Everything you need to run your first marathon
- Kevin Fullerton
- 20 July 2021
Want 42k under your belt? Then take a look at our top tips and advice
It was bound to happen. When the government told everyone to stay indoors last year unless they were doing essential exercise, they unwittingly created a band of have-a-go runners pounding the pavement for the first time as an excuse, any excuse, to leave the house.
Sales of running gear soared in 2020 during lockdown, alongside other fitness equipment, as swathes of the populace challenged themselves to keep fit during one of the worst years in living memory.
Fast forward to 2021 and, with lockdown restrictions easing, the prospect of running a marathon has become a palpable reality again. And not a solitary marathon where you plot a route alone and finish back at your house, with only the damp silence of your poxy sense of achievement to buoy you. A paid-for, competitive experience with other runners panting for breath beside you and awe-struck onlookers witnessing your cardiovascular prowess first-hand.
Sound appealing? Then it's time to prepare.
To help you beat that feted 42 kilometre adventure, we've put together this list of tips, tricks, purchases and knowhow. Read it and get ready to tick an impressive achievement off your bucket list.
Know your goals
Your training regime will require a greater degree of precision and planning than any run you've tried before. Most veteran marathoners agree that a 16-week training plan is required before you can even consider tackling a competitive marathon. This plan will increase your running distances week-on-week until a final 'tapering off' period that'll give you time to rest before race day.
The Edinburgh Marathon Festival site is packed with 16-week training plans for beginners, as well as more advanced runners. They're a great guide, but they're not gospel. Adjust a plan to suit your needs whenever necessary.
Strava is one of the best apps to keep track of your runs and make sure your training plan doesn't hit any snags. The paid version of the app opens up a lot of avenues for performance analysis, but the free model works perfectly well as an exercise diary.
The right shoes
Every aficionado you talk to will have different opinions about the perfect shoes to wear while running. Some will swear by soft soles, others by hard. Some will even claim that barefoot running is the way forward, and insist that you shed footwear entirely before embarking on a marathon.
The truth is that selecting the best pair of running shoes for your feet depends on a huge array of factors, including your gait, your weight and the way you land when running. One size really doesn't fit all here.
Running specialist site Runner's Need features an in-depth analysis containing everything you need to know to choose the perfect running shoes for you. Pay attention to it and you could prevent doing damage to your feet.
Energy gels are a runner's best friend. These are effectively bite-sized capsules of glucose or fructose that will quench your thirst, give you an energy boost, and allow your body to access the nutrients it needs more quickly than eating some fruit or other raw foodstuffs.
The most highly regarded gels come from Science in Sport, who sell isotonic gels in a variety of flavours. Need an extra pick-me-up? They also supply gels infused with caffeine and electrolytes to keep you wide awake during the long slog of an endurance run.
But really, little beats a sip of water. Hydration is one of the foundational elements of running, and the need to keep chugging water will rise exponentially the further you go. Take plenty of H2O with you no matter how far the run.
Mix things up
Running often is the most important part of marathon training, but it's by no means the only workout you'll need.
Regular cross-training is also vital, whether that means cycling, stomach crunches, weight lifting, swimming, or any workout that focuses on other elements of your body beyond your legs. Anything you can do to improve your strength will increase your pace and make those long slogs that little bit easier.
The further the distance, the more essentials you'll have to cart around with you. Your mobile, energy gels, a bottle of water, headphones, an anorak in case it rains – it all mounts up, and you can't fit everything in your tiny short pockets.
That's why there are a huge number of lightweight rucksacks and vests available for runners who need their kit close to hand. They'll take a bit of getting used to while you run, but you'll barely notice you're wearing one after a while.
Night time running
I've never understood the appeal of night time running, but some people swear by it. It comes with its own unique dangers, however, particularly low visibility. Purchase a reflective jacket and flashlight for those late evening runs, or excursions in the dreich of winter. You might look like you're heading to a 90s rave, but you'll be much safer.
With extra exertion you'll need to increase your calorie intake, and that means plenty of nutritional powders to keep your protein supply high and healthy.
Most protein powders tend not to take gender into account. But then there's Free Soul, which is specially formulated to help women get enough protein in their workout routine. It comes packed with minerals and nutrients to help female wellness, so you're getting more bang for your buck than a standard serving of protein.
For a good all-rounder, one of the best powders around is Nuzest. It was my chosen brand when I ran a marathon last year, and it left me more than satisfied. It's plant-based, tastes great and works well as a complete protein.
There will come a time when you hit a wall, and you'll hit it hard. At that point, taking a rest day might feel like giving up. But without time to recover, the strain in your muscles will grow incrementally worse. So stretch with a foam roller after every long run, and don't burn yourself out.
Grab a pair of After Shokz headphones and stick on your favourite playlist. Pick a variety of fresh and interesting routes. Find a running buddy to keep you company on those long adventures outdoors.
Remember – this is a fun and fulfilling challenge, not a drudge.