How to run a marathon – the 5 things you need to know

It’s funny how quickly things change. Since I started training for and running marathons, I have become convinced that really, anyone can run a marathon, and yet I know that 3 years ago I was expressing so many doubts.

Actually – that’s a lie. I was expressing one doubt: I cannot run that far.

Soon after I first started running I arranged a 5km fun run amongst my colleagues in aid of a friend who had recently been re-diagnosed with cancer. We did the fun run in September, and shortly afterwards a few friends suggested I run a half marathon with them. Ooooo no I thought. I cannot run that far. So I said thanks but no thanks and went on running 5kms and 10kms. Mentally, a half marathon seemed an unfathomable step up.

A year later, I was training for my first marathon. What changed? Mainly, my mindset. I put myself in a place where running a marathon was no big deal – and then I set out to do it.

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So here are 5 tips to get you started!

Listen to all the podcasts and read all the blogs

This was the biggest thing for me. I started reading fitness blogs when I was living by myself in Dublin (around the time I first started blogging!) and soon found myself in a world of people like me – and people with much busier lives than me – who ran marathons every year. And they enjoyed it! Slowly this started to filter through into my brain. Then I found podcasts, first Marathon Talk and Trail Runner Nation. TRN in particular is an ultra running show, where talks of 30 mile weekend runs are completely normal and no big deal. Slowly, slowly, the marathon began to seem less unfathomable.

So my first tip for running a marathon is to immerse yourself in a world where doing so is a completely normal thing that everyone just does on a weekend. Be warned though – you may end up upping your goals once you start listening to ultra marathon podcasts! (I’m training for my first ultra next year).

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Know that anyone can do it

You may think you’re not fit enough. You’re too slow, too heavy, too old, you’ve got bad knees. All of those are just excuses. The likelihood is you will not be the heaviest or the oldest person running the marathon! In fact, the wonderful thing about marathons is the sheer diversity of the different people running them. I really noticed this at Brighton Marathon where a long out and back meant that as I was approaching the half way point we could see the runners at the back of the race – all different shapes and sizes and all looking as if they were enjoying themselves!

One example is my mum, who didn’t run for years due to having a bad back. She started running in her 50s when she started triathlon and was 58 when she ran her first marathon. And now she’s training for her second! 

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Don’t let it take over your life

I have a friend who decided to run a marathon, long before I was even considering the idea of one. She trained really hard over one winter. She cut out alcohol entirely, didn’t turn up to social events because she had to run the next morning, wouldn’t go out for dinner or to someone else’s for dinner unless she knew she could have a bowl full of pasta. For that one marathon, she changed her life entirely – and suddenly. But the problem was, she was happy before. There was nothing wrong with her life before. Although she got a “good” time, she hated the training and never ran another marathon.

Don’t make that mistake. If a marathon is a catalyst for you changing your life in a way you want to, then great! But it doesn’t have to. It is perfectly possible to train for a marathon, reach your goal time, and still keep enjoying everything else you enjoy.

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I run 3 times a week. I don’t go overboard the night before a long run, but if I know I’m going to have a big night on Friday, I’ll plan my long run for Sunday. I eat the food I enjoy eating. If I’m feeling off, or life gets in the way – whether that’s good (holidays) or bad (work) – I’ll skip a run and I won’t beat myself up about it.

I think that’s why I genuinely love marathon training….

Remember it’s meant to be fun 

On the subject of loving the training, remember this is meant to be fun. If you’re reading this, I very much doubt running is your job. Its a hobby – something we do for enjoyment. If you want to get fit but you hate running, try something else!

Remembering it’s meant to be fun is important for two reasons:

1) because it forces you to change it up if it’s not fun. If running to work in the dark under torrential rain makes you miserable – don’t do it! Run when it’s not raining, or miss that workout. The world won’t end.

2) because the knowledge that you can stop often makes you enjoy it more!

This comes with one caveat – not every moment of the race will be fun. Whole my training mantra is “It’s meant to be fun“, my racing mantra is “It’s meant to hurt.” I won’t lie, there was a moment in Brighton Marathon where I really wasn’t enjoying myself and even thought “maybe I don’t actually love running marathons. Maybe this will be my last one.” But then we reached the end of a long out & back, the finish line was in sight, and my mood perked up hugely as I ran along the seafront. And overall – I loved it.

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Stretch, strength train, do yoga 

The point is – don’t just run. So many runners start training for their first marathon and then are quickly battling injury. Injuries don’t always happen for a reason, but for new runners the reasons can be clear: increasing running distance too quickly, running all your runs too hard, having undeveloped muscles in the muscles we use for running.

This last is key, especially for those who work a desk job. Our glutes are used to just being sat on day in and day out and when we run, we don’t use them as we should and instead over compensate with different muscles, which leads to injury.

Making sure you don’t just run but also spend time working on your hip, glutes and core strength, and take the time to stretch out those muscles, will all help in preventing injury and getting you to the start line. Honestly – from personal experience I used to routinely lose a few weeks a training cycle to injury until I started regular yoga and strength training.

So there you go! Nothing to stop you 🙂

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