We asked some of Britain’s finest endurance athletes to offer their top tips on how best to tackle 26.2 miles
Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro, taking on a marathon is still some task.
Here some of the elites share their top tips.
“Respect the distance but don’t fear it”
– Alyson Dixon, Olympic marathon runner and 50km world record-holder
My best piece of advice is to respect the distance but don’t fear it. 26.2 miles is a long way no matter how you look at it. You need to respect that distance and get your pacing correct.
You can’t go off too fast and ‘bank’ time or hang on like you can in shorter distances. You have to be sensible and start off, if anything, slightly slower than goal pace and pick up as you go on.
This has to be practiced during training by doing long runs and tempos which start slow and gradually pick up. Just doing short, fast training won’t help you to pace a marathon correctly.
All of this being said, don’t fear the distance and be constantly worrying about hitting the wall.
Again if you’ve trained correctly (run for the length of time you expect to race at least once) then your body will be much better prepared for those difficult final 6.2 miles and, if you’ve started at the correct pace, then you shouldn’t hit the wall and instead finish strong, passing people over that last section.
Training and pacing are the key!
“Learn to get a feel for marathon effort”
– Stephen Scullion, Northern Ireland record-holder
Your GPS isn’t always accurate and if you get what fitness you think you’re in wrong, it will misguide you anyway.
In 2017, I was 83kg in January, hadn’t run in eight months, had played rugby and decided to start running again. By March I was able to race Reading Half Marathon in 68:30. Then I went to altitude and trained with Scott Overall. Altitude is amazing but I was running at 5:30min/mile pace for marathon sessions.
I had no idea what I was capable of at the London Marathon. The 68:30 didn’t tell me much and 5:30 pace at 7000ft didn’t tell me much either… so on race day I ran at an effort that felt right. I averaged 5:15 per mile.
“Health is more important than fitness”
In 2016, I was in the best fitness I’ve ever experienced in my life but I got sloppy in training and took advantage
of the fitness, which caused a quad tear.
I ran two 10ks in the same day close to 30min, or under. I also remember doing 7 x 2km on the track with 100m jog. These weren’t super quick, but starting at marathon effort and finishing faster, then I took a lap jog, and ran a 1km in 2:32, I believe.
I wanted to break 2:30 and thought, if I did, my coach at the time would change my plan from the London Marathon to Stanford 10km. In retrospect, I was showing off and I tore my quad three days later on a tempo.
In 2017, I trained for 13 weeks, far less fit, but happy and healthy and I ran three minutes faster than 2016.
“Pick a marathon that excites you”
We all search for fast times, and fast times are admirable, but make sure the marathon you pick fits well with your life and motivates you to be disciplined and get the training that’s needed done – and done WELL.
“Stick to the marathon race plan you’re ready to run, not the plan you want to run”
This is very important. Everybody wants to exceed their own expectations and I see it every year on the start line of marathons.
Guys I spoke to 24 hours before, or often two hours before at breakfast, who planned to run with me at, say, 67:30 pace (for the half-marathon), or 68. The gun goes and 68 pace puts me at the back of the elite field, and the guys who talked about running with me, they’ve got sucked into a different race.
But it will hurt them and it won’t be long before I’ve passed them. Run the race you’re prepared for and not the race that seems sexy to your ego.
“Keep the easy days easy and the hard days hard”
– Matt Clowes, who clocked 2:13:57 for 25th place at the 2019 Berlin Marathon
Have patience in your build-up with training intensity and volume. Keep the easy days easy and hard days hard.
I think far too many athletes are running too hard on their easy days and I don’t believe in any junk miles.
Regarding training, keep on top of your long runs every week or every 10 days. Include two hard sessions (weekly) – one fartlek/interval and the other a long tempo or long intervals.
My other tip would be that if you’re feeling tired for a session then give it another day (before running the session).
I’m still a rookie at the marathon distance but I’m experienced at the half-marathon and I always remind myself to be patient.
“Focus on doing what you can with the time and resources you have available to you”
– Lily Partridge, 2018 British marathon champion
If it was someone’s first time I’d always say focus on the process of preparing for the marathon and have a few key pointers/runs/sessions/events within that preparation to focus on and don’t get too worked up on the details.
Focus on doing what you can with the time and resources you have available to you.
– Richard Whitehead, former marathon world record-holder for athletes with a double amputation
Plan/Prepare/Participate. Every run is different and to have the best experience you need to do the above!
Marathon running is a fun journey so enjoy the life-changing success it brings but to do that you need to tick a few boxes regarding appropriate equipment/nutrition/training routine and the event you choose.
There are so many options so seek sound advice – not from social media but from experienced experts that can guide you towards achieving your goals.
“Marathon training is about ticking off the work consistently”
– Jonny Mellor, 16th at the 2019 Berlin Marathon with 2:12:29
Marathon training is not about smashing sessions out of the park but ticking the work off consistently. I’ve been guilty of pushing too hard in build-ups previously and being over-cooked come race day.
On race day itself, I break the race down into more manageable chunks to help me get through the distance. It helps make it seem less daunting.