Whether it's for charity, to prove to yourself that you can do it, or just for fun, running your first marathon is a huge milestone. We're here with all of the information you need in preparation for running your first marathon.
Choosing your marathon
Choosing the right marathon can have a huge impact on your success and enjoyment on the day. Most people opt for one of the six World Marathon Majors as their first marathon as they are the most renowned. These marathon majors are London, New York, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo, and Berlin. These are the marathons that have gained iconic status over the years due to being so well organised, having such great support, and being set in beautiful cities.
Due to being so popular, these marathons all have difficult entry processes and you cannot simply pay an entry fee to gain a place.
London Marathon Ballot Entry
There are three ways to enter the London marathon: enter the public ballot, run for charity, or achieve a Good For Age place.
The London marathon public ballot opens at the beginning of May of each year, about a week after the race, and is open for a week to give everyone a fair chance of entering. Results are then published 6 months later in October when eager hopefuls will either receive a magazine through the post notifying them that they have been successful or a commiseration email telling them they have not got a place. A record 414,168 hopefuls entered the 2018 ballot to run in 2019, making the London marathon the most popular marathon in the world.
However, this also means your chances of getting a ballot place are very slim. In 2016, almost a quarter of a million people entered the ballot in the hopes of achieving one of the 17,000 allocated ballot places. That means that each person only had a 7% chance of getting a ballot place. With nearly twice that many people entering the ballot in 2018, your chances of gaining a ballot place are pretty tiny.
One of the easiest ways to run the London marathon is by gaining a place through a charity. There are numerous charities who provide runners with places in return for raising at least £2,000 for their charity.
Finally, there are Good For Age places. However, you have to be very speedy to attain one of these places. For a man under the age of 40 you'll have to be able to run sub 3 hours and women will have to run sub 3 hours 45.
The Boston marathon is also famed for its strict and tough entry process. For this race, you can only enter if you achieve a 'BQ' or a charity place.
If you BQ, that means you have managed to run a marathon in a Boston qualifying time. For men under the age of 35, that's sub 3 hours and for women of the same age it's sub 3 hours 30. However, it is made even harder by the fact that entries are always over subscribed each year, meaning the actual BQ time is often lower than this target.
For example, those who entered to run in 2019 had to achieve a time 4 minutes and 52 seconds faster than the qualifying standard. Therefore a man under the age of 35 would have had to achieve a BQ of under 2:55:08 - very speedy!
Entering your first marathon
Due to the strict and often difficult entry processes of the World Marathon Majors, it may be an idea to run your first marathon somewhere that allows simple paid entries. Unless you are willing to take on the stress of raising a huge amount of money alongside the gruelling training, there are plenty of other marathons out there that are perfect for your first marathon.
Three such popular marathons in the UK and Europe are Brighton marathon in East Sussex, England, Paris marathon in France, and Edinburgh marathon in Scotland. Each of these races simply require you to pay the entry fee and you're in. They are equally well organised with fantastic routes in beautiful cities and still benefit from overwhelming positive support at the sidelines. It's certainly worth considering a less famous marathon to be your first.
What is a good time to run a marathon?
Finding the right pace for you is hugely important for your first marathon, but don't try to achieve an unrealistic time. Everyone is different and a good time for your marathon will depend entirely on your age, gender, body weight, how long you've been running, and your ultimate goals. Are you just running to have fun and enjoy the experience or are you competitive and looking to run as fast as possible? As this is your first marathon, you don't yet have a personal best time to try and beat, but having a goal in mind is a great motivator.
Of course, the previously mentioned Good For Age times are an excellent indicator of just that: what is a good marathon time for your age. However, so long as you enjoy yourself and get out of it what you wanted, your time really is irrelevant.
That said, it's important to train enough that you can run a sensible pace and not end up on your feet for too long. Putting your body under that much strain can be pretty dangerous and you want to be able to put up a good fight rather than having to walk most of the course. After all, the quicker you run the quicker it will be over!
Training for your first marathon
The most important factor in your success of running a marathon is your training. Whether you're a complete beginner to exercise or you've run up to half marathon distance, running a full marathon is a completely different experience and requires full dedication as well as knowledge on nutrition and hydration.
