5 Tips For Runners Tackling Their First Marathon

This is a guest post by Shaun Dixon, who is an elite runner and head coach at Let’s Get Running. A self diagnosed ‘run-addict’, he uses his experience of training and competing over a range of distances to coach runners of all ability levels. Shaun is training me for the 2017 London Marathon.

Thinking of tackling your first Marathon? Here are 5 tips to read before you kick off your training.

1. Be patient.

Don’t take on too much too soon-you’ll find quickly find yourself injured, ill or both. Give yourself some time, and slowly build up to it- you need to be fit at the end of the training period not the beginning.

There is a fantastic stat about Marathon running. 95% of those who line up on Marathon day will complete the race but only 72% of those with a place actually make it to the start line. Your number 1 goal should be to get to the Marathon fit and healthy.

So be patient, both in terms of volume increases and the pace of your runs too. The key to improvement, rather boringly, is consistency. Establishing a good routine of steady or easy pace running is an absolute priority- preparing a base level of fitness on which you can build. You can’t build anything on shoddy foundations. So take it easy- always run with your next run in mind, so finish feeling there’s more in the tank. You want to get out and want to run, not sit and wallow in a hole of fatigue!

2. Set yourself a target

All runners struggle with motivation but it’s easier to deal with dark periods if you have a clear goal for the run.

I like people to have a race goal. It could be anything from, simply getting round to running sub 3hours, but it needs to be firm and measureable. If you want to work to a time but don’t know where to start, I suggest running  a 10k race or time trial. An online race time predictor or calculator will then give you an estimated marathon time based on this performance (Runners World is a good place to start). It’s no guarantee but it’s better than a blind stab in the dark!

3. Lock in your routine

If you look at the routines of the majority of top athletes they are fairly regimented. They know when they will run and roughly what each run will look like. We don’t have the luxury of structuring our lives around our running but we can make sure sure our run time is sacred. Set an hour aside, arrange to meet a friend, or join a group to make sure your run plans don’t get shelved.

If you’re wondering how many runs you should commit to each week then it all depends on your goal. The beauty of running is, for the most part, you get out what you put in. If you’re aiming for a time beginning with 3 you need to commit to 4 ‘sessions’ a week ( though this can include a cross training session). 3-4 sessions should be a good target for all runners aiming for a Marathon. Beginners should start with 3 and progress to 4 or 5 if the body reacts well to the training.

4. Think about your body- don’t just tick boxes.

It’s very easy to get very bogged down in numbers when Marathon training. You must follow a 16 week plan, include a 20mile run as your longest run 3-4 weeks from race day, and run all your miles at such and such a pace to run this or that time on race day. Focus on getting your body into the best possible shape to run, not fitting in with a generic structure.

Once you have established a good base of steady running it’s worth having a think about the attributes you need to improve as a runner and thinking about how your training works to support that. Tempo runs, intervals, strides and fartleks can all be a little intimidating at first but understanding their benefits and importance should make them less daunting.

If we were to build a Marathon Runner from scratch here’s what we would need.

Strong Running Body. Built by a consistent routine of steady aerobic running and your long stamina building runs.

Big Heart. Improved by sustained, reasonably challenging runs (tempo, threshold, some fartleks and Marathon pace runs for faster runners. Running at a controlled challenging intensity trains your heart to pump rich, oxygenated blood to the muscles!

Big lungs. This involves interval training- spending some time running at your maximum comfortable range of breathing, in order to improve your ability to take on, and use large volumes of oxygen. Our focus should be on giving the lungs a workout- not flat out running but running where your aerobic system is challenged but not over extended. Breathing should be deep and rhythmic and you should be maintain for the pace for 15mins without stopping.

As a basic guide you should be aiming for a series of intervals of between 2-5mins each, with a rest between each half or ¾ as long as each interval, and a total volume of c.20mins hard running.

Efficient Movement Patterns…brain training!

Efficiency of movement can be improved in two ways; Strength and Conditioning to improve strength and mobility, and through regular faster running!

Running fast is really important. In being more dynamic and explosive you make use of a larger range of muscle groups; improving their capabilities and the efficiency of the communication from brain to muscle. Essentially you’re building your arsenal and figuring out ways to activate those weapons! There are lots of different ways to approach this- from hill sprints to ‘strides’, (relaxed technique sprints).

