First-hand advice for marathon beginners

Running a marathon for the first time can be a daunting thing. Maybe you’re finally tackling a lifelong goal, or maybe you’ve been roped in with some friends. Whatever the reason, the lead up to race day is hugely important. Not only do you have to think about a marathon training plan, but you need to think about your diet and getting the right running gear.

With all of that in mind, it’s important not to get too overwhelmed.

To help you get prepared for race-day, we sat down with Judy Wolff, a marathon travel specialist, to talk about the experience of running her first marathon. With both the Rotorua Marathon and Hawkes Bay Marathon kicking off in May, we get some insights into how to train for a marathon, getting the right running shoes, and what you need for race day.

Experience from a marathon beginner

If you had told Judy a few years ago that she’d have run the famous New York marathon at age 53, she wouldn’t have believed it.

“One day my daughter, who was about to turn 21, said that for her birthday, she wanted to run the New York Marathon and for me to do it with her. At first I thought, I’m not a runner, and especially not a marathon runner! But I’m not one to shy away from a challenge so I figured, why not? Let’s do it!”

Judy not only went on to run the NY Marathon, but has since completed over four full marathons and fifty half marathons around the world and now works as a travel agent specialising in destination marathons all over the globe.

So what is it like running your first marathon?

For Judy, the atmosphere at the NY marathon was like nothing else.

“Being at the NY marathon was completely mind-blowing. You’re standing at the start line and you’ve got an estimated two million spectators cheering at you, they’re so passionate. With that many people cheering you on, you can’t help but run with a smile on your face.”

The sense of achievement when she crossed the finish line is a feeling she’ll never forget.

“Crossing the finish line and receiving your medal, it’s an emotional experience. You stand there and realise, you just ran a marathon. Once you’ve achieved that, you feel like you can achieve anything. It lifts you up and breaks you out of the cycle of fear.”

How did you find a marathon training plan?

To keep on track, Judy made sure she found a marathon training plan that worked for her. A quick Google search will reveal lots of marathon training plans, but it’s important to find ones coming from experienced experts in the field. ASICS Runkeeper helps you find a marathon training plan tailored to distance, your age, and your fitness level.

“Training for your first marathon is all about adaptation. You gradually increase so your body adjusts.”

For the first few months of her training, Judy focussed on building up her base fitness. “I started incorporating yoga and a few runs into my weekly routine. You don’t want to start your serious build up too early, but just ease yourself into a routine and build up your fitness”

“Depending on your level of fitness, you will want to start your serious build up 3-5 months prior to marathon day,” says Judy. “That’s when I really appreciated joining a running club. We’d go out every Sunday morning and I’d work in regular weekly-runs and one long weekend-run.”

About 3 weeks before the race is when you start tapering. “This means gradually running less and resting more,” says Judy. This is a crucial part of your marathon training and is all about training to minimise fatigue and reduce the risk of injury.

How did you keep yourself motivated?

“It was a couple of weeks after signing up that it really dawned on me,” says Judy. “I just realised the huge task that was ahead of me. But that nervousness really motivated me. I’ve come to learn that performance anxiety is a great motivator.”

“I’m a firm believer that just about anybody can do a marathon. I’m not a born runner. All I had to get me through was persistence.”

Judy’s marathon training tips

“Find a running buddy”

Having a running buddy is a great motivator. “It stops you from giving up,” says Judy. “It gives you a reason to get up in the morning, and you know that you’re all in it together.”

“At first, I picked three separate friends as running buddies. I replaced going out for wine, like we’d usually do, with running. That gave me three days a week where I had to commit to running. I also joined a running club which really boosted my training. The sense of comradery was a great motivator to keep me going.”

“Prepare your gear so you can get up and go”

One thing Judy found really helpful was preparing herself for her runs every morning. “I would make sure I had my running shoes and gear all laid out the night before. That way I could just jump out of bed, get changed and go. It’s a little thing that can make a huge difference.

“I also found a really great running rain coat. That way, even if it was pouring with rain, I didn’t have an excuse. I actually started to love running in the colder months. You get out in the fresh air, and once you start running, you don’t feel cold. It gives you a sense of adventure, it feels wild and exciting.”

“Take it one step at a time”

When you’re training for your first marathon, you’re bound to have some hard days. The important thing is to take each day one step at a time.

“During my training, if I was really struggling to get out of bed, I would tell myself to just go for a 15 minute run. 9 times out of 10, I’d get to that 15 minutes and just keep going.”

“And when it comes to race day, you don’t have to run the whole thing. Every marathon I’ve done I’ve taken a break from running to walk. Everyone runs and trains for a marathon differently, the important thing is to find what works best for you.”

“I always tell my clients that a journey of a thousand kilometers starts with just one step.”

Why do you keep coming back to marathon running?

For Judy, signing up for her first marathon was a life-changing moment.

Since the NY marathon, she’s travelled to London, Paris, and even the Great Wall of China. Throughout all of her experiences, she’s never lost the incredible feeling of achievement and excitement.

“It’s given me this sense of adventure that I never had before. I suddenly feel vital, and strong and healthy. I’ve seen my posture and cardiovascular health improved. Ultimately, it’s given me this feeling of wellbeing.”

What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you before your first marathon?

“I wish someone had told me that it’s not only normal, but a good thing to feel nervous,” says Judy. “Whenever I talk to first-time marathoners, I tell them, don’t be scared of those nerves, use them as motivation to train.”

“At the end of the day, all you’ve got to do is cross that finish line and with enough persistence and perseverance, you will get there.”

Are you getting ready to run your first marathon?

Whether it’s a pair of running shoes, running tights or a lightweight running jacket, ASICS offers performance women’s sport clothing and men’s sport clothing to keep you on track to crossing that marathon finish line.

And if you are thinking of running a marathon overseas, chat to Judy from about how you can secure your spot.