Finding a good training plan
Your first port of call should be finding a great training plan that suits you and your goals. One of the most popular places to find marathon training plans is Hal Higdon's website. An American writer and marathon runner, Hal has written over 30 best-selling marathon training books and guides and has contributed to Runner's World longer than any other writer. His training plans cover something for everyone from the beginner to the intermediate to the advanced. For your first marathon, it's recommended to go for one of the beginner training plans.
Fitting training around work and home life
Before you commit to running a marathon, it's important to know that you must remain dedicated over several months and put in the time to train. This means your social life will likely suffer and you may need to give up things like alcohol and tighten up your diet. Speak with your family and friends about your intentions to make sure they are on board as their support could be invaluable to your success.
You also need to make sure you have the time to fit training around your work life. There are plenty of ways to fit training into your daily routine, such as running early in the morning before work, working out at work such as at lunchtime, and incorporating training into your commute. Explore these avenues and find out what is going to work best for you.
Many of the popular UK and European marathons take place in spring time, meaning you will be training over winter. This comes with its own perils such as unexpected snowfall and freezing temperatures. Make sure you have the right activewear for winter running as this will make winter training more bearable. Your essentials should be a long sleeved training top with temperature control to keep you warm without overheating and a water resistant running jacket and gloves to protect you against the elements.
Many people who have run a spring marathon say that training through the winter is the toughest part. Dark evening runs after work and cold early morning starts can make motivation difficult, but if you keep your goals in mind and stay dedicated you will be able to enjoy working out and stay motivated.
Both Berlin marathon and New York marathon take place later in the year, meaning the bulk of your training will take place over summer. As we saw in 2018, a freak heatwave can really make a difference to your training and it's important to stay safe when running in hot weather. Be sure to carry extra water and be flexible with your training. Listen to your body and adjust your speed accordingly, as running at 100% effort in soaring temperatures and blazing sunshine probably won't end well.
Nutrition and hydration
Any marathon runner will tell you that you could put in endless miles and countless training hours but it will all be for nothing if you don't crack your hydration and nutrition strategy. As we saw in London in 2018 when a woman fell into a coma after crossing the finish line, hydrating with only water can be potentially dangerous and it's important to replenish your electrolytes and sodium as well.
Drinking a sports drink and taking sodium supplements will combat this easily so make sure they are a part of your hydration and nutrition strategy. It's also important to be able to adjust your strategy for the weather on race day, as you could have been training in sub-zero temperatures but will need more water than you think on an unseasonably hot April day.
Finding what works for you
There is no one-size-fits-all hydration and nutrition plan; you will have to devise your own. Some people are fine with a few litres of water and some energy gels while others find that fuelling with real food is much more effective. You can even make your own energy gels and bars for endurance training so that you know exactly what's gone into them; especially effective for those with a sensitive stomach or a food intolerance.
Make sure you trial different things in your training to find what works for you so that there are no surprises on race day. It's also important to be as self-sufficient as possible once you have found what works for you, as not all races will have what you need at the aid stations.
What to eat during a marathon
Some of the best foods to eat during a long endurance event like a marathon include:
- Protein balls
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Pretzels (good for sodium but can be very dry, especially if you’re dehydrated)
- Pickles and pickle juice
- Dried or fresh fruit
- Sugar cubes
- Energy gels
- Sports/electrolyte drink
Top Tip: If you take on a lot of energy gels and sugary drinks during training, brush your teeth as soon as you get home to protect against cavities and tooth loss due to the excessive sugar consumption.
Cross Training For Runners
Once you have your training plan in place, you need to make sure you are also doing effective cross training. Putting in a lot of miles is a given for marathon training, but in order to avoid injury and perform at your best you will also need to cross train.
Cross training for runners is any other type of training apart from running that will supplement and enhance your training. Some of the best types of cross training are strength training at the gym, swimming, and cycling. All of these are low impact sports which will give your joints a chance to rest after pounding the pavements for hours on end while simultaneously working your muscles and increasing your power and strength, all necessary for putting in a good performance on race day.
What to expect at your first marathon
As the big day draws near it is completely natural to start to feel nervous. You will be wanting to know what to expect at your first marathon so that it doesn't come as much of a shock. Here are some of the most common things you're likely to experience at your first marathon.
