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How to prepare for your first marathon: 42 tips for 42km

We know how it goes. One minute, you rock up to a local run club with a humble goal to improve your fitness or widen your social circle.

The next thing you know, you’re 4 pints deep with your new runner friends regaling you with the magic of that post-marathon runners’ high, persuading you to join them on the next one.

It seems like a good idea at the time…

…but as the hangover hits, so does the realisation that you’re going to actually have to run a freaking marathon. Gulp!

Luckily, (maybe sometimes unluckily) runners LOVE talking about running, so you have a plethora of tips and hacks hurtled at you from the second you sign up - a sure-fire recipe for overwhelm, right?

Fear not, because we’ve asked our 500-strong community of runners for all their advice, and broken it down into 42, of the most useful, digestible points for every stage of the journey…

*Disclaimer: these tips are anecdotal and should not be taken as gospel, or as medical advice. Please consult a professional if you have any concerns.

So, you’ve signed up for your first marathon.

Now what?

1. There’s no getting away from the fact that to run for longer, you’re going to have to incorporate longer runs into your weekly routine. Plan a route and identify drop-off spots if you need to. If you’re not feeling it or have a little injury then stop. You’ll only hurt yourself more in the long run if you try to push through pain.

2. Stretch. Stretch. Stretch. Before and after every training run. Your body will thank you for it.

3. Run with others. Sunday long runs are great for holding yourself accountable and discovering new routes with more experienced runners.

4. Mix up your training plan. Have rest days, go swimming, do weights. Don't forget to do some strength & conditioning to keep the body in good nick.

5. Test everything in training. Nothing should be new on race day, and that goes for food, footwear, clothes, etc.

6. If you have a charity vest, even test that out. The neck on my charity vest was lower than all my T-shirts so my necklace hit me in the face the whole run.

7. Practice taking gels during training to see what works (and more importantly doesn’t work) for you. You don’t want to try new things during the race in case some have funny effects on your body 💩!!! Make sure your stomach can handle them. If not take loperamide. 💩💩

8. Invest in a good pair of trainers. Try on a few. Up and Running / Sports Direct do gait analysis for you. They’ll recommend what type of trainers to buy.

It's great to support local businesses like Up & Running. The staff are so helpful it'll be hard to leave without making a purchase. But equally, running isn't an elitist sport. If you're fortunate to have legs that work it should be one of the most accessible sports available to you. So if the going average of £130 for a decent pair of running trainers fills you with misery, check out & These are great discount sites. Or the thrifty among you might find pairs as good as new on Vinted.

9. Buy a chafing cream/stick. They are quite cheap and work well. Don’t be afraid to ask other runners about them.

10. MARANOIA is real! The week/days before you’ll think you’re ill, you’ll feel every single niggle, and convince yourself you’ve lost the ability to run, but it's all part of the process. You will be fine come race day... The night before London I was a mess, I couldn’t pack my kit bag, and vomited in the morning. Just remember you’ve trained for it, and stick to your plan. Don’t let your head take over.

11. DON’T panic if you don’t stick to your training plan exactly. Life gets in the way. It’s ok if you miss a run or two, but equally don’t let that dishearten you to slip out of your routine altogether.

12. Don't compare your training to anyone else's. You’ll be starting from different points of fitness and aiming for different goals.

13. Cover the worst scenarios in training, e.g., running whilst tired, running in the pouring rain or strong wind. That way, come race day you'll be used to all eventualities.

14. Recovery is just as important as training, so prioritise sleep and good nutrition as best as you can.

15. Enjoy it! Log your progress and don’t forget to look back at how far you’ve come. Celebrate your longest runs when they happen. Take pictures, etc. Most of the work before a big race is completed before you start running on the day.

16. Plan how you're going to tell everyone you're running a marathon. After all, the world must know, even if they tell you otherwise… Only 1% of people will run a marathon, and you’re going to be part of them! You can slip it into almost any conversation as well…

  • Person: “Great weather today”

  • You: “Yeah, it’s perfect for marathon training”

  • Person: 🙄 Anyway, shall we go get some food?

  • You: Yeah, it’s important I carb-load in the run-up to the mara…

summertime photo of large group of runners by the canal before an evening run
You'll get by with a lil' help from your friends

The week/day before

17. I got recommended having beetroot juice before running my last 10k race and feel like it helped a lot! Apparently, it’s meant to increase cerebral blood flow.

18. You probably won't sleep well the night before, so try and bank some sleep in the week leading up to the race. Then even if you don't sleep very well the night before, it doesn't matter. I did Wim Hoff breathing every night for a few weeks before to try and get into a good bedtime routine and found it really useful the night before as it just felt like any other evening.

