Top 40 beginner training tips
Wherever you run your next marathon, get your training off to a running start with our 40 best-ever beginner tips – put together by our official coach Martin Yelling and you, the amazing runners who take on the London Marathon challenge every year.
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Healthy first. Start your marathon journey with a strong body. You’ll build stong foundations for a successful marathon with a body that is healthy and injury-free. If anything hurts, sort it before you start training.
When establishing your running routine, be realistic about what you can commit to week-in week-out. If you’re overambitious at the start, you may become frustrated and disappointed when your plans are derailed. It’s much better to under-promise to yourself and over-deliver in terms of training than be overambitious and keep wobbling off course. Be realistic about your routine and you’re more likely to stick to it.
Stay calm! Right now, your feelings of competence and confidence to tackle 26.2 marathon miles may not be super high and certainly not where you’d like them to be. Don’t panic.
This is normal. It’s normal to feel excited about the marathon journey that lies ahead of you if, at the same time, a little apprehensive. It takes time, patience, perseverance and progress to develop your mental confidence and physical competence. You’ll get there.
Aim for a minimum of three runs a week for marathon success. Look at your work, social, home and lifestyle schedule and determine opportunities to fit in a training session. It may take a number of weeks to establish and integrate your ‘training budget’ with your commitments and other priorities but developing a routine is a great place to start. Just how much you do will depend on your marathon aspirations but finding time to include at least three sessions in your week really helps you ring-fence your
Be ready. It’s tough. They say that training to reach the Start Line is the hardest part of the journey. That’s true, yet, the marathon itself may well be the toughest physical, emotional and mental challenge you’ve ever faced. Get yourself to the Start Line prepared, confident, healthy, motivated and ready and Race Day will be your chance to rise up, challenge your boundaries, define what you’re capable of – and transform your life and the lives of others.
It really isn’t that complicated. Your aim is to cover 26.2 miles. You can run it all, run some of it, walk some of it, run and walk bits of it. The speed at which different people will achieve their finish varies. What doesn’t change though is the distance; it’s 26.2 miles for everyone. You need to build yourself up, body and mind, to be ready to tackle that distance.
Be flexible. Training won’t always go right. It’s how you choose to respond to the difficult and testing times that will see you make the Start Line. You will experience many pressure points and problems (injury, low or non-existent motivation, family or work emergencies) that you’ll need to work through, adapt to and roll with. Blips, bumps and bruises are common. Courage and care are important.
Be kind to yourself. Don’t worry about others. This is your marathon journey. Do it your way. You might be tempted to scroll through your social media and with one flick of your finger dent your marathon confidence as you see pictures of smiling, seemingly effortless glory miles when yours feel like treacle-treading, gory trudge miles. Remember, social media rarely tells the whole story. Be confident in yourself and your personal journey.
There are no hard and fast rules about how long to run for when you get started. It’s very much down to personal circumstances, motivation, fitness levels and marathon goals. But consistent regular running is the most important thing you should aspire to between now and Race Day. One week of running won’t make you a marathon runner; many consistent weeks put together will. It takes time for your fitness levels to improve so don’t expect miracles overnight.
One sure-fire way to disappointment is to be too hard on yourself and fail to appreciate the effort that you’re putting in. Be kind to yourself, reward your efforts, however small your steps might feel, positively acknowledge that you’re ticking off your runs and moving in the right direction towards marathon day.
Focus on the process, not the outcome. Sure, your goal is to finish the marathon, but rather than be so intensely focused on a performance outcome (such as finishing in a particular target time) that can soon become a pressure pot of misery, instead focus on the process of your marathon journey. Focus on the smaller ‘how’ steps of your journey, make them enjoyable, intentional, about choice and purpose, and
you’ll be more likely to reach Race Day ready!
Make your training plan fit for your life, rather than wrestle your life to fit with your training plan. Generic plans are designed to support your effort to make the Start and Finish Lines. They are planned to help you progress at a sensible rate, but sometimes a little flexibility and creativity is required – and that’s ok. Don’t try to wrestle a plan into a week full of pressure points. Make a plan work for you rather than break yourself to stick to a plan.
