20 Tips for First-Time Marathon Runners

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So, you’re thinking of running your first marathon? Great! There’s no better place for your debut than the Marine Corps Marathon (MCM). The MCM, also known as “The People’s Marathon,” is the best event for first-time marathoners.

While the course is nothing short of spectacular and crossing the finish line is exhilarating, the road to completion is not easy. That’s why we asked some seasoned marathoners, all MCM Runners Club members, to share their wisdom as you prepare for lottery season.

Here are their top tips for a successful first marathon.

Figure out Your Motivation and Go from There

  • My advice would be to really hone in on your WHY. Why run a marathon? What sparked your interest? Knowing your true why will really come in handy during your training season, especially as it gets harder. This why will keep you honest, and if it is strong enough, it will motivate you to stick it out; to take one step at a time.
    - Megan Infantino

  • Choose one [marathon] that will help you complete your mission of finishing your first marathon. To clarify: do you need people support, scenery, flat course, medal, etc.? What will motivate you to get out and challenge yourself or prove that you have what it takes? You may see [26.2 miles] as a huge undertaking, but broken down in to smaller chunks, you can beat that obstacle.

    I ran my first MCM in 2004. It was cool, fun and made me want to come back. This year will be my 15th MCM and 231st marathon in total.
    - CW4 Darren M. Minnemann

  • Make sure you do your “homework” before making the decision. That means doing the work to get to the start line. Although it is a wonderful experience, it does take dedication to log the miles to accomplish the goal of finishing a marathon. The marathon is no easy feat and one needs to go into their preparation and training with eyes wide open.
    - Melissa Mallek


Use a Training Plan and Don’t Forget the Nutrition

  • Train. Train. Train. I've ran more than a few MCMs, but my best times and best experiences were when I trained about a year out for the race. I enjoyed learning about different training methods, meeting runners on my training runs and taking the time for those weekend long runs really pay off in October.
    - Jason Gillis

  • Pick a training plan and use it as a guide but don't view it as a Bible. You may need to make changes due to scheduling conflicts or illness. Attention to proper nutrition is also extremely important. So are the long runs. Trust your training plan and be confident but you'll never learn everything there is to know about running marathons after your first one.
    - Brian Beerman

  • Make sure you get your nutrition right. Understand the balance between water, food, electrolytes and what works best for you will be important on event day.
    - Matthew Von Ertfelda

  • I was not a "runner" when I signed up for my first Marine Corps Marathon in 1997, but a decent training plan and a little discipline made the goal attainable. While 26.2 miles is a long distance, it can be done, and you'll thank yourself for pushing your limits to have that experience. Don't overthink the decision, just do it and enjoy the day.
    - Steven Cox

  • Find a training plan that fits with your running style, your life and your goals and follow it as closely as you can — we all know life happens, but aim to get in most, if not all of the long runs — then trust the plan. Don't stress about not running 26 miles beforehand. Don't stress about taper. And if you are running MCM, don't stress about the cutoffs. Just go out there, appreciate every minute of the race, thank all of the Marines and revel in the moment when you are handed your medal and you become a marathoner!
    - Erika Howder


Find a Group for Mutual Support

  • Just making the decision to run 26.2 miles is a very bold move. The sense of accomplishment upon completion will be up there with all of the greatest achievements of your life, I promise! My recommendation is to find a partner or, even better, a group to run with. He/she/they will motivate and inspire you through it all.
    - Greg Vickers

  • I have been a marathon coach for 16 years now, and my teams have been a charity partner with MCM several times, so naturally, my best piece of advice is to find a training group where you can learn from others' experiences, be accountable and have a ton of support.
    - Amy Eutsey


Take it Slow and Steady

  • Believe what everyone else says: start slower than you think you need to; don’t try anything new on race day, whether it’s food, hydration, shorts, socks or shoes; drink regularly and fuel appropriately. That said, I always recommend folks start one or two pace groups slower than their goal pace. This will limit the adrenaline surge at the start and keep you from going out too fast—provided you resist the urge to weave—which wastes your energy. Bonus for that strategy is that for the last half of the race, especially the last 10k, you’ll be passing everyone instead of being passed. It goes a long way towards keeping your morale up.
    - Ian Litmans

  • Few, if any, first-timer has ever finished a marathon and said they went out too slow. The real marathon starts at mile 20. Those last 6.2 miles are ten times harder than the first 20, so pace yourself.
    - David Peikin

  • Try not to start out at your full-on speed. Take your time and enjoy every single moment of it as you do not want to burn out and hit the wall!
    - MGySgt Lillian McLaughlin


Believe in Yourself and Enjoy it

  • Enjoy the process, the training, the friendships and the miles logged. The marathon itself is part of the journey but not the reason for the celebration. The real reward is the process to get to the start line. It’s an accomplishment and an experience that can never be taken away
    - Deb Levy

  • Enjoy the moment! The fact that you are there shows that you are more than ready to accomplish your goal. 95% of the marathon is mental. Your body can do amazing things when you don’t think about it too much and just do it.
    - Martin S. Weiss

  • Respect the distance, but believe in yourself. There are no shortcuts. You have to put the time into training, but if you commit to it, you can do it.
    - Daryoush Mansouri

  • Just enjoy the day. You can’t control the weather, so don’t obsess about it or the time. Read the signs people hold up. Put your name somewhere on your body so spectators can shout encouragement.
    - Jim Katzman

  • Just enjoy it! Your first marathon finish will be a PR (personal record) regardless of how fast or slow you finish. Having said that, start out slow so that you can enjoy it.
    - Jackie Ebert

  • The fact that you've decided to take on the challenge of a marathon means you're willing to do what it takes, so put the miles in and bare it all on the line. You'll enjoy the finish for sure, but don't forget to enjoy the process.
    - Kirby W. Mills


And Most Importantly, Just Focus on the Finish

  • I tell all first-time marathoners the same thing: run to finish. Your first marathon should be about getting to the end, not about time. Just enjoy the race and rely on your training. You have already run more than 26.2 miles in all of your training, this is just the home stretch.
    - Teresa Murad