19. Visualisation can be helpful. Imagine running the course and how you are going to feel at different points. Imagine looking up and seeing all your friends and family cheering you on, and then imagine the feeling of pride/relief when you cross the finish line. It helps to focus on the positives rather than getting overwhelmed by what's about to come.

20. Don’t eat something you’ve never had before as part of ‘carb loading’ the night before your big race.

21. Take hydration tablets in the 48 hours before the race. It’s almost too late during the race.

22. Plan how you’re going to get to the start line and have all your kit ready as well as breakfast, etc. You want to have to make as few decisions as possible on race day.

23. Make sure you have your name in big, bold print on your shirt. If you’re running for a charity, the signs aren’t always easy to read, sometimes they fall off, and you’ll be so thankful to hear loved ones and strangers cheering your name when you need it most.

The morning of the big day

24. Marathons are usually on Sundays, so be kind to yourself and book the following day off work. Book where you’re going to eat that night as well, especially if it’s a popular race as restaurants will be busy… and if you can’t treat yourself to your favourite food post mara, when can you?

25. Make sure you get up early to give yourself time to 💩 ! Make sure you have a good breakfast, electrolytes and plenty of fluids.

26. It’s ok to be nervous. Everyone else will be as well. And remember…

27. If you get nervous in the morning, it WILL disappear once you're running, it just does. Just acknowledge it, take deep breaths, and crack on. You've trained more than enough and you'll have run a marathon by the afternoon!

28. Vaseline or body glide, put it absolutely everywhere and tons of it!! Even when you think you’ve put loads on, put even more on. 🤣 (*editors note, this must be more of a male issue than a female one as I’ve never needed this!)

29. Remember your safety pins for your number & wear it clearly for the photographers to catch you. Yes, you might hate the photos when they come out, but you’ll be glad of the proof that you RAN a MARATHON when you’re old and grey.

30. Pack your favourite drink/snacks etc, in your bag to have after the race, plus flip flops and a change of clothes, especially a warm layer if you’re running somewhere cold.

31. At the start, get in the queue for the loo, and as soon as you come out of the loo go to the back of the queue again - you'll be waiting for ages and by the time you get to the front you'll need it again.

three run supporters for the Manchester half marathon holding ARC signs

While you’re running

32. Enjoy it! It's pretty incredible what you are about to do and what you have done to get to this point. Whatever happens next, see it as a celebration rather than a punishment.

33. Start slow. This is my biggest advice as for years I went out too fast. I was injured weeks before London, so I held back and it ended up the best thing for me. I couldn’t speed up so I ended up keeping the same pace the whole way and finished strong.

34. If success depends on meeting certain criteria make sure you have a sliding scale in case you have to modify due to injury or conditions. E.g.

  • goal 1 = to finish

  • goal 2 = sub 4 hours

  • goal 3 = sub 3:45.

That way, if the conditions are terrible on the day and you don't quite make goal 3, you won't see it as a failure, but equally, if things are going well, you have a stretch target.

35. My big takeaway for the day is splitting the race up into different parts so it doesn't feel as daunting. I always change my watch so it measures in 3 or 4km segments and just run those sections without thinking beyond them. I find it helps to keep me on track and forget about how far there is left to go.

36. I used to struggle with gels until someone told me to not down them but split it into 4 sips over one mile, then use the water station to wash it down, it’s so much gentler on my stomach.

37. If things start to ache, well, chances are, it's going to hurt at the end anyway, so you might as well carry on 🙃** Embrace it and know that it will end eventually as long as you just keep moving. **this is absolutely not medical advice!

38. Walking isn't a bad thing. If you need to walk for a bit it might even help you in the long run.

39. Have some backup plans if you’re struggling. E.g., have music to listen to, or even voice notes from people you love reminding you why you are doing it, inspiring podcasts or mantras, etc.

40. Soak up the atmosphere as much as possible. When you’re 80 you won’t care if you did it in 4 hours, or 4 hours and 15 minutes, but you will remember the atmosphere and how the whole thing felt. Try and enjoy it and don't forget to look up, look around, and smile. The crowd is incredible and they will help you get around.

41. Don’t be afraid to keep that medal on all day - it’s the only day you’re ever going to wear it, so revel in it.

group of runners holding ARC banner with their medals after a half marathon
keep an eye out for your cheer squad

When it’s all over

You’ve done it! You’ve run your first marathon, you little legend, you! Whatever time you did, it doesn’t matter now. You’re in the 1% of people who actually achieve this mean feat, and for that, you should be proud.

I’m going to leave you with my final parting tip…

42. Now is the time you can eat all the food, bask in all the glory, and end the day with the best bath of your life… until next time.

poodle-mix dog looking sideways waiting for the run to start
Mascot, Belle, says well done!

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