How to run your first marathon. - Fabio Bonanno

How to run your first marathon.

I survived, lessons from my first marathon.

The main thing with any goal is that you come out the other side with a success, an experience and the fact you have completed the challenge.

Life is about growth and if you never learn lessons through your experiences then you’re not growing.

Through failure, you succeed.

I ran my first ever marathon on May 19th 2019. It was not what I expected and I was floored.

The Richmond Park marathon is a hybrid marathon with trails in the mix as well as some brutal hills (I mean hills, not inclines, I almost died).

No matter your situation, there is always a lesson to be learned and to come back from, in this case, it’s do my research and practice what the course had in store for me.

Advice for first time long distance runners

There’s lots that is obvious when running long distances, for example, it’s hard, but also lots you don’t consider until you’re there, like going to the toilet.

Here’s all my main points I can think of in a long list.

Buy the right shoes.

If you have the wrong shoes, blisters will stop you dead in your tracks. There’s nothing hardcore about blisters, if you have them, there’s too much movement in your foot and/or not enough padding.

Get professional advice and invest. If you have the right pair of shoes, you wont need to keep buying new pairs. If you find a pair that works for you then buy 2 pairs if you have the money, but not essential.

Increase efficiency.

Over time, you want to become more efficient. Running long distances is tiring and requires a lot of energy so you don’t want to waste energy. By getting running coaching, you can waste less energy and save vital Calories over long distances.

Heel striking has been proven by science to be less efficient and mid/front foot striking wastes less energy. This doesn’t mean that you should 100% front foot strike, some people have been running on there heels for an entire lifetime with no problems. Your body adapts to what it has done for years, so if you’re not broken and are getting better with a heel strike, you might not need to change.

If you do transition, be sure to invest in a coach with experience in doing so. If you’ve spent 10 years running on your heels, you wont transition to a front/mid foot strike in 10 days. It can take up to 1-2 years for your tendons, ligaments and joints to adapt.

Do the miles.

The science of specificity means you get better at something the more you do it. This means if you want to run long distances then you have to run long distances. You wont get be running marathons in weeks, give yourself plenty of time, the longer the better.

3 runs per week is enough to ensure you don’t injure yourself.

Remember, a long run for you might not be as long as you would like. Work to your own limits and gradually increase distance 5-10% each run. You can figure this out from where you are now to the end distance goal.

You should never do a full marathon training for a marathon. You’re biggest run should be about 2-3 weeks away from the marathon and about 3/4 of the distance.

Practice the race.

Running on a treadmill is not the same as running on the road or grass, or even trails. Throw in one specific run the replicates your race (hills, trails etc)

Don’t do too much too soon.

We can get carried away when motivation is high and injuries are non existent.

If you do too many miles too soon, you increase risk of injury, running 3 times  and slowly increasing distance will give your body the time to adapt and minimise injury risk.

Keep the legs moving.

Impact injuries are common for runners, especially if you are doing too much or not recovering enough.

If this happens, all is not lost. Just on a static or road bike and keep the heart and lungs working as well as similar muscle groups you’ll be using.

You’ll know when you’re ready to hit the road again.

Check out the course.

At least once try to drive the course or run sections of it before the race so you know what to expect. The more you know what’s coming, the more you can prepare.

I got caught out doing this first marathon as some of the hills and trails were brutal and most of my running was on roads, grass and treadmill with a very slight incline at most. My legs blew up when I hit the hills.

You’ll be glad that no surprises show up on the day.

Practice eating what works for you.

You will know what feels right. Note down pre run food times as well as quantities. This requires you to be somewhat educated on nutrition but don’t get too caught up on specifics, just know what works and what doesn’t.

Some foods will cause discomfort and others will make you feel amazing.

Don’t get caught out.

The worst is needing to go to the toilet mid run. You’ll be uncomfortable, you wont be able to focus on a nice stride and you’ll just not feel good.

Always go for a pre run dump.

This goes for race day too. The toilets are the busiest part of the race course pre race. Big carb meals and pre race nerves get the best of people. I almost never made it as there was a queue of 40 people at the toilets. Get there in enough time to make sure you aren’t in this position. Take it from me, it’s not something you want to get caught out on.

Be hydrated.

If you are 1-2% dehydrated, you can lose up to 5-10% performance. More so if you are even more dehydrated.

Drink plenty of water.

One way to know how much sweat and water you lose during a run is to run at roughly 75-80% maximum heart rate for an hour. Weigh yourself before and after and that’s how much water you have to consider taking in.

You can hydrate before the race and add 1-1.5 litres of water to your water equation.

If you lose 1 litre per hour and run for 3 hours then you have to have a water balance of 3 litres intake. You can drink 1.5 litres pre race and 500ml during every hour. This will give you a neutral water balance.. I would always slightly over hydrate where possible. Running long distances is hard enough as it is, you don’t want to be dehydrated making it harder.

Fuel right and enough.

Fitness trackers will tell you roughly how many Calories you burn per hour when running.

You want to ensure you eat enough pre race and during the race to be adequately fuelled.

If you burn 800 Calorie per hour then it would be good to get at least 75% of that in pre and during the race from foods that agree with you.

Get a carbohydrate source without caffeine (caffeine makes you go to the toilet) and try it out before the race in training. You can get gels or buy carbohydrate powders like branched cyclic dextrine that don’t cause stomach upset. You’ll quickly realise that keeping your gut good during a run is one of the highest priorities.

Add electrolytes.

It’s not just water you have to replace, it’s also sweat and things like sodium and potassium. You can get electrolyte powders or tablets to add to your running solution. Again, test these out to make sure they agree with you.

Consider your tools of choice.

