10 Helpful Tips for First Time Marathoners

How amazing was this weekend? I spent 90% of it outside, and the other 10% was spent baking a dessert pizza with the kids I babysit, eating said pizza, and then laying on the couch for an hour recovering while the kids ran laps around the house hyped up on sugar. Babysitting, I’m obviously doing it right.

With the weather as beautiful as it was, I saw runners everywhere I went. While I didn’t join them for a jog (tapering for the Chicago Spring Half Marathon on Sunday), it did get me thinking about preparing for the Chicago Marathon in October. As you may have read already, this will be my first marathon– and while I have some idea of what to expect, I’m sure there are things that I’m missing.

Luckily, there’s this thing called Google, and turns out, it’s pretty helpful. I like being prepared more than the average Girl Scout, so I’ve been spending a lot of time recently doing some research about training for my first marathon. Without further ado, here are the Top Ten most helpful tips for first time marathon runners that I’ve discovered so far. In no particular order:

1. Think of the marathon as a 20-mile warmup to the hardest 6 miles of your life. This one takes some mental jujitsu, but basically, it means not to go out too fast. The first half of the marathon should feel easy, thanks to your long runs- as long as you don’t go out too fast and crash

2. Check the race website to see what flavor Gatorade or other fuel they’re offering at aid stations- and then test that out on one of your long runs to make sure you (and your stomach) like what you’re fueling with during the actual race.

3. Speed walk through the water stops. The goal is to get the water in your mouth rather than on your shirt, and you won’t lose any time. You’ll also avoid slipping on any discarded cups or running into a competitor in front of you. Safety first!

4. High-five at least one kid every mile. I love this tip.

5. Have your name on your shirt, either printed on there or taped on with electrical tape- that way, the crowd can cheer for you. I can imagine this being a HUGE morale booster towards the end.

6. Don’t set a time goal. I found this tip interesting- I’m a pretty intense goal-setter, but the logic behind this tip is that it’s enough of an accomplishment to complete a first marathon. Wait until you have a benchmark before you start setting time goals, and focus on finishing strong for the first marathon.

7. Cross-train. Don’t pound your body into the pavement (unless you’re doing the Hanson’s Plan) – keep your body strong by doing strength-training, yoga, and other forms of exercise.

8. Join a group training program. Training for a marathon is quite frankly an insane endeavor. Having like-minded individuals around will give you great support throughout the training, especially since many of them may already have marathon wisdom to share with you. Plus, let’s be real – not everyone loves talking about running all the time, so you need a few go-to friends to gchat during the day when you have an epiphany about your new shoes or something. Otherwise, you may drive all your friends and family away from meeting you at the finish line.

9. Get professionally fitted for shoes. Then, buy two pairs. It’s no secret that marathons are hard on your body, but they’re also hard on your gear. Rather than risk being miserable or injured for 26.2 miles, it’s worth the time and money to get your gait professionally analyzed at a running store. Buy two pairs of shoes and alternate wearing them for runs. In general, running shoes should be replaced after anywhere from 300-500 miles run.

10. Body Glide. Enough said.

These tips are only the tip of the iceberg for first time marathon runners, and I want to hear what advice YOU have to give me! Let me know your first time marathon tips in the comments or on Twitter (@FabFitChicago), and I’ll do a follow-up post in a few weeks highlighting more advice!

It’s May 12. The Chicago Marathon is in 152 days. Let’s do this.

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About Kristen Geil

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Kristen moved to Chicago in 2011 and received her MA in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse from DePaul while trying to maintain her southern accent. Kristen grew up playing sports, and since moving to Chicago, she’s fallen in love with the lakefront running path and the lively group fitness scene. Now, as a currently retired marathoner and sweat junkie, you can usually find her trying new workouts around the city and meticulously crafting Instagram-friendly smoothie bowls. Kristen came on to A Sweat Life full-time in 2018 as Editor-in-Chief, and she spends her days managing writers, building content strategy, and fighting for the Oxford comma.

7 thoughts on “10 Helpful Tips for First Time Marathoners

  1. I totally agree to NOT set a time goal. This will be a PR regardless of your time. Finishing 26.2 miles is already a tough feat. No need to make it tougher. Just enjoy the “victory lap” to your hard training.

    I didn’t put my name on the front of my shirt when I ran Chicago in 2012. It ended up being a good thing, because my family did not stick to the spectating plan I gave them, so I had no idea where to look for them on the course. So when I did hear someone call out my name, I knew it was them. Also, there are so many spectators out there regardless, people will be cheering you on for pretty much then entire course.

    1. Oh, that’s an interesting point Maggie! I haven’t thought that far ahead about where to tell my family to watch- I’m not sure where is best for the Chicago marathon! Any tips there?

  2. The name thing only works if you have an easy one, otherwise people just stare at you funny trying to pronounce and say your name haha. I would add that trying out your pre-race fuel is just as important as what you will take in during the race. Practice different breakfast combos before long runs to figure out what is best before race day.

    1. Good call, Lenka- I’m going to look for the Mamma Chia packets you wrote about- are they only available online?

  3. Hello! Running this as my first full marathon as well. Thanks for all the tips. Anyone know of a way to meet up with other individuals running the race? I live in Arizona and have been training alone.

    1. Hi Holly! Once the race gets closer I bet it will be easier to arrange a meetup- stay in touch and we’ll try to figure something out!

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