The key to working on speed is to always consider the purpose of the session. You should always aim to run fast but relaxed- gurning faces and shoulders around your ears are a big no-no!

5. Practise positivity

Very few endeavours require as much mental fortitude as long distance running, and your enjoyment of the training and race itself will hinge on the nature of your mindset.

Charlie Spedding, the last British man to medal in the Marathon at an Olympic games, had a simple yet highly effective method to mentally prepare himself for big events. Everyday in the lead up to the 1984 games he told himself that the Olympic final would be the best day of his life.Over and over again, for the next 3 months. He started to believe it and on race day he felt relaxed, confident and eager to run. He produced an incredible performance to take an unexpected bronze medal. You can do the same thing. Be really positive. The marathon will be fantastic experience- so remind yourself how great it will be.

Shaun Dixon of Lets Get Running

10 Things I’m Afraid of as a New Marathon Runner

This week Fiona and I swapped blogs. On her blog you can find a post I wrote all about what you should be afraid of as a newbie marathoner. On my blog below, you can find her view, as a first time marathoner, on what she is afraid of.  You can find Fiona, aka Scallywag, at her blog Scallywag Sprints on her twitter account, or on her facebook page.

10 Things I’m Afraid of as a New Marathon Runner


Hey, I’m Fiona, also known as Scallywag. I’ve never raced a marathon before, and am signed up for my first in 2016. The marathon distance is a fearsome opponent, and whilst I intend for us to go head to head on May 29th, there are some things I’m very afraid of. This list starts with my tongue-in-cheek concerns and quickly veers off into dark and deep territory…


I’m afraid of:


Learning to run without music: I likely will take music to Liverpool, but I really think I should learn run without it. Firstly because for paced runs it’s good to focus on your footfall, breathing, and pace. Secondly because I feel I could really use it in the later stages of the race to provide a proper boost. That will only work if I don’t use it all the time. But I have almost never run without music. The few times I have it’s because I forgot to charge my iPod, or some eejit ‘borrowed’ it. I’m not sure who I am as a runner without Tay Tay Swiftie…


Eating the amount of food meant for a small city: I didn’t sign up to a marathon to lose any weight. I’m aware long, long distance running is hardly the technique for Biggest Loser-style transformations, and it definitely isn’t my focus. However I’m already heavy for a runner and I’d rather not be a stone heavier by race day. Additionally, for climbing I’d like to stay solid, or even go further towards the leaner side. I know after long runs, my brain will basically be speaking with the voice of the cookie monster. I need smart food choices that can be prepared fast after those runs. I fear trying to carry around the equivalent of a mini fridge on the day. That shit is for charitable people.


Losing my social life: This will happen. I mean, I’m a PhD student, it already has. But it will get worse. I’m quite nervous about the damage that this will do to my relationship. And all my friendships. And to even my work colleagues. There is only so many times that people can bear hearing the smug reply, “Sorry, I’m going a run at lunchtime”. All the early mornings to wake up the SO. All of the sneaking away from drinks early. To everyone- I am so sorry. I do love you really. I just really want to do this. 


The chafing, oh god the chafing: I’ve seen some pretty bad chafing after 3 mile runs. Unless I keep the Vaseline close at hand, I don’t dare think of what that could be like after 15 or 26. I fully expect many sports bras and shorts that I have trusted for years to start failing me entirely. I once wept in the shower after doing a two day canoe trip. The chafing around my neck from the lifejacket was on fire. I hope it isn’t like that. 


That I will go out too fast: Isn’t this the eternal worry? That despite my best intentions I will get caught up in the moment and fly through the crowds like wing-footed Hermes at the start, only to be kicked in the teeth by the mile 12 hill. I can’t afford to do this and I know I have a tendency to think I’m making up time I can slow on later. Much research and experience shows this is a shit plan. I’m going to be really tough with myself and force a plod for at least the first 5 miles. 


I’ll get the fuelling all wrong: At least going out too fast is entirely my fault, but fuelling is scarily unpredictable. I mean, yesterday I vomited for no fecking reason. On marathon day you have your dinner the night before, your breakfast, your gels/food, and your sports drink to worry about. I have been very sick in a race before from incorrect fuelling (Edinburgh half, it was very hot and I overdid it with the food and drinks). I didn’t enjoy the reverse-smoothie vomiting effect produced by the mix of tropical gels, lemon and lime nuun, and porridge. And it didn’t exactly do wonders for my time either. 