Long toilet queues
If you've done a lot of races you'll already know the frustrations of a couple of portable toilets trying to accommodate thousands of runners and this won't be any different at a major marathon. The key is to join the queue early and be patient. So long as you get there with plenty of time, you won't miss the start and the time you spend in the queue would just be time spent pacing back and forth in your starting pen anyway. A top tip is to take a small amount of toilet paper with you as there probably won't be any by the time you get to the front of the queue.
A busy start
The start of a marathon with thousands of runners is always going to be busy and it may take a while to cross the start line. At this point you will be feeling pretty anxious and nervous but also very excited. Take this time to make sure you have everything you need and in place ready to run. Make sure your running watch is ready to go and switch it on early to make sure it can find a GPS signal among all the people.
Setting off too fast
All the excitement of the start may well cause you to set off too fast. Stick to your pacing plan and keep an eye on your watch to help you stay on track. Don't be tempted to rush off with everyone else; keep calm and start sensibly so that you can enjoy the race.
Hitting the wall
This is one of the most common fears among marathon runners and for good reason. Hitting the wall can take the form of anything from feeling a little lightheaded to physically not being able to move. The key to not hitting the wall when running is to stick to your nutrition and hydration strategy and to stay as hydrated as possible.
Read race reports
If you want to be well prepared on what to expect for the particular marathon you are running, it's a great idea to read race reports from people who have been there, done it, and got the finisher's t-shirt.
Experiencing the best day of your life
Even if you're hobbling along with sore feet, painful joints, and no energy, when you hit that finish line it will all be forgotten and you will remember this as one of the best days of your life. Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment and all of the long training sessions, dedication, and compromise will be worth it when you cross that line. The elation you feel will be like nothing else.
Getting to the start line uninjured
One thing you will hear from a lot of people training for a marathon, whether it's their first or their 10th, is that getting to the start line uninjured is a big deal. It can be all too easy to over-train and end up with an injury that hinders your chances of performing at your best or even running at all. Some of the most common running injuries are caused by pushing yourself too hard and doing too much too soon, especially if you're new to running.
In order to stay injury-free, always listen to your body during training and don't underestimate the importance of rest. Some of the best ways to deal with running injuries are not to push through the pain, learn from your mistakes, and don't rush your comeback. Rest up and ease back into your training gently. Ideally, you shouldn't get injured at all when training for a marathon. So long as you eat well, train smart, and listen to your body, you should be good to go.
Organising with family and friends
Of course, for your big day you will want your family and friends to be there to support you. There's nothing worse than running along wondering where they are and when you'll see them, distracting you from your performance. Before the race, make sure you all agree where they will be standing to watch you so that you know when to expect them.
A top tip is to see them towards the end of the race when you're needing some extra encouragement. Not only will they encourage you towards the finish line, but knowing that you get to see them soon could keep you going when the race starts to get tough at the halfway point. We recommend Mile 20 as the optimum place to arrange to see your supporters.
Whether you’re an avid runner, a recreational lifter, or a lifelong tennis player, you know that what you eat is key both for optimal performance as well as recovery. However, some people are so enthusiastic about fuelling their workouts with the right ingredients that they neglect the equally important role of their recovery. After all, this is when all of your muscle growth happens and the effects of your training take place to help you advance.
In addition to your macros, which are always vital for your health and well-being, taking care of your micro-nutrient intake will help you recuperate faster and restore your energy more efficiently. One mineral in particular deserves more attention for improving your post-workout healing – magnesium!
Magnesium’s main roles
Just like every other essential micro-nutrient, magnesium is a meddler – it plays many vital roles in numerous metabolic processes in the body. This minuscule mineral takes part in over 300 biochemical reactions, from how your body generates energy, how it utilises other micro-nutrients you eat in your food, all the way to protecting your very DNA.
Your vital organs such as you brain and heart heavily depend on your magnesium supplies to function properly every day. However, it’s also the building block of your bones, just like calcium, and it balances your cholesterol levels, allowing your muscles to relax and recover from physical strain. Even with just these several functions, it’s already clear how crucial magnesium is for everyone who leads an active life, since your energy and performance are based in magnesium availability, as much as any other essential macro and micro-nutrient.
