Autumn marathon beginner tips

Preparing for your first 26.2 mile race? Our resident running coach Tom Craggs from RunningWithUs provides his expert tips...

Autumn marathon beginner tips

With Autumn marathon season on the horizon, we thought we would share our 10 top tips for marathon first timers!

Pack mentality

Surround yourself with positive people and look to training with friends sharing the same goal or even join a local running club or Run Together. Having a group to motivate and support each other will help keep you out running when the weather gets tough! Share your goal with family and friends.


10-16 weeks of training can feel like a pretty daunting task if you’re training for your first marathon. Aim to book in a half marathon 5-6 weeks out from your goal race. You could either run this hard, looking for a PB or turn it into a clever long run by adding a couple of miles before and after and running the race at goal marathon pace.

Midweek gains

Many new marathon runners get caught up with solely focusing on how long or fast their weekly longer run is. While the long run certainly is a key aspect to training, a good mid-week run with pace variations can be just as important.

Try a 45-60 minute run where you include five sets of 5 minutes running at a pace where you can only speak 3 or 4 words at a time, jogging for 90 seconds between each effort. Aim to build this up over coming weeks to 6 x 5, 3 x 10 or even 25 minutes as a solid block.


Don’t underestimate the benefits of regular strength and conditioning work and cross-training. If you are nervous about upping your running volumes or have a history of injury time spent on a bike or elliptical trainer or even aqua jogging in the pool can be hugely effective in developing you fitness with less injury risk.

Aim to complete two core and strength sessions each week focused on lower abdominals, glute muscles and hip strength. If you’re not sure, a Pilates class is also a great place to start.

Track your progress

Committing your training to paper (or on a screen!) can be a great way of monitoring your progress and having accountability. Get yourself a good running GPS such as a Polar M430 or even an app on your smartphone, or upload your runs right here on The Running Bug!

Linking this up to an online training diary like Polar Flow and Strava will soon see you banking miles, but even perhaps setting yourself small challenges to cover your favourite route that bit faster.

Time on your feet

The fear of the marathon distance can lead many new runners to overcook their training and start race day tired. Don’t worry about banking endless 20+ mile runs. Likely you will leave your best marathon in one of those runs.

Instead look to complete a key longest run of 3 hours - 3 hours 30 minutes about 4 weeks out from race day. You might aim to run the first two hours at an easy conversational effort pushing on to your goal pace for the final section. Any more than this and you’ll struggle to recover.

Working breakfast

Most runners have busy jobs, and feel tired and lose motivation throughout the day. Aim to get a regular run in early so you can bask in the glow for the rest of the day. Running before breakfast, particularly on an easier run, can be great in helping your body to get used to burning stored fats - which is vital for spreading your energy window in the marathon itself.

Easy does it

If you are going out for a 3-4 mile run and struggling to breathe after two or three minutes, you will be unlikely to finish. Start at an easy and conversational pace, building the pace as you warm up. 

Don’t worry if some of your running is slower than your goal marathon pace, even on a short run, this is totally OK. In order to build more volume week by week you need to get used to 60-70 per cent of your weekly running being at a fully conversational effort.

Ramp it up

Hill training can be a great way of doing ‘speed work in disguise’ as you’ll very quickly see your heart rate jumping up but also develop more strength in your glutes, hamstrings and quads. Challenge yourself by taking one of your mid-week runs over a hilly route and work in stretches of up hill at a strong sustained effort where you stay tall, light on our feet and drive your arms strongly.

Adapt to succeed

We get fitter when we adapt to training. A key element of this is getting adequate recovery and sleep time. We have all heard of the magical ‘8 hours’ but in-truth the quality and continuity of your sleep is just as important. A sleep tracker can tell you how much you move in the night. Create a cool, calm and dark environment to sleep in. Banish smart phones form the bedroom, aim for a consistent pre bed routine and avoid caffeine or alcohol late at night. 

If you have an autumn race coming up, try one of our free marathon training plans!

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