What if my training program is all wrong for me?: Aha, now we are onto the real fears of the trembling inner me… what if I have made the wrong choices? Choices that only trial and error will teach me are incorrect? I have chosen to follow a rough program that emphasises quality over vast mile quantity, in the hope that it will leave me uninjured. What if that is just too much hard running? Or if it is not enough miles and I will hit the wall hard at mile 22? I don’t actually know much about hitting the wall, but it’s hardly a friendly-sounding metaphor.


Injury: That right there is the scariest word of all. Every single twinge or tweak leaves me sweating and paranoid. I worry about sleeping on a leg funny, about having my legs crossed under my desk, about jumping off of the pavement. I stare at my scar and ponder my injury-strewn history, and it makes me cringe internally. What have I been doing wrong in the past? Am I sure I’m doing it correctly this time?  Will marathon training leave me not only unable to do a marathon, but unable to run anything?


And what if running stops being fun?: I can almost guarantee this will happen. Make yourself do something enough and you’ll end up hating it at times. I’m scared that somewhere deep in week 15 or so I will stop thinking that the training is worth it. I’m really enjoying loving running again, and I really want to keep focused on that feeling of pushing it, and of flying. 


Most of all, I’m scared that I wont be enough: As this great article by RedWineRunner says, “You WILL find out what you are made of… and you might not like it”. I’m worried I will not like who I am. I can be a whiner, a perfectionist, avoidant to the max. I can be very mentally weak in places, and am prone to sudden emotional collapse. I can be lax on stretching, and lazy on weekends, and procrastinate for things I don’t want to do by doing something else ‘essential’. And these are only the personality weaknesses that I’m AWARE of. Essentially I won’t find out until I am deep in training whether I am the kind of person who can do this, who can dedicate to this at all. 


So yes I’m scared, very scared. But I guess in 4 months 13 days 19 hours 17 minutes (at time of writing, not that I’m counting or anything…) we find out what I am made of. 


Want to follow along? You can find my blog here; my twitter @ScallywagSprint, or if you only want to look at pretty pictures my Instagram is also @ScallywagSprint.


Post written by Scallywag and published on RandRuns on 18/01/16

17 Tips That Will Help You Set A Personal Best On Your Next Marathon

This is a guest post by Monica from Fit Girls Diary – see her bio at the end of the post.

I bet you’ve asked yourself:

Does running ever gets easier?!

Well, to be honest, I’ve thought about that many times…

…when I finally decided to change my question to action!

After running a few marathons, I decided to collect the absolute BEST marathon running tips in order to make my run easier.

And when I finally tested them on my last half-marathon, I realized how helpful they actually are!

In fact, they helped me improve my time on my last race and the best thing is that I’m not the only one!

Sure enough, they’re used by some of the most famous marathon runners – world wide!

Since these tips are your golden ticket to the finish line, I decided to finally pull back the curtains and share them with you.

Get ready, because I’m bringing the noise 🙂


Tip #1: Take a Cold Shower

Your skin bristled yet?

I know mine did, but your body actually likes this… A LOT!

There’s no better thing than a cold shower to get you ready for the race and here’s why:

  • Increases your body circulation
  • Prepares your body for the upcoming activity
  • Wakes up your body and makes you feel fresh

If you’re not a morning person, this will make the perfect start for your race day.

Just make sure to dry your hair before going out.

Tip #2: Don’t run with a bottle

As one of the best, world champion and English record holder, Mo Farah says:

“Running with a bottle puts pressure on whatever side of your body it’s weighing down, and running well it’s all about balance”

I’ve always ran with a bottle but on my last race I realized that I’m actually better off empty handed.

Since hydration is important, drink immediately before the run, and patiently wait for the refreshments along the track.


Tip #3: Avoid Screens

I bet you find yourself staring at the screen on your tablet or smartphone right before you bed down.

Well, it happens to all of us, but here’s a fact:

Staring at the screen won’t help you fall asleep and rest!

And running a marathon on no sleep will be hard to handle.

Bedding down before a big event is already a challenge, so we don’t want to make it even harder, right?

