Marathon Training Lessons

Lessons Learned From a New Marathon Runner

The 12 tips and strategies this first-time marathoner is using to have a successful marathon block of training.

The tips I’m about to share with you are not earth-shattering. In fact, they are quite the opposite. What I’ve found is that, well yes, marathon training is in fact all-consuming. It has sucked up all my normal happy-go-lucky attitude and replaced it with a walking, talking, barely functioning human.

Tips for 26.2 miles
The lessons and tips I’ve learned about training for a marathon

As I’ve gone through my 12 weeks (so far) of marathon specific training, these are the 12 things that I’ve found to be true. And no matter how fast or how many years of marathon experience you have, these tips are relevant.


When in doubt, it’s ok to slow down.

Never thought I’d say it, but I’ve done the bulk of my training at 8-minute pace or slower. In fact, of all the miles I’ve run in 2019, my average pace is 8:01.


Planning runs, trips, work events, and your social calendar ahead of time will limit your stress.

We have a very busy schedule. I teach, privately coach 2 days a week + write training plans and coordinate everything related to TrainwithMarc. On top of that, Carly teaches 1-2 nights a week AND we have a 2 and a half-year-old. So planning ahead is necessary for me to get in all my runs.

What it really takes to train for a marathon
What it really takes to train for a marathon

Have a really accommodating partner.

I’m really lucky that Carly is a runner and understands that this is something I’d like to get done. She’s done her marathon training in the past and gets it. I’m thankful for that.


Find a buddy (or multiple friends) who are also training for something and use them (for training and motivation).

I’ve used Matt for a few of my long runs and that has certainly helped. The pace is quicker and the time flies by faster when I have someone to talk to and help share the pace with. I’m not against solo running – most of my weekday miles are solo and even my recent 16-mile run was by myself. It’s just a fun change when I get to train with someone.


Be mindful of dips in motivation and find ways to get yourself back up on solid ground.

I think we all find this dip every once in a while. It’s natural to be in the thick of training and not be able to see the light at the end. This is especially true if something goes wrong – injury, lack of sleep, or some other kind of setback.

My 1st attempt at marathon training
Learning on the fly what my body can handle during marathon training

Get LOTS of sleep.

Can’t stress enough how important sleep is. I wrote about it here. Then, Carly and I went to a talk at the Franklin Institute on “real versus myth” recovery tactics. Sleep is for real the best way to recover.


Have a strong foundation going into the marathon. The first bit of training you do shouldn’t be during the 16 weeks prior to the race.

A few people I come across have little training and little experience leading up to a marathon. Personally, I’ve been running for 20 years and just finished training for a half marathon.


Find a (marathon) plan that fits your (life) needs.

I have the luxury of also being a coach. For years, I tried to model my running after what fits into the “normal” box of training. I’ve known for years that I need to be unique and I think I finally hit the nail on the head. No injuries, no setbacks. Smooth sailing so far!

5 of the most important tips any marathon runner needs to remember
12 Tips from a new marathoner

Be ready to get out of your normal comfort zone.

Training for a marathon is time-consuming, tiring, and life-draining. There’s no way around it if you really want to do it well. For me, I know that the time I spend training will go by fast. I’m not convinced that everyone else knows that.


Find confidence in running on tired legs during training.

I’m not a fan of running on tired legs – I’m kind of a big baby when it comes to that. But I know the importance of finding out where my line in the sand is and approaching it.


But don’t let those tired legs lead to overtraining.

Such a fine line between enough and too much. My mileage isn’t too much, but the accumulation of work + side hustle + life + training is pretty darn close. I’ve definitely relied on some naps and a few low key weekend days to get by. I’ve also been stressing recovery since I recently wrote about it here.

Lessons learned from 26.2 training
Lessons learned from 26.2 training

Keep the training fun. Vary where you run, who you run with, the terrain you run on, and the pace you train at.

I’ve done quite a few runs that have been in different towns or have had different goals attached to them (see how many high schools I can run past in one run. The answer: 7 in 11 miles). Some runs have started easy and each mile has been faster. Overall, I haven’t been bored by any run and that’s a really good thing for me!


As a first time marathoner, I really didn’t know what to expect. I have been susceptible to injuries my entire life, but I’ve found the perfect balance of enough volume at the right pace with the right amount of recovery mixed in. I’m still aiming for a 3:10 marathon – 7:14 mile pace and I think I’m right on track for that to happen.

What piece of advice do you wish you followed a little closer when you were training for your last long race?


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Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach
Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT & USATF Certified Running Coach

Marc is a USATF Track and Field & Dr. Jack Daniels VDOT O2 certified running coach. I have more than 19 years of experience running and more than 10 years of experience coaching runners. Click for more information!

 

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13 thoughts on “Marathon Training Lessons

  1. I have not done a full marathon mostly because of these reasons. I am injury prone and I do also love the other cross training activities I do and don’t want to give them up. Great tips and happy training

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  2. Love these tips! I think the most important thing for me when it comes to marathon training is finding a plan that works with my schedule and my strength training workouts. Also, I don’t do well with super long training plans and my sweet spot is between 12-16 weeks.

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  3. Cross-training and strength training are key! Those legs need some down time while your body does other things 😉

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  4. Janelle @ Run With No Regrets February 20, 2019 — 3:50 PM

    It looks like your marathon training is going great! But man, it can be SO exhausting, right? Having a partner that “gets it” definitely helps, and making sure your schedule is on-point to keep things in balance is so key!

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  5. So exhausting. Just had a 90 minute nap! Thank you snow day….

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  6. Oh heck yeah they do. I do my strength with the kids I’m coaching.

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  7. Absolutely. I didn’t need a 20 week plan. I want to get into it and get working on it!

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  8. Been running for 19 years before I even had the urge to think about 26.2. The timing kinda fit right now so jumped into training. Been having fun, so I’m cool with it.

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  9. Ah, this takes me back. I ran my first marathon in 1996! I was lucky that my husband was an experienced marathoner and that we were able to run together (i.e. no young kids at home 🙂 ). We’d get up very early to get our mid-week tempo runs (and most other runs in). I also remember how exhausted I was, especially after a long run. For my most recent marathon, I wish I’d had the time to fit in more long runs. That has always worked well for me, but getting sick mid-December kind of put a kink in my training. It sounds like you’re doing very well with your marathon training and I look forward to seeing how you do in your race.

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  10. These are great tips – I’m going to send this to a friend of mine who has been training and stressing for her first marathon. She’s been worried about being to slow so I love your point that it’s okay to slow down.

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  11. Great! Thanks for sharing. If your friend has any questions, don’t hesitate to send them my way – even if it’s just for questions!

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  12. hollymartin1001 May 13, 2019 — 9:30 AM

    Amazing article Marc!!! All the 12 tips that you shared are definitely very useful. Just like you, I’m also a running coach and I understand the importance of a proper marathon plan. It is very crucial in avoiding injury and getting the best results on race day. Thanks a lot for sharing this article 🙂

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  13. You got it! Where are you located at? What type of runners do you typically coach?

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