Value rest – it’s epic! It’s easy to overlook important lifestyle factors such as quality sleep and healthy food choices as you try to cram training runs into an already hectic schedule. Learn to listen to your body and interpret how you feel when running – how easy or hard it feels, what aches, how tired (or energized) you are. Doing a little less when you’re tired, ill, irritable or injured can provide much-needed rest and recovery and actually leave you feeling stronger, more focused and motivated when you start running again. Don’t feel anxious or guilty about taking a few days away from your running to help you feel refreshed – rest can be a great form
As you run more, your fitness will improve. Some runs start to get easier as you become stronger and more efficient. Don’t let running stress you out. Learn to relax when you run. Stay calm, be patient on your run, breathe slowly and in control. Keep your shoulders, neck and head relaxed. Positive flow in your form helps you become an efficient, smooth runner. Use your running to help you regulate and manage your emotions, as a release from tension, rather than something that adds to it.
Don’t go all-out too quickly. Training for a marathon is a little like Race Day itself: you’ve got to pace your effort over the next few months – rather than get excited, smash yourself for four weeks, collapse in a cold sweat or a hot bath, never to resume running again. Gradually and appropriately increasing the duration, intensity and frequency of your running to allow gentle overload and adaptation over time. Appropriate progression takes time, patience, discipline and planning.
Long runs really matter. Long runs are the miles that build your stamina and endurance necessary to cover the marathon distance. They develop efficient running, help your breathing feel easier, make your heart stronger, help your body use fuel for running and help you get used to being out for a long time and so reduce muscle soreness, aches and pains. You’ve simply got to do them!
Don’t be afraid of breathlessness. Understanding and regulating your breathing is a part of becoming a marathon runner. You may well be out of breath when you start running, if so, keep calm, slow down, walk if you need to, and your breathing rate will drop.
Put some slider flip flops or open toed footwear in your race bag ready for you when you cross the Finish Line. My feet/toes were on fire and I couldn’t wait to take my trainers off and let my feet breathe!
Rachel Foskett @rachy_moo
Wear your name on your top/vest – the crowds shouting your name really helps you keep going.
Usingh Bolt @USingh_Bolt
It’s all about you. You are doing something amazing. Focus on your race. Don’t get distracted by others. Smile. Enjoy the sights. And make sure you have a personalised shirt.
Dan Slipper @DJ_Slipper
Get ready for the crowds! They will help when you are feeling good and support you if you are not. They are some of the best you will find anywhere in the world.
Leigh Fleeman @lfleighman
Look up not down! You’ll never get to see London at its best otherwise.
Adam Kinsley @adamkinsley
Be sensible in training. The hardest part is getting to the Start Line fit and ready to go (oh and the last few miles are quite hard too). And don’t forget to enjoy it.
Francis Mills @FJMills78
High five all the kids, smile when you’re enjoying it. Let the crowd lift you when you’re struggling. Get round and get that medal and T-shirt. Oh, and wear your medal on the way home. You get loads of friendly ‘well dones’ from complete strangers. Go smash it!
Kelly Shaw @kellyshaw31
DON’T run across Tower Bridge. Walk and soak that bad boy up. It’s a very special experience.
Darren Moss @DazMossy
If ear phones/music isn’t essential to your plans, don’t use them… utilise the support and atmosphere. I trained with them 60 per cent of my training but ditched for London Marathon – glad I did!
Believe in yourself, it’s what you have been training for! Soak up the atmosphere and enjoy every second as it’s the most amazing race ever!
Bekki Carré @BekkiCarre
Smile all the way!! Smiling tricks your body into forgetting the aches and pains, and gets you a louder cheer from the crowds.