Tip #4: Take a Shot Of Energy Gel

There is a reason why energy gels are recommended by many world’s leading marathon trainers:

  • They load us up with some last minute energy;
  • They refill our electrolytes resources, which we lose as we sweat;
  • They replenish the glycogen and calorie you’re burning and help you avoid glycogen depletion.

A shot of energy gel will energize you easy, just make sure to take it with a glass of water, at least 30 minutes before the race starts, in order to avoid bloating.

Tip #5: Run Tall

Your mom was right:

“Keep your back straight!”

The right running posture allows your body to get more oxygen by releasing the pressure on your back at the same time.


  • Chest up
  • Shoulders back
  • Back straight
  • Stabilized arm motions and
  • Leaning forward posture.

Tip #6: Don’t Clench Your Fists

I could’ve never guessed this one, but clenching your firsts while running takes a lot of energy.

They tense our arms and shoulders, and that leaves us with tension on the whole body.

And one thing is clear:

We don’t want that!

So try to relax your fists by using the “egg holding technique” (pretend you’re holding eggs in your palms).


Tip #7: Eat Like A Superhero

A good diet is the key to a happy marathon ending, but when it comes to the “last minute meals”, runners always get confused.

Because of that, I made my IRONMAN schedule:

  1. The night before the race:
  • greens – (spinach, kale, broccoli, tomatoes)
  • whole grains (pasta or rice);
  • vegetables – (grilled, steamed or in a salad);
  • proteins – (chicken, fish or clean red meat).
  1. The morning before the race:
  • oatmeal with raisins;
  • yogurt;
  • fruits – bananas are the best;
  • nuts – a handful of almonds.
  1. Hydration:
  • at least 500 ml. of water

Tip #8: Rise & Shine Before The Sun

It doesn’t always have to be before the sun, but make sure to wake up at least 3 hours before your race.

This will help you:

  • wake up properly
  • have time for breakfast
  • warm up
  • have time for the cold shower
  • get to the race on time – stress free.

Cutting down an hour of your sleep won’t change a lot, and it can bring you only good.

Tip #9: Always Land On Your Forefoot

Landing right is something that you probably already know, but since it’s really important I had to add it in my golden list.

You should always remember one thing: When you hit the ground, always land on your forefoot.

This will provide many benefits, starting from:

  • decrease your impact
  • increase your speed
  • prevents bad knee

And here’s how to do that:

Tip #10: Create a Pace Strategy

Finding your rhythm is really important, but making a plan about it plays a big role too


If you haven’t got your plan yet, here’s mine:

Start slower in the first half of the track and slightly increase your pace in the second half.

This always works for me, especially for 5K and 10K races.

Tip #11: Dress For Success

There’re a few rules when it comes to dressing for the race:

  • Choose the right fabric – forget cotton, and go for Dri Fit, Thinsulate, Thermax, Cool Max, polypropylene or silk.
  • Don’t wear clothes that are too tight, but again choose something that’s not too loose too.
  • Choose weather appropriate clothes – check out the forecast
  • Girls, don’t forget the sport bra

Tip #12: Do a Session Of Yoga

It’s really important to rest well the night before the race.

And what’s the best way to relax body and mind – YOGA!

Since yoga is more than just a stretching, many runners include it into their training.

However, it’s always a good idea to do a session of yoga the night before your big day.

Just type “yoga for runners” on YouTube and let your favorite poses do the rest!

Tip #13: Breathe Through Your Mouth

When it comes to breathing, many runners confuse themselves:

Do I breathe through my nose, or let my mouth join the party?!

Well you might not know, but you should always breathe through your mouth – inhale and exhale.


Breathing through your mouth makes it easier for your whole body to refill with oxygen.

And that means that you’re going to go easier through your run.

Unfortunately, you’d be surprised by the fact that many marathon runners don’t know this yet – that’s why I had to include it in my marathon running tips list.

Tip #14: Don’t Look Down

Looking down when running puts pressure on your upper spine, can cause neck strain, gives you hard time breathing and shows off your insecurity.

And I bet you find yourself staring at your snickers when running, but make sure you change that on your big day.

Try looking in front of you by keeping your head in a neutral position.

Tip #15: Use The “Thoughts Replacement Strategy”

Mind and body always work together!

