Running your first marathon? Inspirational women share their tips - Women's Running

Running your first marathon? Inspirational women share their tips

Author: Holly Taylor

Read Time:   |  October 2, 2020

Your first marathon is such an incredibly exciting achievement – some of our favourite runners share their advice before Sunday's virtual London Marathon

Charlotte Purdue | Professional athlete


Charlotte is a long-distance runner, and became the third fastest British woman at the 2019 London Marathon. “My advice would be to follow [your] own race plan and not worry about what other athletes are doing,” she says.

Sally Orange | Mind Over Matter team founder & 2019 Race Across America captain

“It’s more important to concentrate on the finish line than the finish time, so just go and have fun, enjoy yourself and have the time of your life! At the end of the day, whatever the time on your very first marathon, it’s always going to be a PB, so it takes off a lot of unnecessary pressure.”

Emma Kirk-Odunubi | Run coach & shoe expert

“Don’t beat yourself up on getting the worlds best time in your first race! All the hard work & sacrifice you put in just to get to that start line is a massive achievement before you even begin.

“I’ve never been prouder of myself crossing that finish line of my first marathon which was in Amsterdam. It was a feeling you’ll never get again-know that no matter how the race goes you can officially say you’ve run a marathon and not many people can say that!”

Susannah Gill | World Marathon Challenge winner

To win the World Marathon Challenge, Susannah completed seven marathons across seven continents in seven days in a world record time of 24 hours 19 minutes and nine seconds. “It took me years to learn this but it’s a great idea to ditch the knickers and just wear running shorts to minimise the chance of chafing in those delicate areas,” she says. “Each to their own on this one, but it works for me!”

Adele Roberts | Radio 1 DJ

“My advice is to slow down, and when you’ve slowed down, slow down a little bit more! I tried so hard to race at a steady pace for my first marathon, but I was so overwhelmed by the amazing atmosphere that I still ended up running too fast at the start, and it punished me at the end. I can’t even remember the last 10K properly! The second London Marathon I ran was the hottest on record, so I naturally slowed down at the start and ended up getting a faster time than the year before. Don’t worry about your time, just make sure you’re comfortable, having fun and taking in the incredible day.”

Jada Sezer | Model & UN Women ambassador

“Listen to your body. Respect when it needs rest, push it when you think you can go further. But don’t force anything. Running the London Marathon was one of the most significant moments of my life. It allowed me to witness what my body was truly capable of, a huge confidence boost. I look back now, when I felt tired after 2K, and think, ‘Wow, you did that!’”

Kerllen Rego | Blogger & Women’s Running warrior

“My first marathon in 2018 was the most physical, mental and emotional challenge ever. When I crossed the finish line, I met my family and I cried. It made me realise you can do anything you set your mind to. So believe in yourself. Keep to your planned pace, don’t go too fast at the start, save your energy for later on – you will need it. When you start to struggle you need to believe you’ve got this and figure out a way of convincing yourself that no matter how much it hurts, you will never quit and you will cross the finishing live. You are strong, don’t stop, carry on.”

Louise Blizzard | Annual London Marathon runner since 1994

“Back in 1994, aged 18, I was lucky to get a place at London. I’d joined a running club at 13 where my mum and dad were also members. I remember seeing my dad run it when I was eight and always hoped I could too… and there I was!

“My first London Marathon was a lovely experience. It was hard but I ran it in 3.32 and hoped I could do it again. I’d started to improve my times that year, and was invited to take part in the elite women’s race. I was only 19, but what a wonderful opportunity! In 1995, aged 19, I took over half an hour off my time and ran 2.58. I was over the moon!

“If you’re running your first marathon, just enjoy every second of it. When you get to the start line, take it all in: the atmosphere, the excitement and feeling proud to be there.

“I always try to keep positive thoughts and every time a negative one creeps in, replace it with a positive one. Think about the training you’ve done, the fact you are in the most amazing event, and the finish!”

Steph Twell | Olympian

“Don’t be overly concerned about missing a few miles here or there on your weekly mileage total. If I do happen to miss a few, I focus more on recovery instead. Get to bed early, eat a meal with lots of veggies and look after your body in other ways. Maybe with a massage or home stretches/yoga for 20 minutes. I work on preparing my body as well as my mind as it’s just as important for the marathon. Keep giving your body weekly MOTs and it will help you when it comes to race day.”

Joyce Smith | First female London Marathon winner

“Prepare sensibly for your marathon. How long do you expect to take? Whatever time this is, be prepared to train your body to be active for that length of time. The marathon runner planning to run for four hours would not go out for four hours running but should be able to stay active for four hours. Approaching marathon day a run close to marathon distance three to five weeks before the event gives confidence that the race will be achievable and a distance race of 10 miles or half marathon gets you into competition mode.”

Mel Bound | Founder of This Mum Runs

“Take the pressure off yourself. Yes, do the training, but stop worrying about what the stats on your watch say. Focus on enjoying the excitement of planning where you could run, the progress you make and even those days where a session feels really hard, it’s all progress. On the big day soak up the experience, look around and take a deep breath, tell yourself, ‘I’ve earned this moment’. And enjoy every single step like it’s a victory lap at the Olympics!”

Georgie Rawlinson | Inspiration charity runner

Georgie ran with her brothers, Hugo and Anthony, for Breast Cancer Now in the 2018 London Marathon, after losing their mum to breast cancer.

