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

Kinematix TUNE Giveaway!

I have been using the very clever Kinematix TUNE for a few months now, and am constantly amazed at the amount of information it gives on the biomechanics of my running, and how to improve them.

Kinematix have very kindly given me a TUNE, for one of my readers. Simply pop onto the RandRuns Facebook page, and tell me in one sentence what you think TUNE could best help improve in your running. I’ll pick the best one on Friday December 23rd – just in time for Christmas! Terms & Conditions below.


Terms and Conditions:
One entry per reader
Entry is by posting a comment on the RandRuns Facebook page
Prize is a Kinematix TUNE, supplied by Kinematix directly to the winner
No substitutions of the prize
Judges decision is final

Guest Post: Cross Training For Improved Marathon Times

This is a guest post from my friend and fellow Tralee Tri Club member Den McCarthy, on how cross-training and Strength and Conditioning has helped his marathon times. Check out Den’s blog There Will Be Hills.

Firstly, thank you Randall for the opportunity to give my take on marathon running and how cross training with the Tralee Triathlon club has impacted on my times. Now, this is an ongoing process that, I hope will yield a big success, at the Berlin Marathon in September 2016.

So, who am I?
And what qualifies me to give this advice?

To answer the second question first, nothing! I am a very ordinary runner. It really is a case of what works for me and what doesn’t. I will give you some background to my running and what I have learned and changed over the course of my 8 Marathons.

So, two and a half years ago, at the age of 47, I had quite a change in my personal life and was urged by my younger brother, Brendan, to get back into running. Back in the 80’s, during the great running boom, I took part in many 10k races with my dad. But this fell by the wayside after college, with work and family taking priority. My current job entails spending quite a bit of time on the road so I always had the excuse that I didn’t have the time to train.

In June 2013, I was fortunate to read about Born To Run, (right here in Tralee) and after meeting Marcus Howlett, I signed up for the training program for the Rose 10k in August of that year. A wise move, as it opened the door to a wide circle of friends, who were all quite new to this running lark.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever consider running a full marathon, but, shortly after finishing my first 10k, I took the plunge. Part of me wanted to rediscover my youth – and get back to near my times for the 10k runs from yesteryear – and another part wanted to finish a marathon with my brother. Now, Brendan was a veteran of a number of marathons at this stage, with times around 3 hours 30 minutes. There was my target!
He told me that it would take me five or six marathons to discover how to run them correctly and added that I would learn a great deal about myself when I complete my first one. How right he was!
I threw myself into the training, with gusto, and discovered a strength in my legs from all those years ago. Muscle memory is a great thing. I completed my first marathon in March 2014 with a time of 4 hours 10 minutes – shattered, after hitting the wall and over hydrating.   What a wonderful feeling though – to finish a 26.2 mile run. I was hungry for more.
I signed up for Dublin in October 2014 but after a summer blighted with injury and tendonitis, I discovered I was running all wrong!! After one visit to the Tralee Physiotherapy Clinic, my problems were sorted. All I had to do was retrain myself on how to run, by reducing my stride and increasing my cadence. I broke four hours in Dublin but blistered very badly. Through the winter, I continued working on my running form and did my second marathon in Tralee in 3 hours 47 minutes. This time, I had the benefit of getting my feet taped.

Den 1
Crossing the line at the 2014 Tralee International Marathon

In July 2015, while running a marathon in Courtmacsherry, as part in the Keith Whyte Waterfront Ultra Marathon, I was fortunate to fall into step with a seasoned runner. His advice was on Long Slow Runs, with the emphasis on ‘Slow’. All my previous long runs were pretty much at marathon pace. This resulted in my feet being constantly in need of repair and also, I was tired when it came to marathon day.
With the Berlin Marathon coming at the end of September, I was on a different training plan to my friends in Born To Run, so I did quite a bit of solo running. On the advice of a friend, I added walking barefooted on the beach, some cycling and hillwalking to my training regime.