Carrying water and gels during a run can be heavy, uncomfortable and cause blistering depending on what kind of bag you’re using.

You can get bum bags, water rucksacks and anything else to add to your body.

If you’re holding water in your hand, it can change your running mechanics and make you work harder.

Find something that is comfortable and test it out.

Check the website and course details out.

Each race is different. Find out start times, registration, travel etc.

Make sure you know how to get there, driving times as well as walking times. Plan all this in good time to make sure you’re not rushing or late for the race.

Do they have lockers for your stuff, toilets, water and food stations at certain points to maybe help you carry the load. You can drink water at stations. Some races have bottles, some cups. A bottle is easier, a cup is awkward and you’ll spill most of it so be sure to plan for this. If it’s too much hassle, bring your own stuff so someone else’s negligence doesn’t mess up your race plan.

Give yourself time.

The last thing you want to do if you’re running a marathon for the first time is to be rushing and late. You don’t need any more stress and/or nerves.

Get there early (make sure you have planned your food for fuel if needed).

This will give you enough time to get your stuff together and do what you need to do.

I find it good to warm up, stretch if you have issues and practice pre race visualisation. Whatever works for you, plan ahead.

Listen to music.

Music can hep you push through tough times. Spotify has good playlists for everything. I found metal music was best for me but find what works for you.

Again, account for carrying your phone or music player. Also, if you have wireless headphones, your battery might not last so take this into account.

Music can also help if you’re running alone. During the race you can be helped by other people, other runners, the crowd. I had about 8 miles on my own during my marathon, no music and just the sound of my feet scuffing in the dirt, not the most motivating.

Lose weight

It goes without saying, if you’re too heavy, your body wont thank you for it.

You’ll pick up injuries and it will cost you more energy to run.

Losing weight in a healthy manor by cleaning up your diet and eating healthy food will help energy as well as trimming up.

If you’re increasing distances for runs, you’ll burn more Calories which can help with weight loss.

Look after yourself

Running is horrific on the body if you don’t maintain yourself.

Think of a low miles car, you don’t have to do much. The higher the miles, the more servicing you need.

You can find a car with 100,000 miles on it and it will be in great condition if serviced right, the same goes for your body.

Warm up properly (not just running slowly and increasing speed, do dynamic stretches and whatever else you have to).

Cool down, stretch.

Invest in massage and deep tissue therapy to ease overworked muscles and joints.

Learn how to look after yourself. There’s lot of mobility tools out there and self help techniques you can do that will save you time and money, do your research.

Get angry.

Being positive and happy wont push you through pain as much as being pissed off and having a point to prove.

Anger isn’t negative, it can be channelled. Nothing motivates you more than a “f*ck you” to prove a point to someone, yourself or anything else that comes to mind.

Get motivated.

Find a big enough reason that is bigger than the temporary discomfort of running.

Having a “why” big enough will help you push through the tough times.

Practice visualisation.

Visualising yourself succeed and get through tough times is very powerful, if you have experienced this then I don’t have to say anything else.

If you haven’t do some research and see if it’s for you, some people don’t need it and others use it as a powerful tool.

Coffee can help.

Coffee can help you perform better and block out the pain. Just be careful though as it can make you go to the toilet, no one needs that.

Keep moving.

The worst thing to do is break your stride. If you can , avoid it. You will have to generate momentum again.

All you have to do is focus on 1 step after the other, continue that and you’ll reach your distance goal. A big part of that is having enough water, fuel and electrolytes so be sure to have enough and practice your fuelling strategy.

Breathing is important.

This will get a bit “out there”. Breathing will happen no matter what, your body will make sure of it.

However, you can use your chest and neck muscles to do this instead of your diaphragm. Practice breathing into your belly as you run.

If your chest and neck are tired and you’re using them to breathe, you’ll quickly be working harder than you have to.

A lot of this is helped by training at the right intensities. If you’re working too hard, you wont be able to think about breathing, you’ll just be panting, trying to survive.

On slow, longer runs, you should be able to talk and hold a conversation otherwise you’re running too hard. This is where you can breathe through your belly.

Eventually once you improve, you can look at nasal breathing, getting nose strips to keep airwaves clearer and it will be a lot easier.

As you get fitter, this part will become easier and less laborious.

Run slower on long runs and faster on short runs.

Too many people are running too hard for long slow runs and not hard enough for short fast runs.

Invest in a good heart rate monitor like the Polar H7 or similar and it will tell you how hard you’re working.

Long runs should be between 65-80% maximum and short runs 80-90%+.

If you’re running 3 x week, you should do a short fast run, a medium one and a longer one at weekends.

Strength train.

I find a lot of runners are afraid of strength training and lifters are afraid of running. Both can help the other, they just have to be managed.

Finding a strength training program with low to moderate reps will give your body structure as well as make you more injury prone. You won’t be destroyed by high rep training and your runs will be supported instead of hindered.

Stick to mainly compound movements, focus on your glute strength as well as back.

Stretch the front of your body and strengthen the back.

Stick to 3-8 reps and keep weight training less than 45 minutes with adequate rest.


There’s a lot to take in with this and it’s just a starting point while it’s fresh in my mind less than 24 hours after my first ever marathon.

All these points would have massively helped me if I had known them all straight away. However, nothing beats experience.

No matter what you read in a book, nothing will teach you more than doing it.

If you’re hesitant then don’t wait, book a race, give yourself enough time, then get in the trenches and learn.

The first marathon might be your last, or it might be the first of many. Either way, learn from experience and learn from other who have been there before.

If you found this useful I’d love to hear your thoughts, send me an email on or leave a comment below.


About the Author fabiobonanno

Fabio is a health and wellness coach that changes business mens life without sacrificing the things they love.

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