Deciding on your needs
The general guidelines when it comes to this handy mineral state that an average man requires approximately 400 to 420mg of magnesium per day, while women need slightly less, in the realm of 310 to 320mg per day. However, these numbers fluctuate depending on your lifestyle, any pre-existing conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, how active you are every day, what your diet consists of, and whether you are pregnant.
Then again, athletes – and endurance athletes in particular – may need more magnesium to help their bodies cope with muscle soreness and cramps as well as arduous routines. You don’t necessarily need to be a competitive athlete to find yourself depleted of magnesium, since you may need a higher dosage than someone who exercises significantly less in terms of both intensity and frequency – which is where your doctor should step in and check if you should up your intake.
Sources of magnesium
This crucial mineral is as hard to come by as it is essential to your well-being, making it one of those elusive dietary requirements that is hard to meet, especially through diet alone. Nuts and seeds such as almonds, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and dairy as well as dark greens such as spinach and broccoli have high amounts of magnesium, although its bio-availability may vary. Typically, your body will absorb as little as 30-40% of the eaten magnesium, which often leads athletes to rethink their diets.
For those who exercise vigorously, it’s often recommended to take magnesium supplements in order to improve their energy levels and recover faster. They are designed to be absorbed more easily without causing any harm to your digestive tract, increasing your daily intake without increasing your calories through magnesium-packed foods.
Symptoms of a deficiency
Although some of the following symptoms are very commonly associated with other health issues and they can be seen as mere reactions to a stressful situation, it’s important to listen to your body and notice if these symptoms persist:
- General fatigue
- Muscle spasms and cramps
- Trouble sleeping
- Carb cravings
- Numbness in your hands and feet
- Irregular heartbeat
If you feel that your workouts are becoming increasingly difficult even though you’re resting properly and not increasing the intensity of your workouts, chances are that you are starting to experience a magnesium deficiency. It’s best to talk to your physician and do a few tests to confirm if you have this particular issue in order to find the best solution – your body will thank you later!
Key perks to expect
Finally, as difficult as it may be for some to believe that this one micro-nutrient is so priceless for your muscles, bones, and energy, you can begin by getting a deeper insight into how you’ll feel when you actually provide your body with enough of this mineral.
- Improved muscle gains – Since magnesium is one of those vital ingredients in the process called muscle protein synthesis, which occurs well after you finish your workout, it stimulates your muscles to repair and build new tissue. Without it, your muscles cannot repair and recover properly, making it very difficult to advance in terms of improving your physique with lean muscle.
- Better carb and fat metabolism – Yes, this little rascal also plays a key role in how your body uses carbs to generate energy, and how efficient you are at burning fat. So, if your goal is to improve your body composition and replace those love handles with lean muscle, magnesium is your body’s best friend.
- Quality sleep – As the third pillar of a healthy lifestyle, right next to diet and exercise, sleep is connected to your magnesium levels. Enough of this mineral helps your body relax after training, reduces inflammation in your body, replenishes energy stores, and soothes your entire central nervous system to sleep.
There can be no muscle protein synthesis, or restored energy without sleep, so magnesium is the ingredient that closes this recovery cycle and turns it into a powerful bodily process you need to advance in your athletic endeavors and stay healthy.
About the author: Luke is a fitness and health blogger at Ripped.me and a great fan of the gym and a healthy diet. He follows the trends in fitness, gym and healthy life and loves to share his knowledge through useful and informative articles.
When it comes to running, there's more to it than just pounding the pavement. In order to avoid injury and stay strong, you need to cross train to keep your muscles and joints healthy. Follow our runner's winter workout to give you the base you need to succeed.
Indoor Winter Workout For Runners
Hold onto a wall or bar for support, and swing one leg in front and behind you 10 times. Repeat on the other leg. Make sure you feel the stretch in the hamstring as the leg comes forward, and the stretch in the hip as it goes behind you.
Lateral Leg Swings
This is the same thing, but now you swing the leg from side to side in front of you. Feel the stretch in the inner thigh (adductor) as the leg swings out to the side.
For this warm up, you imagine you are stepping over invisible hurdles. Lift up your left leg and step it sideways over an invisible hurdle, making sure as the right leg comes over it steps over too. Do 3-4 steps one way and repeat going back the other.