Andy Long @diamondandy26
Don’t get carried away at the start – run your own race as 26.2 miles is a long way
Amanda Phillips @admphillips2
This is the most amazing experience you will ever have. Enjoy every second and soak up that wonderful atmosphere. Shed a tear at the Finish Line, you have achieved something remarkable and the moment you cross it is worth all the pain and hardship it took to get there.
It’s totally normal and natural to doubt whether you can actually do this marathon thing. Anxiety over finish time, the distance required, letting people down and whether you’ll need the loo once, twice or pretty much all the time is very common. Learn your coping and management strategies early. When something bothers you, learn ways to work with it, don’t let it define you. Listen to your body, notice how you’re feeling and make the right choices. Your self-belief will grow as you get more training under your belt.
At first, focus on increasing the time on your feet rather than worrying about distance covered. Long, slow runs are usually done at controlled and manageable pace (perhaps 45 to 60 seconds slower per mile than target marathon pace). On a long run, it is the fatigue of the duration that you are training your body to handle. What feels controlled and ‘easy’ at the start of the run will get harder to maintain as the run progresses and this will become intensified as the duration increases.
Be patient. Gradually build up the time/distance you are able to run over many weeks to get your body and brain ready to cope with the marathon distance and give you the confidence that you can achieve your goal. Patient, smooth, steady and consistent progress should be the mainstay of your marathon build up. Try and do too much too soon, leave it late and try and cram in the miles or ‘yo-yo’ train and jump in and out of your training and you could end up injured, frustrated, disappointed and under prepared for the challenge ahead.
One thing you’ll certainly notice as you start to tick off the longer miles is the demand that this places on your energy. To be sensible and safe, if you’re going for a long run, have some fluids and food accessible. What you choose to take on your long runs to fuel and hydrate you will vary from person to person. Your long run in training gives you the perfect opportunity to try out a variety of energy sources – and understand your energy needs – so you’re well-prepared on Race Day.
In your long runs or a mid-week run spend time getting to know what marathon-paced effort feels like. ‘Marathon pace’ is your ideal finish time divided by 26 to give you a pace-per-mile (or mile split) expressed as ‘minute miling’. An average pace of ’11-minute miling’ would produce a four hour and 48 minutes finish time.
The pace of a long run depends on the fitness, experience, aspirations and motivation of the runner. The simple rule is that the longer you are running for the slower you should be running. In order to keep going for longer, and for the pace and effort to sustainable, it’s essential to learn how to be efficient, controlled and economical.
You won’t always feel good. In fact, sometimes you’ll feel awful, like you want to give up. Finishing a marathon isn’t about doing more, neglecting other things in your life, or ‘no pain, no gain’. It’s about integrating regular running into your life to create a happy, fitter, purpose-filled approach to your marathon goals.
Learn to listen carefully to your body. Tune in to your body, listen carefully as you build up the miles and the demands you place on yourself – from commitments to family and friends to your workload. Understand and heed those stresses. Despite the challenges you’ll face as long runs get longer, the miles get tougher and your motivation seems to drop off a cliff, it’s at these times that the chinks of light in your marathon success story start to appear. These are the moments when you realise it might just be possible.
Develop an armory of mental strategies (that work) that you can roll out on Race Day. Expect some emotional and mental highs and lows throughout your training, especially as the long ones build. It can be a lonely, tough, stressful and demanding time out there. Work patiently through your tough moments; they will pass. As you work through these moments, discover what mental hacks make a personal difference to you, bank these and have them ready for Race Day.
It’s all too easy to panic in the last few weeks before Race Day and think you’ve not done enough and try cramming in miles you’ve missed. Don’t. You’ll only arrive at Race Day tired. The final weeks of training are about balance, patience, calmness and confidence. Do enough running to stay strong and keep building your fitness but not so much that you reach the Start Line lacking in motivation and worn out.
Good luck with your marathon preparations and enjoy your next 26.2-mile challenge.
Visit our Training Plans page to find the perfect training plan for your next marathon. Whether you're training for your first marathon or your 40th, Martin Yelling's training plans will deliver you to the Start Line in great shape, ready for the challenge that lies ahead.