21 First-Time Marathoners Share Their Tips For Becoming A Better Runner

John Jefferson

On a wet, rather ominous-looking morning, 35 women huddled around each other in Chicago's Grant Park — myself included. Draped in ponchos, we nervously wiggled our toes in our sneakers, ready to embark on something we hadn't ever done before. Thunderous clouds loomed over our heads, but no amount of rain could dampen our spirits. We had spent the last four months together as part of the Nike Women Marathon Project, dedicating every waking (and sleeping) moment for this morning. We were ready to run our very first marathon, and nothing could stop us, especially not a few raindrops or puddles.

But we didn't always feel this ready. There were countless moments of doubt and fear throughout our grueling training process, regardless of our running levels. Some of us had run half marathons before, but many others hadn't run farther than three miles in our entire life. The idea of tackling 26.2 miles in one day was beyond daunting — it was seemingly impossible. However, with the guidance of our coaches Blue Benadum and Bec Wilcock (who have run more than 90 marathons, ultra marathons, triple marathons, and ultra relays combined), we were able to push through our uncertainties, learning lessons that not only prepared us for the starting line that morning, but made us better runners in general.

Whether you're gearing up to run your first marathon or running for the first time ever, my fellow first-time marathoners and I are sharing some important tips we want you to remember along your journey.

1. Celebrate Small Victories

"My one piece of advice is short and sweet: celebrate all victories, big and small. It's amazing what the body can adapt and acclimate to in such a short period of time. As the mileage increases for first-time marathoners, every week is a new personal best — that in and of itself is amazing. It wasn't until the end of my marathon training that I realized how far I had come. I wish I would have taken more time to appreciate and celebrate just how far I pushed my body (and mind) on a weekly basis." — Megan Rapp

2. Don't Compare Yourself To Anyone Else

"One piece of advice I can share as a first-time marathon runner is to not compare yourself to anyone else's abilities or journey. Only measure your personal progress to your past self. Taking the steps to venture out of your comfort zone is rewarding in itself; no need to judge yourself for not being perfect, it's the beauty of the journey that is worthwhile." — Makayla London

3. Forget What You Think A Marathon Runner Should Look Like

"Let go of your predisposition of what a marathon runner should look like. Training is super important as is having a healthy diet and fueling your body, but that doesn't mean you need to have a six pack or a certain percentage of body fat to get through those long runs. Runners come in all shapes and sizes (and ages!) so put aside the scales and the thinking that training for a marathon is a way to shed pounds (which may or may not happen regardless)." — Sheena Rao

4. Don't Go It Alone

"I was lucky enough to have a team of 35 incredible women and a boyfriend who is also a runner by my side. If you're training solo, though, don't go it alone. Seek out a support network of other women and runners who can pump you up on the hard days, answer your TMI running questions (trust me, a lot of them come up!), and share their own experiences. Even if it's a friend across the country, a local run club, or even the community on a running message board, it will make all the difference." — Lindsay Miller

5. Remember That The Training Is The Marathon

“The training is the marathon. It’s week after week of kicking your own ass and still waking up and coming back for more. It’s running through pain, pushing yourself when you know you have more to give and pulling back when you know you have to save some of that grit for when you really need it most. Of course the goal is to be able to run 26.2 miles, but as I think about the marathon... I realize it is just another run. And definitely not the last. I’m not scared anymore, I’m ready.” — Isabelle Fuhrman

6. Set An Intention

"When you commit to anything, whether it's increasing your day-to-day activity level or training for an upcoming race, there are going to be so many moments when you're not going to want to do it. It's in those moments when you don't want to go but go anyway where change is, where growth is, where progress is.

