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6 First-time Marathon Tips from an Olympian

Before I ran my first ever marathon, my coach gave me very useful advice. I wish I had listened to them! 

You know how everyone is telling you that running a marathon is no joke but still it looks like such a cool and fun experience? Yes, it is an incredible feeling to complete your first marathon! In fact, it is hard to compare it to anything you have ever done. You feel like the strongest person on  Earth and nothing can stop you.

However, it comes with a great price – all the hard work, dedication, and (a lot of) suffering. But I promise it is all worth it in the end – more than worth it!

To make it easier on you, I will share with you what I wish I knew (or listened to those who knew!)  before I ran my first marathon. I will walk you through my first marathon experience to prevent you from getting tremendous pain, suffering, and running in regression. A very typical ‘first-time marathoner’ experience. 
Here are my best tips before you run your first marathon in no particular order:

1. Marathon is no joke

I had the idea that I should run a marathon just like two weeks before my first one. I barely convinced my coach because I was 21 and I had zero preparation. He somehow agreed because I was very annoying and persuasive that I should try. But in my mind, I didn’t take it very seriously. I just thought it will be fun. And it was fun in the end but not so much fun after the 28k-30k mark when I “hit the wall”.

Thus, when you continue to read this, I want you to keep in mind that this fun experience often comes with a surprising pain so don’t be naive like me and think that it is all cotton candy.

2. You need preparation

Since I had only two weeks until my first marathon, I didn’t really have any time to prepare. Just one week before the race I tried to do 2h run easy and I completed my first ever 28km exactly. This was my “whole” preparation. During the race, I completely bonked after the 28k mark. At that point, my pace was to run sub 2:40 and I was so excited. And just like that, for only one kilometre, my pace completely slowed down to the point that I was running a kilometre two minutes slower in comparison to my fastest one during the first half.

To avoid this, give yourself at least 12 weeks of build-up. Even 16 if you have the time. This way, you will be completely prepared to avoid bonking or as marathoners call it ‘hitting the wall’.

3. The importance of long-run

Do long runs often. Some people do it each week, others prefer it every two weeks. See how your body responds to it and decide what is best for you. Start with a distance you can tolerate at the moment and build up each week.

For example, you can start with 25k, then 30k, 32k…36k, and so on. I personally like to reach 40km during my preparation but everyone is different. The benefit is that your body gets familiar with the distance and each time you give yourself time to adapt to the stress. Afterwards, the marathon feels neither that long nor that hard on your body because you got used to it.

4. Practice your pace

During my first marathon, I had no particular pace in my mind since I just wanted to have fun. However, it was less fun because I didn’t have a plan and this caused a lot of trouble later in the race.

It is so easy to get very excited in the beginning and go way too fast than you are ready for. I started at like 3:30ish pace and probably closed my last kilometer close to 6:00min pace – the worst way to run, not just a marathon but any race.

You will just get past each minute and feel like a complete loser.  Thus, decide what pace you are going for and train for it. Definitely make sure you get very familiar with it. You should be able to close your eyes and know that you are right around your marathon pace. Don’t do only intervals and fartlek targeting your goal pace, but also try a fast long run where at least some part of it you run at the desired intensity.

5. Practice your hydration and carbohydrates intake

It’s needless to say I had no clue about that on my first marathon. My coach told me a lot about it and its importance but who listened then? Definitely not me.

But what makes a huge difference when I started to drop my marathon (and half-marathon) time was planning my hydration and nutrition during the race.

When we talk about hydration, I don’t mean just water. You need electrolytes as well because you lose them while you sweat and your body cannot function properly. Without them, you will not only slow down but you can start experience some serious cramping and potentially injuring yourself. Check out online or in-store for the best options available specifically made to cover marathon needs.

Carbohydrates can come in different forms during the race. Some people use isotonic drinks, some use gels, others even eat depending on your pace and goals.

However, you have to consume them because your body cannot store enough glycogen to fuel you for the entire marathon, and running out of easily available carbs will make you suffer greatly.
To see what works best for you, make a plan and try out the products during your long runs. Generally, you can take around 30g of carbohydrates every 5-7km, as well as your hydration, after you reach 15-25k of your race. It is important to find out what you can tolerate and get used to it.

5. Mental game

Your mental game will be critical during the race. We are all different and we get motivated to continue and pursue our goals by different means. Find what moves you, find what is your inner strength. For me, this is proving to myself that I am stronger than I think and giving back to the people who believed in me. Every time you go through a rough patch, remind yourself why you are here and how much you have done to get there.

 

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