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Running a marathon is no small feat, and as thousands of hopefuls hit the pavement this fall, many will be taking on the 26.2-mile distance for the very first time. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Something they’ve been dreaming of for years and training for for months. But for a select few (ya know, the professionals, Olympians and elite coaches), it’s simply their day job.
With years of experience under their belt, we couldn’t help but ask a few of our favorite pro athletes and NYRR coaches about their top marathon training tips. From mantras to mileage, here’s everything they had to say about taking on your first big race.
1. “Live it and have fun, just experience everything. For your first marathon, know what you’re going to say to yourself when it gets hard, because at some point in a marathon it’s going to get hard.” - Keira D’Amato (USA), American 10-mile record holder; three-time USA Track & Field national champion
2. “First-time racers I think the number one rule is don't go out too hard, and that's even more important in tough conditions.” - Des Linden (USA), Two-time Olympian; 2018 Boston Marathon champion
3. “I think for your first marathon, it's most important to follow your own race plan. Don't do anything different race morning, practice what you've preached the whole entire time that you've been building up. And then race day, go out and do what you're prepared to do. Don't worry about what anybody else is doing. Focus on yourself, your time and your goals.” - Kellyn Taylor (USA), Top American long-distance runner
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4. “Don't focus only on the finish line, focus on each step of the marathon. Make it into [a collection of] small goals, you know, you want to be more efficient for the next mile, or you want to breathe a little more efficiently for this next mile or you want to smile two times. Something small to break up the marathon, but to get you through it to the best of your ability, is how I would approach a first marathon.” - Susannah Scaroni (USA), Three-time Paralympian; 2023 Boston Marathon champion, wheelchair division
5. “Spend time on your feet during long runs: Don’t worry about your pace and distance—instead focus on building up gradually to being able to keep moving at a manageable pace for up to 3-4 hours. Use these long runs to learn what your body needs to sustain itself: food/nutrition, hydration, gear, playlists, companionship. The marathon will be hard, but it will not break you if you’ve listened to your body and met its needs during long runs.” - Gordon Bakoulis, NYRR Group Training Coach
6. “[As a mom], I had to really dial in my nutrition, because if you have young babies and you're breastfeeding, you don't have time to be as intentional about what you're refueling with or how often you refuel. I had to kind of just get a system. I try to be really prepared with the snacks, I always have them on me. And you know, sleep just isn't as good as it was before, so I don't have any tips there—just solidarity.” - Molly Huddle (USA), Two-time Olympian; author, podcast host and new mom
7. “Be patient in what you’re doing and trust what you’re doing. When you come to race, don’t be like 'I want to go fast just for a fast time.' Sit back and enjoy the race whatever the outcome may be.” - Hellen Obiri (KEN), Two-time Olympic medalist; 2023 Boston Marathon champion
8. “Have a 'why' and keep in touch with it. You chose to do a marathon for a reason: cross off a bucket list item, raise funds, honor a loved one, share training and race day with a friend. Remind yourself of your 'why' (and you can have more than one) often, to keep yourself motivated and purpose-driven.” - Gordon Bakoulis, NYRR Group Training Coach
9. “I think you need consistency to be a good runner. Show up and start every single day. Pretty soon, you’ll have a routine. Once you do that it’ll be easy to get back out and build fitness. Stay patient, stay consistent.” - Des Linden (USA), Two-time Olympian; 2018 Boston Marathon champion
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10. “Have a support system. You may train alone or with others, but preparing for a marathon is not a solo endeavor. Get your loved ones on board as your support crew during training and on race day—whether it’s a spouse/partner who watches the kids during your long runs, an understanding colleague who 'gets' you need to leave at 5 p.m. or a group of friends who donate to your fundraising efforts. And make sure to thank them after you cross the finish line.” - Gordon Bakoulis, NYRR Group Training Coach
11. “Course awareness: Prepare for the type of course you’ll be racing by doing some of your long runs over similar topography. Whether flat, downhill, hilly or an undulating marathon, you’ll give yourself the best chance for success by adding similar elevation profiles to some of your long runs. Diversifying your runs will set you up well for whatever the marathon has to throw at you.” - Roberto Mandje, Senior Advisor of Engagement and Coaching
12. “Know the difference between soreness, pain and fatigue. Soreness is typically felt at the beginning of your training cycle, when your body is adapting to the mileage and workouts. It should eventually go away as you get fitter and into a training routine. Pain tends to linger and can feel both sharp and specific to an area on your body. If the sensation doesn’t go away despite taking a few days off, check in with a physical therapist. Fatigue, to a certain extent, is something most if not all marathoners live with while training. Despite training well, it may feel like you’re constantly tired, as you straddle the delicate balance of training and recovery. Listen to your body and be brave enough to take an extra day off here and there and/or slow your training pace down on easy and recovery days. Remember, it’s better to be 10 miles undertrained than one mile over, because the gains are made in the recovery.” - Roberto Mandje, Senior Advisor of Engagement and Coaching
Looking for more inspiration? The 2023 TCS New York City Marathon, presented by New York Road Runners, will take place on Sunday, November 5. For live coverage, tune into ESPN2 from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. (EST).