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

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