This brings me to Berlin 2015 – my sixth marathon. Had I learned enough?
To summarise, I messed up with nutrition and hydration in my first two – and hit the wall.
Dublin taught me not to put Vaseline on my feet, if you are not used to using it.
Tralee II, with a new running form, had me singing the praises of chiropody felt and also that sweet potato is excellent for nutrition.
Courtmacsherry gave me the benefit of slowing down and that rest is important.

3 hours 31 minutes is the answer. A day when everything worked. Nutrition, hydration and a flat course. I was so well rested, I thought I was under trained. Of course Brendan finished eight minutes ahead of me. Berlin really rocked, but the target of finishing with him is still to be achieved.

Den 2
Berlin 2015

Now this brings me to the whole reason for this post. As I had briefly considered doing the Tralee 100k Ultra in August 2016, I knew that my feet would never hold up to the long and frequent training runs, the decision was made to join the Tralee Triathlon club. I needed to build up my strength and endurance. Cross training seemed to be the way to go. The Tri club would give me access to threes disciplines, (because one is never enough), but also strength and conditioning classes, nutrition advice and a fantastic support structure.

The 100km went by the wayside when I got accepted to run Berlin again. But, I was curious to know just how much triathlon training would help. My first task was to learn how to swim. With a dislike of water, it was really just a matter of throwing myself in at the deep end, or should I say, sink or swim.
The Tri club have organised top quality coaches to cover each discipline and John Edwards of Wild Water Adventures has got us to a point where we are nearly ready for the Open Water swims. All we need is the weather to hurry up and get warm. I know there will be many challenges ahead but swimming has already made me aware of a different level of fitness.

In October 2015, I signed up for the first block of Strength and Conditioning at Nisus Fitness, with an aim of building muscle and losing fat. What an eye opener!! That broken up feeling every Friday and Saturday came against my running times, but I was looking at the bigger picture. The first inkling of the benefits of S&C came in the Run The Gauntlet Half Marathon in November when I had the confidence to go all out, downhill, over the last few miles, safe in the knowledge that my knees were not going to explode. At the end of this block, I got a big surprise, while gaining some muscle, I also gained fat. The reason for this, when explained, made a lot of sense. With all the extra stress that I was putting my body under, I was undoing much of the good work because I was not getting my recovery shakes and protein in during the 20 minute window after a workout. I was also not getting enough quality sleep. On the second S&C block, I have reversed the trend as I am now more focussed on getting my proteins and shakes and rest.

On the cycling front, I had my trusty Mountain bike initially, before swapping it for a Road bike. With cycling Coach Cian Hogan and a wealth of guidance and help from the Tri club, I was finally learning how to ride a bike! The Club spins and Time Trials have been very beneficial. Like the swimming, I have much to learn.

On the running front, top athletes, Maria O Keeffe McCarthy and Milosz Wojcik provide the coaching. I attended some of the speed sessions with Maria but not enough of the Hill/Trail sessions with Milosz, as I still struggle to get up and over any hill of consequence, during a race. In truth, I neglected my running since January, in preference to the swimming and bike. I have only run 150km this year, which is way down on the 380km for the same time period in 2014.

(I promise, I am nearly finished this tale).

Last Saturday, I ran my third Tralee International Marathon. My head was moidered beforehand, with phantom pains and fears of being under prepared. How was all this cross training going to play out? My plan was to beat last years time and aim to get close to 3 hours 40 minutes.

On a perfect day for running (as described by Randall), I tucked in with the 3.30 pacers Chris and Francy and felt strong throughout. I began to drift back a little when we hit the 32/ 33 Km mark (20 miles). I was able to maintain a fairly constant pace to the finish, unlike my two previous Tralee marathons, finishing in 3 hours 34 minutes. Only 3 minutes outside my Berlin time. The two routes are like chalk and cheese. I would happily put this down as my best marathon performance to date.

Den 3
Tralee International Marathon 2016

Does cross training work? ABSOLUTELY!!
And especially, when combined with the correct rest and nutrition.