“Don’t worry too much if your training schedule gets disrupted,” she says. “I got an injury which knocked me out of training for a couple of months just before the marathon. I was really worried about it but managed to adjust my plans and make it round anyway.

“My first marathon meant everything to me. I ran it with my brothers in memory of my mum who we lost very suddenly to breast cancer. Running the marathon was a way for us to do something positive in her name. We raised over £60,000 for Breast Cancer Now, and we found incredible kindness and support from our friends, family, the charity and from the hundreds of total strangers on the day who cheered us on.

“It was an incredible experience, especially being able to do it for her, together. I know she would have been so proud of us.”

Charlie Watson | Dietician & author of Cook, Eat, Run

“Make sure you look up – don’t focus on your watch or stare at the road. Take it in, make eye contact with supporters and runners. Absorb the atmosphere and energy to help carry you through the miles. Don’t let it pass by in a blur. You’ve trained so hard for this. Marathon day is your victory lap. Enjoy it! My first marathon was not about the miles, it was doing something that had previously felt impossible, in memory of a friend. To do something positive with my grief and wanting to open up a dialogue through running to talk about mental health, especially depression and suicide in men. I’ve completed 12 more marathons and each one is underpinned by the want to do something great to make my friend proud.”

Sabrina Pace-Humphreys | Endurance runner & activist for Black Trail Runners

“My advice for a first-timer would be ensure they have the right fuel with them. And remember to eat or drink said fuel BEFORE you start to feel an energy slump as, often, that’s too late and the dreaded ‘wall’ will be hit. And that’s horrible!

“I tend to fuel with a carbohydrate high fuel – such as gels, or real food, every 40 minutes. And I’ll even set an alarm on my phone to remind me to fuel. Those glycogen stores will deplete and need to be topped up. So use technology you have on you to remind you to eat and drink when your in a mental haze and during a marathon we all have them).

“I’ll always remember my first marathon fondly. It was Edinburgh. I trained hard for 4 months and felt amazing – until the last 6 miles when I was running in a headwind and just wanted to see that finish line. I’m half Scottish so running in the city nearest to where my mother was born was very special. I’d like to do it again one day. Maybe I can encourage a member of my family, or even one of my older children, to join me!”

Steph Davis | 2019 marathon star

Britain’s newest marathon star, Steph ran the London Marathon in 2:32:18 last year from the mass start.

“Get the simple things right – such as hydration and nutrition – by practising in training and don’t try anything new on race day. Most importantly, enjoy it. Have a time in mind, but don’t let it define you in the later stages of the race. The marathon is a beast – but don’t fear it, embrace it!”

Sophie Grant | GB trail runner

“Believe in yourself, the rest is just practice – if you want to be fast you can. If you want to be brave and run skyraces you can. If you want to run long you can. All those runners you look up to didn’t just wake up one day being at the top of their game, they believed they could and then they practised. Don’t listen to anyone who wants to comment on your body shape. You and your body can do great things if you look after it. I got told over and over again that ‘You don’t look like a runner’, but turns out those people don’t know what runners look like.

“Learn to eat before, during and after you run. The people who fuel the best do the best and your body will thank you for it by recovering faster and keeping you running for a long time not just a fast time.

“Do your easy runs easy so you can do the faster stuff well. Trying to run all your runs fast is not the way to improve.

“Learn how to pace. Don’t run a 5K race at the start of a marathon or an ultra. You might feel pumped with adrenaline but if you don’t learn to control that you’ll be doing the death march to the finish.”

Jess Piasecki | 2019 Florence Marathon winner

“I would say to myself what I thought throughout the first marathon I ever did, which was: ‘Just get to each bottle station and break it down 5K at a time’. I also like to be confident in the training I’ve done beforehand, and just think about the race like any other long run and make sure I enjoy it as much as I can.”

Charlie Webster | TV presenter & campaigner

“Look around you at the other runners, at the crowd and take it all in. I think we get so bogged down in finish times and looking at our watch as if that defines our experience, and with that we sometime miss the ‘doing’ – by taking in the experience it helps you get out of your own head, especially when your body starts to hurt. Also, when it gets tough, remember why you started this journey in the first place and use that to power you on.

“When things get really tough and your legs feel like jelly, dedicate each mile to something or someone and focus on that rather than how far is left.

“Singapore Marathon was my first marathon. It was crazy hot and humid, I was sweating just stood still. I never thought I’d be able to run that far.

“Before the race I had spent some time helping a group of young people who had learning disabilities and mental health problems and they were running the marathon. It inspired me so much, especially when I was cramping from the heat, to see them achieve something that others had said they couldn’t do.”

Leanne Davies | Founder of Run Mummy Run

“Before my first marathon, I would have told myself that the long run I missed due to feeling ill one weekend would not impact my race in the slightest. The four months of good training I’d done was what I should have focused on, not missing one run. I still got my PB.”

Written by

Holly Taylor

Holly Taylor

Holly Taylor is the digital editor of Women’s Running and co-host of the Women’s Running podcast, where she shares her running journey as well as the inspiring stories of women runners all over the country. She’s never been the sporty type, but running is the first time she’s felt real joy in getting active. She loves talking about running with a community of inclusive and supportive runners, and Women's Running is the perfect space for this. She's currently aiming for a half marathon PB!

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