Here’s a fact: Your body can handle almost anything, but it’s your mind that needs an extra push!

And how to do that?

Easy – the “Thoughts Replacement Strategy”:

When you feel the pain or the burn, try thinking about parts that don’t hurt.

If your calves hurt, try re-focusing on your left hand – think about how it exists too, it’s sweaty, it doesn’t hurt but could use some rest.

And if your whole body feels like collapsing, force yourself to think about something else (plan something you’re going to do for example)

This is mental training, so don’t worry if it doesn’t work at first – the race is long enough to give it a try a couple of times.

Tip #16: Don’t Run In Brand New Shoes

This is a lesson you don’t want to learn on the day of the race.

I won’t deny that running shoes are important, but what’s much more important is keeping your feet blister and pain free.

So don’t experiment with the new pair of shoes this race, keep them for the next one.

Tip #17: Never EVER Stop

A smart man once said:

It doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop!

So, slow down as much as you like, but make sure that you keep going.

Even a short walk can crush down your pace and it’s going to be twice as hard when you start running again.


Now It’s Your Turn!

It’s time to actually put these powerful strategies into practice and shine on the finish line!

You’re not convinced yet?!

Use at least one of these strategies on your next race and you’ll see for yourself.

Don’t forget to share 🙂

Short Bio About Monica May From Fit Girl’s Diary

Monica May is a fitness coach that one day decided to start a mission and help every girl, that loves herself enough to start living healthier.

Through her diary, she passes on her fitness story, strongly believing that every girl deserves to get the sneakiest fitness and weight loss tricks – for free.

With the power of her expertise she inspires, motivates and supports, by giving you the best workout plans, guides and tips, to finally change your life.

Falling in love with running.

Only days left until the third Tralee International Marathon, and all the work is done now. It will also be my third time running it, and, if I manage to avoid injury between now and Sunday, will be my first time doing it uninjured – last year I ran it with a dislocated hip bone (ouch!) and the year before I had a slightly less serious knee injury (but I was a lot less fit, and it was my first marathon!).

I really look forward to Tralee, as, not only is it my hometown marathon, but it was also the first marathon I ran, and little did I know, as I suffered and cursed my way through that first one, that it would kick off a love affair with distance running that only gets stronger as I go on.

I hated every moment of my first marathon – I hated the training, I hated the short runs, I hated the long runs even more, and I hated pretty much every mile of the marathon itself. I couldn’t understand what kind of masochists did this stuff for enjoyment. I struggled in last and forlorn in my training group on every long run, and was in constant pain, even when I wasn’t running. Every week threw up a new muscle to strain, and I would have to crawl out of the car and into an epsom salts bath after I had run any distance. My knees, feet, hips, and toes were sore all the time. On the day of the marathon itself, I felt like crap from early on, and spent most of the race on my own, my training group having gone far ahead and out of sight. Many times I considered quitting. The only thing that got me to the line was the knowledge that my sons were waiting to see me finish, and I feared letting them see me as a quitter more than I feared going on. That, and the thought that, as soon as I finished this, I would go home, burn my runners, and never, ever, run again.
When I eventually got to the finish line, 6 hours and 3 minutes after I started, I collapsed into the arms of one of the Red Cross medics.

Then I went home and signed up for another marathon. I’ve been running them since, with a couple of ultramarathons thrown in for good measure. It’s like one of those awful Hollywood romantic comedies, where the two stars hate each other, but you know they are going to end up falling in love.
I don’t know when I went from hating running to loving it – it didn’t happen in some sudden, Eureka moment, though it did happen quite quickly. I think it was when I started to train for my second marathon, and I began to get a little bit fitter, and a little bit quicker, so that I ran with people instead of behind them. I started to see the runs as a challenge rather than something to be endured, and finishing them in a decent time as an achievement in itself. But it was when I trained for my first ultra that I really began to love running. My form improved, and the pain of the long runs went. I began to feel like a real runner rather than a pretender, and my whole outlook changed. Now running is a big part of my life, and something that I truly love doing.

I hope that many of those who run their first marathon in Tralee next Sunday come to feel the same way.

Just before the start of my first marathon - I'm smiling because I don't realise how bad it's going to be.
Just before the start of my first marathon – I’m smiling because I don’t realise how bad it’s going to be.