fats) and conserve what it has far less of (carbohydrates).

5. Hydrate well

You want to drink between 4-6 ounces of fluid every 3 miles in the race.

Fluid intake is crucial within the race. I would also highly advise taking a gel at miles 6, 12 and 18.

This is individual so you should try this in during your long runs, see what works and doesn’t work for you so that when you get to the marathon you will be full prepared.

You don’t want to over drink in the race so much that you get cramps but if you are a running a marathon for the first time you don’t want to drink too little and become dehydrated too early in the race.

How Long Does it Take to Go from Couch to Marathon?

I always tell runners to focus on a longer build up. So, 5 to 6 months is optimal. I would give yourself at least 4 months of training to prepare sufficiently. Again, it takes between 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to any stress load being placed on it. So, the longer you prepare the higher the likelihood your body will adapt to the faster training.

So, 24 weeks is the most optimal time frame to go from couch to marathon.

6. Arrive to the starting line early.

If you get to the start line about an hour before the race starts you will have plenty of time to relax. In addition, you’ll have time to relax, your bags and belongings in order and stretch.

Furthermore, being early is just smart. That being said, since this will be your first marathon you want to ensure you are not tardy to the race.

hard work beats talent7. Run YOUR race

Running a marathon for the first time is an exciting time.

You will be out there with thousands of other athletes who want the same thing you do.

Trust in your own ability.

If you have a pace in mind that you want to run, focus on what you want to run.

Do Marathon Runners Take Walk Breaks?

Yes, many marathon runners do take short walk breaks. In fact, your chances of running much faster may increase if you do. Of course, the more competitive you get the less you will want to do this. The reason being is you will lose a large amount of time if you continue to stop during the race.

Remember, it is 26 miles, not a 5K so play it smart. Do not try to win the marathon in the first half of the race.

If you go out too fast you will have time to adjust your pace. The great thing about the marathon is it is a long way. In addition to that, you have more room to make mistakes. That being said, do your best to not make mistakes and your chances of earning a new personal best will rise.

You are going to feel great in the early stages of the race  so be conservative early on.

Countless runners, myself included, have made the mistake of going out too hard in races.That being said, sometimes you have to take some risks too.

I have run my best races not getting too carried away in the early stages of races.

Run your race and you will be fine and have a great debut marathon.

What is the Hardest Part of a Marathon?

The hardest part for many marathons is between miles 18 to 23. I always thought the hardest part was the last 10 kilometers of the race. Again, proper pacing is vital to run fast over 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers. It is much more fun to pass people in the last 10 kilometers than it is to getting passed.

So, do your best to pace yourself accordingly in the early stages of the race. Also, make sure to mentally rehearse. The world’s top runners focus on both mental as well as physical training. Success leaves clues.

running a marathon for the first time8. Keep tense muscles relaxed

What is usually the first muscles to tense up when you are trying to race? Your face and shoulders.

I usually notice my face muscles tightening when I am trying to race and doing tough workouts.

I always just internally say ‘relax’ or ‘be smooth’.

Use whatever trigger word you wish. You may say ‘I am a badass’ or ‘I can’t be stopped’, whatever you need to stay relaxed, do it.

You can get yourself in a more relaxed state simply by taking a few deep breaths as you’re running and telling yourself to calm down inwardly.

Remember, any energy being wasted in the race is not to your benefit. Remember,  you will fatigue as you progress through the race so remind yourself to stay as relaxed as possible.

Drop your shoulders, take a few deeps breaks, relax your face and get to the finish line in record debut time.

What Should You Not Do Before a Marathon?

I would not buy new shoes the day before a marathon. Remember, continue to do what has worked for in the previous weeks and months before your race. Again, focus on getting as much sleep as you can the week of the race. It will be natural to have a hard time falling asleep the night before the race.

9. Have fun

The name of the game in the sport. You have done all the work leading into your big race.

Celebrate it and have a good time out there. It is totally normal to have those pre-race jitters leading into the marathon.

They will go away once the race gets underway so just trust your training, stay as relaxed as possible and have a good time.

Closing Thoughts

I was actually laughing with friends on the start line the morning I ran my 2.19 marathon PR.

Relaxation and enjoying the effort is what counts. You will perform your best when you feel as though you are on autopilot. The more relaxed you are, the faster you are going to run and the more enjoyable your marathon experience will be.

I hope this post on running a marathon for the first time has been helpful to you. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new content there each week to help runners like you get to the next level in their training and racing.

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