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Updated: Apr 18, 2022

Running your first marathon is without a doubt a daunting experience. We all sign up for different reasons, whether that is to tick a life-long goal off your bucket list, because you want to see what your body can achieve, or maybe because you just entered the London Marathon ballot on a whim one year…

Whatever the reason, a marathon is a monumental undertaking that you may not fully appreciate until you finish a 13 mile run one day and realize you’ll have to do that all over again…immediately! Luckily, London City Runners has dozens of experienced marathoners who are more than happy to help guide you on your way to achieving this incredible goal. In light of the London Marathon taking place this weekend, I have gathered their best advice to get you started!

Read on to find out how you can look as happy as Kai in the middle of a marathon…

Tips for long-term marathon prep

One of the biggest achievements is to get to the start-line injury free. Be sure to build strength and conditioning, as well as stretching and mobility, into your programme. Cross-training activities such as swimming, cycling and yoga are also great for reducing the risk of injury. Finally, make sure you take regular rest days and don’t be afraid to skip a session if you’re feeling tired or sore.” – Gemma, 5 x marathoner

“Find a training plan, one that is preferably suited to your training goals and current form. There are countless training plans out there and most are 16 weeks long, but don’t fret if you miss certain goals; it will provide you with an idea of what you should be doing every week leading up to the big day. Most importantly, train smart and always listen to your body. This will hopefully mean you can stay injury free, and for many, making the start line is an accomplishment in itself. By training smart, I essentially mean incorporating some form of strength training into your weekly training schedule. It is essential to build strength in your knees, achilles, hamstrings and upper core, all common injury complaints amongst runners.” – Farid, 2 x marathoner

“I have taken a more holistic approach to my training, where I’m looking to balance my work-life-stress, diet and exercise. They are all interconnected and I’ve seen some benefits based on these approaches:

  1. Approach running from a view point of enjoyment, not necessarily always aiming for a time. The former means you’ll never be discouraged from it, and the latter may be a pleasant bonus without giving yourself undue pressure.

  2. Around 90% of my runs are at low intensities, generally at conversational pace. This forces you to train your aerobic system. I think that max intensity efforts are beneficial only a few times a month, as the stress on the body and shortening any required longer recovery time can risk injury.

  3. Also, the first time I ditched my GPS watch, after years of using one, felt like instant freedom and let me enjoy my “not for the record” run more. Try it!”

– Kai, 4 x marathoner, 2 x ultra-marathoner

Our 2017 London Marathon finishers!

How to handle the weeks and days leading up to the race

“1.Don’t over-analyse. Stop reading all those millions of websites and opinions.

2.Don’t overdo. Miles you run now will not help, but the rest you give yourself to recover and heal, will. Taper is so misunderstood. Shorter duration, but same intensity and frequency. Stick to your routines.

3.Eat well, sleep well, hydrate well. Carbo loading is not just for the day before the race. Also have your gel/gu game plan fine-tuned (how many, which flavour, at which points of the race).

4.Cut out any new routines or running gear/clothing/shoes.

5.If possible, walk/cycle through the course – especially the last 10 miles. Familiarity with the course really helps set the mind at ease when it gets really hard.” – Soumya, 4 x marathoner

“Be mindful of overtraining. If in doubt, it’s better to be slightly under trained – it’ll help avoid niggles and injuries. With mental skewing, when you think you are under trained, you are probably just right. Also aim for full quality restful sleep every day, it’s commonly underrated and overlooked. This is the only time of day that your body and mind improves and gets stronger.” – Kai, 4 x marathoner, 2 x ultra-marathoner

London City Runners proudly supporting at Mile 23 of the 2017 London Marathon

On race day

“Enjoy it! Consider printing your name on the front of your vest and soak in every cheer and high five from spectators lining the roads. Stick to a realistic pace, use the same bars or gels you’ve used in training and run with a smile (especially if your legs hurt!). The training is the hard part, the marathon is the fun bit!” – Daniel, 3 x marathoner

“We all know us runners can be a bit obsessive and we certainly like to talk about all things running. But add anything marathon-related into the mix and you can spend hours in an internet vortex of advice on training, nutrition, pre and post-race routines, to ice bath or not to ice bath, pace, pace bands, race plans and don’t even get me started on carb calculations… if you’re about to run your first marathon my best advice would be: you’ve got this. Start slow, then go slower and when the going gets tough tell yourself ‘you don’t have to run fast, you just have to run’. Oh, and however much your legs are screaming afterwards, stretch. Believe me, when you’re standing at the top of a flight of stairs the morning after, you’ll thank me. “ – Helen, 3 x marathoner

Don’t buy any new clothing for the day – ensure that everything you are running in has been thoroughly tried and tested. Start with the pace group of your most optimistic but achievable time, and be patient for the first kilometer or so while the crowd is still dense. It will thin out, so don’t expend precious energy zig-zagging through everyone. Also, there’s always a bottleneck at the first water point, so it may be worth giving it a wide berth.” – Alan, 4 x marathoner

“My main bit of advice is GO OUT SLOW… THEN GO SLOWER! I know this sounds a bit ridiculous, obviously you’re not going to plan on slowing down to a stop. It’s to emphasise that you very much need to hold back. On the start line of a marathon after months of training and bound up with nerves, you are essentially a coiled spring. As the phrase goes – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you go out all guns blazing, you will look silly at mile 23 and there’s nothing more demoralising than a steady stream of people passing you. It’s like the tortoise and the hare fable. You will know from your PB on a half to add at least 5, 10, 15 mins onto that for the second half so keep your eye on your watch. You’ll get big lows in the race and at those times, just try and concentrate on things to look forward to afterwards, like the after party!” – Tim,  5 x marathoner

Best of luck to all of our members running the 2018 London Marathon!

The 2017 London Marathon City Runners after-party

*Some responses may have been lightly edited for length or clarity.


Natascha abandoned sunny California for London in October 2016 and has been a proud member of City Runners ever since. She loves a good 10K, but enjoys signing up for marathons so she can eat whatever she wants. Therefore, she is very much looking forward to running the Berlin Marathon this year (and hopefully snagging a new PB along the way!).




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