Q+A: How should I tackle my first marathon?

Our experts answer real-life questions

Posted: 9 September 2000
by John Bingham

Q This autumn I’m attempting my first marathon. My goal is simply to finish, although it would be nice to run it in about five hours. What’s the best strategy for this type of goal?

A First things first. Your goal – ‘simply to finish’ and ‘to run it in five hours’ – are two different goals. The first approach allows you to enjoy the experience unconditionally, while the other requires you to count the mile markers and watch the clock. Both can be fun, but they aren’t necessarily compatible.

Because you’re a first timer, I suggest you focus on finishing the race feeling good. The marathon can be a humbling distance, so be prepared for whatever the day, the weather and the course throw at you. Having an absolute time goal can be a recipe for disappointment.

The old adage for first-time marathoners is to start slowly and then taper off. While many people laugh at this saying, it’s not a bad plan. At the very least take a conservative approach to the first 13 miles. Walk through every water stop. Or try one minute walking for every 5-10 minutes running. As I’m sure everyone has told you, the biggest danger lies in going out too fast. Enforced walking breaks will help you avoid this pitfall and will also help you to finish more comfortably.

Finally, do the first 20 miles for the sport and the last 6.2 for yourself. There are very few experiences in our adult lives that compare to finishing a first marathon. Savour the last 10K. Wave to the crowds and thank the marshals. After all, you know this marathon will be a PB.

John ‘The Penguin’ Bingham, RW columnist

Previous article
RW's Basic Marathon Schedules: Get You Round
Next article
Q+A: I drank plenty. Why this marathon cramp?

beginner marathon, sub-5, bingham, run-walk

Discuss this article

Have been told by my consultant that if (not diagnosed as yet) i have a sf I could still run the mararthon (I am raising money for charity)I might otherwise have tibia fasciitis.
Can this be true?
Posted: 09/02/2007 at 15:07

ps it is my second marathon
Posted: 09/02/2007 at 15:08

which marathon? when? which stress fracture?
Posted: 09/02/2007 at 16:53

london, april, tibia or fibula (not known)
Posted: 09/02/2007 at 17:41

Hmmm - that's going to be touch and go I think. You'll probably be recovered by then, but the training in the meantime will be your problem - basically a stress fracture will only heal with rest and you're looking at most of the 10 weeks until FLM until you're comfortable, especially if it's your tibia which is the load-bearing one.

So - yes, you probably will be able to run in London, but not as well as if you didn't have it and could train fully.

My advice - book another marathon for may/june, take all pressure off yourself, enjoy London and use it as a long training run. Then go for the later one more seriously.

Best of luck Amanda
Posted: 09/02/2007 at 20:28

Thanks for the advice. I have more or less decided to defer to next year if I get diagnosed with the fracture. I want to enjoy the run!
I am hoping for a lesser diagnosis of tibia fasciitis and then I will definitely run.
Posted: 09/02/2007 at 22:05

i have just entered my first marathon the white peak marathon on 19th may. I am currently running around about 35 miles a week. Is this enough of what i should be attempting my first marathon. I ran 20miles yesterday in about 2 hours 40.
Posted: 25/02/2007 at 20:00

We'd love you to add a comment! Please login or take half a minute to register as a free member

Smart Coach
Free, fully-personalized training plans, designed to suit your racing goals and your lifestyle.