Banded Back Squats
Back squats are a great exercise for runners as they target all of the muscle groups in the legs. By using a resistance band round your knees, you will train your hips to stay open and encourage perfect form. This will also help to strengthen your IT band which is a common cause of injury for runners.
Place the resistance band just above your knees and keep your knees pushing outwards for the duration of the lift. Place a bar on your back and drop into a squat. Make sure your hips drop below your knees and then use your glutes to squeeze you back up. Complete 3 sets of 10 on a fairly light weight.
Banded Front Squats
Front squats also work all of the muscles in the legs, but they also encourage you to keep your chest up because the bar is on your front. Front squats will work your glutes harder as you can't cheat!
Place the resistance band just above your knees again but this time place the bar on your front, supporting it with your hands. Keep your elbows high. Keep your chest proud and drop into a squat. Make sure you really squeeze your glutes so that you can shoot back up without leaning forwards and dropping the bar. Complete 3 sets of 10 on a light weight.
Deadlifts are another important exercise for runners as they will strengthen your back and core so that you can stay strong throughout the race and not suffer from any aches as the miles rack up.
With the bar on the floor, place your feet under the bar so that it touches your shins and bend your knees so that you can grab the bar. Keep your bum down and your chest high, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pick the bar up off the floor. Lock out at the top by pushing your hips slightly forward and then bend back down to place the bar back on the floor. Do 3 sets of 10 on a fairly heavy weight. Make sure you keep your back dead straight throughout the lift and squeeze your core tight to protect your spine.
KB Single Leg Deadlifts
This is a fantastic exercise, especially if you suffer with pain in your feet and ankles when you run. It will correct any strength imbalances between your legs and help with your balance as well as leg strength.
Start with the right side: Find your balance on your right leg and hold the kettlebell in your right hand. Slow lean forward so that the kettlebell lowers to the floor while simultaneously lifting your left leg behind you. Squeeze your glutes so that your left leg lifts nice and high and see if you can lean all the way forward so that the kettlebell touches the floor. Slowly pivot back to centre. Repeat 10 times then switch to the other side.
KB Side Leans
Time to target the abs. Hold the kettlebell in your right hand and keep it by your side. Lean to the right, moving only your waist. Slide the kettlebell down your right leg and then squeeze your abs to come back up. Repeat 10 times then swap to the left side.
Are you a peanut or a sausage? Analysing your pedal stroke can be an invaluable tool for improving your cycling technique, and knowing whether you're a 'peanut' or a 'sausage' can help. Read on to learn how to pedal better using the Wattbike to improve your efficiency and power output in order to improve overall performance on the bike.
Analysing pedal stroke using Polar View
The Polar View is a technique analysis tool by Wattbike which makes the invisible, visible. It displays an easily understood real-time graph which shows exactly where you are losing force through your pedal stroke, how much power you’re producing from each leg, and the angle of your peak force.
The Polar View Shapes
There are 3 main stages of pedal technique viewable in the Polar View: the figure of eight, the peanut, and the sausage.
The Figure of Eight - Beginner
The beginner cyclist is a stomper. At points one and two they lose momentum as they transition from leg to leg. This cyclist is quad dominant, meaning they’re pushing solely with the front of their leg without pulling up with the hamstrings.
Tip: Being properly secured in the toe cages or using cleats will help keep your power throughout the pedal stroke.
The Peanut - Intermediate
This cyclist has had a bit of practice, they maintain some pedal momentum between each leg drive, however, there is still a noticeable loss of momentum at point 1 and 2.
Tip: To improve your stride transition, imagine scraping mud off the ball of your foot, which helps engage the hamstrings fully.
The Sausage - Elite
This cyclist knows their stuff and probably isn’t short of practise. The sausage or cloud shape depicts a consistent leg balance and momentum. This is the typical shape of a cyclist with a strong drive and balanced recovery and can be achieved with practise. By achieving this level of technique, you will be able to improve your power output and by extension your speed and overall performance on the bike.
Leg Force %
Beneath these graphs, your Wattbike will display the percentage split of your power production between each leg. Your aim should be to stay as close to 50-50 as possible, but a fluctuation between 48-52% is still within the ideal range.
How to improve your cycling technique
- Check your cycling position - an incorrect cycling position can affect both the downstroke and upstroke phases.
