8 running tips for finishing a marathon faster

As you get more experience running marathons, it’s natural to want to start improving your overall race time. There’s no single way of improving race times – rather, it’s a mix of training techniques, equipment and strategy. Let’s look at some tips for finishing a marathon faster that you can put into practice before your next 26.2 miles.

How to become a faster marathon runner: 8 tips

Build some of the following approaches into preparation for your next marathon. By combining these techniques, you’ll gradually notice your overall speed increase.

1. Set a realistic time for your next marathon

One of the most important tips for running faster marathons is to set yourself a realistic target time. If you finished your last marathon in 4:30, e.g., it’s unlikely you’re going to achieve a time of 3:30 in just a few months’ time. Indeed, the faster you get, the more challenging it is to shave even a few minutes off your personal best. Aim instead for a reasonable improvement – perhaps 5 to 10 minutes each time. This will make your training easier and it won’t require major lifestyle changes to achieve your goal.

2. Do more training at pace

There’s only one way to run faster – and that’s training faster. There are multiple techniques you can use to improve your speed, including:

  • Tempo running: run at just below your race pace at a speed which feels hard yet comfortable, giving your body enough time to clear lactic acid
  • Yasso 800s: normally done on a race track, you convert your desired marathon time (3 hours 10 minutes, for instance) into minutes and seconds (i.e., 3 minutes, 10 seconds) and do two loops of a 400-metre track in that target time. After each lap, rest and repeat
  • Mile repeats: Simply put, you run hard and fast for one mile, before slowing down to recover, and then repeat

These activities will accustom your body to running at a faster pace for a longer period of time, without wearing out.

3. Choose a ‘fast’ marathon

Some marathons are known as being much quicker than others. For instance, the ASICS Greater Manchester Marathon is recognised as one of the UK’s faster, flattest marathons, with plenty of atmosphere but without jam-packed running fields. Choosing a faster marathon naturally gives you the best chance to log a new PB.

4. Make sure you’re wearing the right gear

No one wants to be running for 26.2 miles in shoes which rub or cotton t-shirts which are sweaty and hot. By investing in a pair of dependable, high-qualityrunning shoes which match your feet and gait, and clothing which is suitable for long-distance running, your marathon will be a lot more comfortable. And that means you’ll be able to focus your energy on the race – not on your equipment.

5. Consider listening to music

If you don’t find it distracting having buds in your ears, there’s a growing body of research which indicates that listening to music while you run can improve performance. Among the benefits are improvements to your emotions, concentration and your overall mood. What’s more, listening to music can help reduce the perception of exertion during longer runs and training sessions – what’s not to like about that? So put your phone in an arm pouch and play your favourite beats.

6. Run the tangents

While there are a couple of marathons dominated by long straight roads, most marathons have a fair few bends in them. Running the tangents is a simple way of shortening your run. Rather than following the curve of the road as it bends back and forth, aim instead to run in a straight line across the bend between the points of the curve – this can shave an important few minutes off your race time over the course of the entire marathon.

7. Remember to taper

Tapering is the final two to three weeks in your training plan where you ease off the miles and rest more. The purpose of tapering is to give your body time to rest and recover prior to the marathon and also build up the glycogen levels in your muscles (essentially, the amount of carbs you’ve got stored up), as your lengthy training will have depleted these.

8. Stick to your plan

Our final tip for finishing a marathon faster is to stick to your marathon plan. Once you’ve set a target goal in minutes, divide that by 26.2 to work out what your pace per mile needs to be. Stick as close as you can to this mile pace – it can be tempting to run faster in the opening stages of the marathon. With the buzz of the crowd, you’ll be feeling good and energized, and may try to run faster than your race pace. However, this risks you depleting your energy reserves early, and is likely to make the final miles much slower.

Ultimately, becoming a faster marathon runner is all about gradual improvements and changes in your training. As you get more experienced with the demands of the race, you’ll be able to make small changes to your training routine which see you improve your final time and achieve more. Good luck!