I may ask Randall for another post, when I complete Berlin in September. By then I hope to be a fully paid up triathlete and have the benefit of summer training and some more marathons.

Thanks for your patience in getting all the way to the end.
Den McCarthy
Ok, I will come clean, finishing a marathon with Brendan would be great…….
……… but I really do want to beat him now. J

Milla Austin: How I Qualified for The Boston Marathon

This week’s Guest Post is by Milla Austin, from California. Milla went from a 5:27 marathon, to being a Boston Marathon qualifier, and she gives some great insight into how she did it. I came across Milla through her brilliant “Why You Should Hire A Marathoner” post on LinkedIn.

illa blog post image 2

Some people are born with the ability to run fast. I am not one of those people; I’m a slow runner. I’m the back of the pack, the one at the end, and I’m OK with that. I wasn’t born with speed. When “real” runners would talk about going to Boston, I would look with admiring eyes, but knew that would never and could never be me. I never even considered myself a “real” runner.   It took me 5 hours and 27 minutes to finish my first marathon. I am proud of that finish, but it was not close to a Boston qualifier. So how eight years after my first marathon was I able to qualify for Boston with a finish time of 3:34?

  • I had to get in my mind that I was a “REAL Runner”

It took years for me to realize that a “real” runner is not only someone who is extremely fast or wins races. A runner is someone who goes out there and pounds the pavement. I had long believed I wasn’t a “real” runner because of my speed. When my son wrote on a school paper that his Mom was a “runner” my heart sunk. How my son, my family, and friends could believe in me and yet I didn’t believe in myself. If you run, damn it, you are a runner. You are an athlete. As an athlete you decide how you want to run or what goals you want to have. Just believe that you can do whatever you set your mind to!

  • To Run Fast, you have to Run Fast

The bottom line is, you can’t just wish to be fast, you have to work at it. Yes, I tried the wishing thing many times, but it didn’t work. You have to train and do speed work.   Was I out of my comfort zone? Absolutely, and it was painful. My first “speed sessions” consisted of 60 seconds sprints followed by 4 minutes slow/recovery. I still to this day remember my first 9:00-minute mile. It didn’t come fast, it took months. Start slow – push yourself a little each run, and keep on adding. But don’t give up; you will have bad days and good days. Celebrate the small accomplishments on your training, and if you missed your mark celebrate that you showed up! The road to Boston will be hard, but it’s no fun if you don’t enjoy the journey.

  • Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

My husband never trained for long distance, yet every time he ran a race he would beat me. Not only by a few minutes, but sometimes close to an hour. During races I noticed that runners would pick up speed at the end of a race while I was struggling to catch my breath. In my mind, I hated them. Why was it so much easier for everyone else? One day I was telling my sob story to my friend. She gave me the best advice. She said: “Don’t compare yourself to others, compare yourself to the person you were yesterday.” I don’t know why, but that quote stuck. It was so true. I was focusing on the negative, and what I couldn’t do instead of what I was accomplishing. There is always someone faster… Who cares? Focus on your goal and celebrate when others reach theirs.

  • Get a Coach

Hiring a running coach was totally worth it. It was a huge help in reaching my dream, and helped my running tremendously. I had someone telling me exactly how I needed to train, and I had someone pushing me just a bit more than I would do alone. Depending on your budget, coaches can be hired on-line or in person. Coaches programs may vary, but a running training plan will include structured training runs, warm up drills, cool down and recovery, nutrition and fueling tips, strength training, injury prevention, and race-day preparation. Having a structured program tailored to my goals made all the difference.

If you have a goal to get to Boston, or even to just get faster you can do it. It is a choice you have to make every single day to commit to the training. It is tough, it is uncomfortable, but the reward of doing something you never thought possible is worth it. As I look back, I still enjoy my slow long runs with friends. However, with the right commitment and training this slow runner can make it to Boston again!

milla blog post image 1



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.