Running Your First Race? Here Are 11 Marathon Training Tips the Pros Swear By

Running a marathon is no small feat. And as thousands of hopefuls hit the pavement this fall, many will be taking on the 26.2-mile distance for the very first time. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Something they’ve been dreaming of for years and training for for months. But for a select few (ya know, the professionals, Olympians and elite coaches), it’s simply their day job.

With years of experience under their belt, we couldn’t help but ask a few of our favorite pro athletes and NYRR coaches about their top marathon training tips. From mantras to mileage, here’s everything they had to say about taking on your first marathon.

10 Products That Helped Me Survive My First Marathon

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1. “Live it and have fun, just experience everything. For your first marathon, know what you’re going to say to yourself when it gets hard, because at some point in a marathon it’s going to get hard. It’s a marathon that’s why we all do it, so just have that in your head beforehand and never surrender off of that, whatever that motto is for you. Go in, never surrender and then have awesome finish line photos!” - Keira D’Amato (USA), American 10 Mile record-holder

2. “My advice would be just to be really patient. I think you need consistency to be a good runner. Show up and start every single day. Pretty soon, you’ll have a routine. Once you do that it’ll be easy to just get back out and build fitness. Stay patient, stay consistent.” - Des Linden (USA), Two-time Olympian; 2018 Boston Marathon champion

3. “Spend time on your feet during long runs: Don’t worry about your pace and distance–instead focus on building up gradually to being able to keep moving at a manageable pace for up to 3-4 hours. Use these long runs to learn what your body needs to sustain itself: food/nutrition, hydration, gear, playlists, companionship. The marathon will be hard, but it will not break you if you’ve listened to your body and met its needs during long runs.” - Gordon Bakoulis, NYRR Group Training Coach

4. “Be patient in what you’re doing and trust what you’re doing. When you come to race, don’t be like 'I want to go fast just for a fast time.' Sit back and enjoy the race whatever the outcome may be. From there you can learn much better because in a marathon it’s miles and miles that way. So don’t be like 'I want to win the race.' Just be there to compete and to see yourself and all you can do in future marathons.” - Hellen Obiri (KEN), Two-time Olympic medalist; seven-time World Championships individual medalist

5. “Have a 'why' and keep in touch with it. You chose to do a marathon for a reason: cross off a bucket-list item, raise funds, honor a loved one, share training and race day with a friend. Remind yourself of your “why” (and you can have more than one) often, to keep yourself motivated and purpose-driven.” - Gordon Bakoulis, NYRR Group Training Coach

6. “Prep is key. You’re going to feel it if that prep has been mismanaged when you get into the race. Knowing your body and respecting your body is super important when you’re out there.” - Madison de Rozario (AUS), Defending TCS New York City Marathon champion; five-time Paralympic medalist

7. “Gear: Running is a relatively gear-light sport. That being said, make sure you take care of your feet by wearing the appropriate running shoes for your foot type and running gait. If possible, visit a specialty running store. They’ll be able to correctly size you, watch you run/walk and recommend the best shoe for you. Clothing-wise, aim for tech fabric vs cotton or other non-breathable materials. These technical materials will help wick moisture in and keep you cool in the warmer months and warm and dryer in the cooler times.” - Roberto Mandje, NYRR Head of Training

8. “Have a support system. You may train alone or with others, but preparing for a marathon is not a solo endeavor. Get your loved ones on board as your support crew during training and on race day – whether it’s a loving spouse/partner who watches the kids during your long runs, an understanding colleague who “gets” you need to leave at 5 p.m. or a group of friends who donate to your fundraising efforts. And make sure to thank them after you cross the finish line.” - Gordon Bakoulis, NYRR Group Training Coach

9. “Course awareness: Prepare for the type of course you’ll be racing by doing some of your long runs over similar topography. Whether flat, downhill, hilly or an undulating marathon, you’ll give yourself the best chance for success by adding similar elevation profiles to some of your long runs. Diversifying your runs will set you up well for whatever the marathon has to throw at you.” - Roberto Mandje, NYRR Head of Training

10. “Listen to your body: Marathon training is inherently challenging. Know the difference between soreness, pain and fatigue. Soreness is typically felt at the beginning of your training cycle, when your body is adapting to the mileage and workouts. It should eventually go away as you get fitter and into a training routine. On the other hand, pain tends to linger and can feel both sharp and specific to an area on your body. If the sensation doesn’t go away despite taking a few days off, check in with a physical therapist. Fatigue, to a certain extent, is something most if not all marathoners live with while training. Despite training well, it may feel like you’re constantly tired, as you straddle the delicate balance of training and recovery. Listen to your body and be brave enough to take an extra day off here and there and/or slow your training pace down on easy and recovery days. Remember, it’s better to be 10 miles undertrained than one mile over, because the gains are made in the recovery, so always listen to your body.” - Roberto Mandje, NYRR Head of Training

And for anyone running the 2022 TCS New York City Marathon this weekend...

11. "First-time racers I think the number one rule is don't go out too hard, and that's even more important in tough conditions. And it's going to be a little on the tougher side on Sunday just because it's on the warm side. A good thing to remember is that you've done the majority of your training in the summer so you're used to being warm and sweating and you should have a hydration plan. Default to that for the conditions on Sunday. If this were the spring we'd be having a totally different conversation because you haven't really sweat or seen the sun in six months, but don't forget that you've run in this, you've trained in it so be confident in that." - Des Linden (USA), Two-time Olympian; 2018 Boston Marathon champion

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Catrina Yohay

Managing Editor

Catrina oversees content production across all PureWow verticals. When she's not managing editorial schedules or newsletter production, you can find her out and about in NYC...
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