An illustration of a man running An illustration of a man running

James’ top tips for running your first marathon

11 January 2019

Hi, my name is James Byfield, I am both the Marketing, Communications and Fundraising Assistant and Assistant Editor of Leprosy Review. I have also taken part in three marathons (Derry, Brighton and Madrid). In 2019 I will be running marathons in Brescia, Paris and Ottawa to raise money for people affected by leprosy. I will be writing a series of blogs to document my training experience and to encourage others to join me on Team Lepra.

Before you start running: Please visit your doctor to check that you are healthy enough to run a marathon. Please note that I am not a healthcare professional, and that these tips are based on my own personal experiences of running long distances.

Start running

One of the biggest obstacles for people that have never ran a marathon is that they will keep putting off their initial run until a time where they believe the weather is nicer, or when they feel less tired. Unfortunately, there will never be the perfect moment to start running, the best thing a person can do is run for 10 minutes. Then double the amount of time the following day. In that 20 minutes most people would be able to cover around 1.5 miles to 2 miles, the first week will feel like agony but as time goes on this will improve. If you’re afraid of the weather there is a saying, "There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear". If it’s cold wrap up warm, if it’s hot be sure to stay hydrated and wear appropriate clothing.

Set weekly mileage targets

A full 26.2 mile/ 42.1 km marathon can feel intimidating, most people will not have run for 26.2 miles in one go before their race, however the more miles you travel each week the easier this task will be. Elite runners can run upwards of 120 miles per week (not including the miles they run for warming up). If you are out of shape/ don’t run regularly start off slowly with a goal of 15 miles for the week. Add another 3-5 miles each week and you will find that running starts to become easier as your body composition adapts to longer distance running, and you start to lose weight. The average hobby runner will run around 50-60 miles per week to average around a 4-hour marathon pace. ‘Running distances doesn’t get easier, you just get faster.’

Improve your running form

When I weighed around 234lbs/ 106kg I would start to get back ache after running further than 5km, I believed this was due to my weight and that it would disappear as I lost weight. This was not entirely the case. I had never bothered to research running techniques because I assumed running was simply walking a bit faster than usual. However, it turns out there are several ways that running form and your general posture can affect your running. The posture you have while sat in a chair can influence how upright you are while running, if you spend all day slouching you will tend to slouch while running. Keep your head forward and chest up, with your hips forward to prevent lower back pain as your overall posture is better.

Another thing to consider is what part of the foot you land on with each stride. Landing on the heel can cause more damage over time as the impact force shoots up the shin and towards the lower spine. Overcome this by landing closer towards the ball of your foot.

Kicking your legs back up to your butt will help you unconsciously take longer strides, covering more distance while using less energy than several smaller strides.

Run in the environment your race will be in

When training try to recreate the area where you will be running the marathon in. For example, if you are doing a marathon on a mountain, it would be advisable to run in colder climates, and on tracks that are elevated. If you are doing a race in a warmer climate, wear warmer gear to recreate that temperature. It’s not the end of the world if you are unable to do this, however it will make the actual race more difficult.

Run analogue and save money

In the age of smart technology, you might be tempted to buy an exercise smart watch, one that enables you to monitor your heart beat, measuring how far you have run and the amount of incline and decline you have endured. However, these things are non-essential running products, websites such as can help you plan your running routes, covering the distance and elevation for free, before and after your run.

Poor nutrition, poor pace

For your body to run efficiently it requires energy. The main source of energy for your body is gained from eating and drinking carbohydrates, the more exercise you do, the more energy your body will require. Eating more carbohydrates will help you to feel more awake and continue to push yourself during the training period. There are athletes that rely on fat as their source of energy through the ketogenic diet, however please note that regardless of your diet, everyone is different, there is no universal diet that works, just trial and error. Another thing to consider might be to invest in whey protein, this is powdered whey (a side product of the milk pasteurisation process that has a high protein content), drinking protein shakes can help reduce recovery times.

Run with friends

Find a running partner or join a local running club. Running in groups can help you to keep yourself accountable, you can share running tips and learn about new races/ routes or general running information.

Listen to your body

Theoretically you could run every day of the year and would not necessarily be at risk of overtraining. However, you are more likely to stay consistently running if you listen to your body and know the difference between pushing against a lack of will to run and knowing when to take a break because your body is fatigued. The more fatigued your body is, the more likely you are to gain an injury.

Be your own motivation

It is easier to quit running than it is to start running. One method of staying consistent is to challenge yourself as motivation. Whether it is challenging yourself to run a 5km, 10km, half marathon or full marathon set a goal you want to accomplish and start working towards it. If weight loss is your goal, take progression pictures and measure your weight. Being able to look back at the changes should inspire you to continue. Do not rely on others for motivation, it can be very demoralising if you compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 11, hold yourself accountable and don’t blame others for your shortcomings.

Hit the gym

Doing circuit training exercises that focus on your core (abs) will help to improve your overall fitness and trains your body to withstand the stress associated with running. When you run the majority of your muscle groups will activate. Training the core will help you with endurance, meaning you can run for longer and faster.

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