How to run a marathon!

A marathon is 26.2 miles. That's nearly half an hour's drive at 60mph. Owch. Are you sure you want to do this?? Okay... Running a first marathon is a dream come true (note that a nightmare is also a type of dream...).

The first thing you need to do when you want to run a marathon is to find out when your race is, or find a race! This is vital because you need to begin training a good 4-6 months in advance, depending on your fitness level. No matter how much football you play, I promise you won't be able to wing the marathon... :). Once you've found a race a decent time away, it's time to consider training. Training involves more than your running: it needs to cover your diet, attitude, equipment and general health.


Your diet is really important. The basic marathon diet is a regular balanced diet, however, consider increasing your carbohydrate intake to 60-80% of your daily food intake, as during training you will be needing a lot of extra energy! This is particularly important during the final week or fortnight before the event itself. Also important are foods with a high water content - salads, fruits and grains. Protein for growth and repair is important to keep you in general good shape. For drinks, water is your main target: aim for about 2 litres per day plus extra during training runs. Caffeinated and alcoholic drinks dehydrate, and so are best avoided or consumed moderately. Remember the more beers you have, the harder the next day's run will be!


To run, there is only one vital piece of equipment: your shoes. Poor running shoes will affect your feet, knees and back, at the very least. It is really worth investing in shoes that fit well and are tough (you're going to be spending a lot of time in them!). Your local sports shop, or preferably specialist running shop, will advise on the right shoe for you. A few pointers:

  • Ignore gimmicks on shoes. They will fall apart.
  • Make sure they fit with the type of sock you will wear with them: don't buy the shoes and then choose socks later.
  • If you have wide feet, get a wide fitting, and try the shoes on in the shop for at least 5 minutes so any tight parts will show
  • Most running shoes don't have these, but if your shoes have round laces, buy some flat ones, as round laces will come undone when you are running.
Of course, there is plenty of other equipment on the market available to runners: specialist clothing, joint supports, GPS watches, Pulse-counting watches. These are often very useful, but, when you are just beginning, not ultimately necessary. For females I do suggest investing in a decent sports bra! The final piece of, errr, equipment highly recommended is Vaseline (petroleum jelly). Particularly for longer runs, and especially on the day itself, no amount of expensive sports clothing is going to stop those shorts or that vest rubbing... Smother on liberally! Lennon's father puts tape over his nipples to stop them rubbing.

General health

It's worth consulting your doctor before you start training, for a general check up and advice, particularly if you are asthmatic or diabetic etc. Your general health, including mental health, is important in making running a productive and enjoyable experience. If you have the 'flu, going for a training run will help neither your condition nor your running...


A marathon is a BIG THING. Do not underestimate what you are going to attempt - it is indeed a mammoth task. Mental preparation and dedication are vital. You cannot run a marathon on a whim. Focus your mind on the goal. Keep tabs on your mental health, however: do not let the marathon take over your life. Keep a positive attitude, after all, it's all about fun, not prize money, right?

So... Training

Depending on your fitness level, you need to begin training for your chosen marathon at least four months in advance of the event, sometimes up to eight. Begin with short runs 4 times per week. If you have never run before, this can be extremely difficult: a good way to begin is to consider the length of time you spend running rather than the distance, for example, give yourself a 10 minute run round the block, a 3 minute walk, and another 5 minute jog.

Most coaches recommend about 6 miles per day, 5 days per week, as soon as you can physically manage it. Once you reach this level, try to increase your distance by about 10% per week or 10 days. Do not run the full marathon length, even when coming close to the event, as this is too tiring. At maximum, it is recommended to run about 18 miles.

It is important during training to pace yourself, both at speed and heart rate. To set off too fast on a run is to destroy your hopes of completing it! Remind yourself that you wish to finish with ease, not in pain. Pacing can be done by general speed-intuition, or by reaching target heart rate. To determine your target heart rate, subtract your age from 220, then multiply that number by 0.7 and 0.85. The two numbers you get from this are your target heart rate, for example, I am 18, so 220-18=202. 202*0.7=141; 202*0.85=172, so my target heart rate is between 141 and 172 bpm. This can be measured either by a pulse watch, or by measuring the wrist pulse for 15 seconds and multiplying the result by 4. Once you know your target heart rate, run until you reach it! Try to keep at this level for a short while of your run at least, in order to increase your fitness level as well as stamina. Another technique commonly used to increase pace is to run one mile of your run at a slightly faster pace then usual each run. Eventually, pace will quicken.

During training, try to take part in some smaller events - 10k races, 10 mile races, fun runs and so on. This will firstly give you experience in pacing yourself whilst there are other people around, and with any luck give some confidence! It will also prepare you for the buzz of adrenalin that will happen on marathon day.

Rest is vital during training. The body takes about 24 hours to recuperate, and up to 48 during intensive training. If you do not rest during training you will injure yourself and not be able to compete.

Running technique

The actual manner in which you run can have a lot of effect on how easy the run is. Everyone develops their own technique, but some general rules are

  • Keep your head up! Looking down will slow you down!
  • If there is an end in sight - a finish line or a corner - concentrate on getting to it.
  • Take short, light strides
  • Keep hands loose and relaxed
  • Relax head and shoulders
  • Breathe! Don't hyperventilate. Really. Don't.
  • Most important - listen to your body. There is a difference between 'good' pain of exercise and 'bad' pain of injury. If it hurts like hell, stop.

Tips for the marathon itself

Familiarise yourself with the route. There's few more depressing things than another unanticipated hill! Know what the markers, stewards and officials will look like as these people can help you if you are in trouble. Make sure you run in the clothes you've been training in, as new clothes can rub excessively. Don't forget that vaseline!

Make sure that there is lots of water available during the race - but even if there are plenty of water points, take fluids with you. A camelback is ideal. Drink throughout the race, not just when you feel thirsty. Energy drinks help most people, but try to avoid caffeinated ones. For the end of the race, a relative or friend with a survival blanket is very useful, as it prevents you from cooling down too fast, and, to be honest, putting a tracksuit on over sweaty runners is highly unpleasant. It is possible to buy drinks designed to replace nutrients and fluids after extreme exercise, some people find these useful.

Don't forget to pace yourself! Keep in mind those training runs that went the best - weren't they the ones with the slower starts? Aim for a finishing time, perhaps 3 times that of your best ten mile training run. This gives something to aim for. Most importantly, have fun!

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