- Try to ensure you apply force evenly with each leg - the left/right leg balance should be as close to 50/50 as possible, it will fluctuate however the ideal range is between 48%-52%.
- Invest in a good pair of cycling shoes - without cycling shoes you will find it difficult to implement the full power and recovery phases effectively.
- Try not to stand up - standing up in the pedals can compromise your pedalling technique, making it very difficult to maintain power through the top and bottom of each pedal turn. Only stand up if required by a specific session within your training plan.
- Get the right resistance setting - a ‘figure of eight’ shape may indicate your resistance is too high forcing you to concentrate solely on the downstroke. Lower the resistance level and concentrate on ‘scraping mud off the sole of your foot’ at the bottom of the revolution.
- Ensure Polar View is displayed on the Wattbike Performance Monitor - this will constantly remind you to focus on effective pedalling.
- Analyse your data in the powerhub - if you have a Bluetooth enabled monitor and Bluetooth smartphone you can analyse your Polar View data in the powerhub. You will be able to analyse your Polar View graph, angle of peak force and left/right leg balance throughout your entire session.
- Try a specific cycling effectiveness workout - during these sessions you should concentrate on smoothing out your Polar View shape. To start with this will require a lot of concentration, so focus on it for short periods of time and then relax. It is easier to hold a good shape on the harder gears, so begin with the lightest gear available and then only when you have mastered that move up to the next gear ie.:
- 1 minute focus on shape / 2 minutes easy pedalling x 6-10
- 2 minutes focus on shape / 2 minutes easy pedalling x 5-8
- 3 minutes focus on shape / 2 minutes easy pedalling x 4-6
Using kettlebells is a great way to keep your training fresh and interesting and to challenge your body. Read on to find out why you should incorporate the kettlebell goblet squat into your training and how to do it properly.
Why do a Kettlebell Goblet Squat?
By holding the weight of the kettlebell in front of you, it is easier to balance in a deeper squat. Performing squats with as much depth as possible is always preferable as it will work your muscles better and really target your glutes, a muscle group that can often go neglected.
It’s better for those with back injuries
Unlike the traditional back squat, the goblet squat is executed by keeping the body in an upright position, which results in less strain on the lower lumbar and spine.
It adds variety to your routine
Adding different squat variations challenges your body to stabilise during new movements to develop greater strength and function.
It mobilises the hips through a full range of motion
Goblet squats are great for developing better hip mobility, improving strength through the full range of motion.
Goblet squats are volume friendly
Goblet squats aren’t designed for your one rep max. Instead, they are volume friendly, meaning you can do several repetitions for hypertrophy or endurance training. Keep your heart rate up by working to time rather than a set number of repetitions.
Develop grip strength
Goblet squats require you to develop grip by holding the weight in front of your chest. This static position loads the forearms and increases grip strength.
Statically train the biceps
Holding the kettlebell in front of your chest to perform a goblet squat is technically isometric loading of the biceps. Whilst they won’t take the full brunt of the load as they are supported by other muscles, it all helps.
How to perform a Kettlebell Goblet Squat
- Grab your kettlebell by the horns and hold it with your biceps flexed, in front of your chest.
- Take a wide stance. Your feet should be just outside shoulder width, with your toes pointed slightly out.
- Sink your weight back into your heels and drop into your squat. Focus on keeping your chest lifted, draw your shoulders back and don’t let your back arch.
- Go as low as you can in the squat without letting your heels come off of the floor and keeping the kettlebell in a static position. If your heels lift, try taking a slightly wider stance.
- As you reach the bottom of your squat, allow your knees to point out before driving up to return to the start position.
Kettlebell Goblet Squat to Press
For a more advanced version of the goblet squat, try the squat to press exercise. To perform this move, repeat the steps above but this time instead of holding the bell with both hands as you drive up, set the bell down on the floor at the bottom of the movement and grip it with only one hand.
Now, as you explode up, flip the bell to sit on the back of your wrist at your shoulder and drive it up above your head. The bell should be dragged halfway diagonally across your chest and then flip to the back of your wrist just before you reach your shoulder.
Flip the bell back down and grab with the other hand to goblet squat, before repeating the motion on the other side.
The better you get at this the less likely you’ll be to bruise your wrist, although it’s probably best to move your watch out of the way.
Kettlebell Training Progression