During a slight injury phase in this journey, I was sad and in the gym alone asking myself, 'Why am I doing this?' In that moment of reflection, I realized that my intention for this entire journey was to show myself that I could love myself enough to complete this process — whatever it took — and that I really deserved to truly know and feel that. My intention (and my team) was what I could always come home to during those inevitable moments when I found myself asking, 'Why?' Find your why." — Andrea Aldana

7. Don't Forget You Are On Your Own Journey

"Remember, you are on your own journey! Although the support of a team, friends, or family is a crucial part of training, it is so important to realize what you feel emotionally and physically is only truly known by you. You can't compare yourself to anyone but yourself and this realization is a journey in itself. I have always had a love/hate relationship with my ego and through this process we've gotten to know each other a lot better. Embrace it!" — Becca Reardon

8. Know Your Why

"What helped me was to first have a reason why I'm doing this [and] second, surround myself with people that believe and motivate me." — Janaina Reis

9. Be Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

"Become comfortable being uncomfortable. Lots of times, we overreact to things that don't feel good, freak out, and stop. Over the last four months training for this marathon, I've been forced to learn that if you allow yourself to get used to being slightly uncomfortable (in running, or work, or life) it's actually not that unbearable at all, and in the end the uncomfortable place is where great things happen. My advice to anyone else trying to run a marathon would be to settle in, accept the feelings of discomfort you will feel, and get used to them. Before you know it, what was once unimaginable is your new comfort zone." — Karin Kildow

10. You Don't Have To Be The Fastest To Finish A Marathon

"One thing that clicked for me is that when we think of running, we think about being the fastest or having to be built for it. We grow up in school evaluating how healthy we were by how fast our mile was. Anything over 12 minutes meant you were unhealthy and that is what feared me in running.

My runs always ranged from 10 to 12 minutes a mile. Starting this program has taught me to really leave timed mile runs behind and to really focus on my own personal journey with running, to go at a pace that made me feel comfortable, and build from there. If I wanted to stop, I did, but then would start my jog again. I focused on finishing my goal distance, no matter how long it took or how I got there — running, jogging, or walking. When I changed my mindset to thinking that taking my time and stopping was no longer considered a failure to running, I completed more mileage than I ever imagined. Once I hit eight miles, 12 to 14 miles seemed like a breeze." — Catherine Li

11. Be Patient With & Kind To Your Body

"I feel it is truly a whole system approach and there is no one answer. The past four months have been the most challenging months I've faced in a long time mentally, physically, and emotionally. It's crucial to listen to your body but also to know when to push yourself. For me, there are two things that got me through the last few months — getting enough sleep/water and being patient with my body.

Funny enough, my nephew is learning how to walk right now. I see so much of all 35 of us in him. He gets up, falls, and tries again. While there is no one answer I think it's clear that determination is key — setting up a mindset that allows for a healthy and happy tone to speak to your inner self and say 'let's do this.'" — Samantha Nirenberg

12. Make Self-Care A Priority

"The most important part to becoming a better runner or just surviving marathon training in itself, is to treat recovery as training. Self-care has been so important during marathon training. I didn’t expect my body to be as beat up as it is, in good and bad ways, but taking care of myself and making sure I get as much nutrients and recovery for my body has definitely made me become a better runner. The first week of training, I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn’t doing recovery or watching what I was eating or how many hours I was sleeping, but now I have a whole routine down!" — Sarah Peddicord

13. Commit

"It’s hard to pin point just one piece of advice I’d give a first-time marathoner, but I guess I’ll start from the beginning. Commit. We are human, and with a goal as big as a marathon and the months it will take to train, there will be endless days where you could talk yourself out of your goal. Out of your race. There isn’t enough time in the day. I rarely see my family/friends on the weekends. The early mornings are too hard. I physically can’t do this. To run the marathon, you need to show up week after week, even when you don’t want to. So commit and commit early. Find your reason to keep showing up. It will get easier." — Jenna Crawford

14. Take One Step At A time

"Stay committed, stay present, and take it one step at a time — literally and figuratively." — Andrea Ellsworth

15. Join A Run Club

"As a first-time marathoner, my number one tip to becoming a better runner would be to find a run club or running community and train together! I have never felt so motivated or as strong as I did when running with my NWMP team or with Koreatown Run Club on our self-training days. The energy is contagious, it helped me believe in myself even on those rough runs when you felt like you just couldn’t go any longer. To be able to look ahead and see a teammate and know that you’re in this together, just kept me going.

A lot of people along my training journey would say 'this is your race, run your own race,' but I honestly couldn’t have done it without my teammates. You mentally need a support system — training is not only physical but mental. Run with old friends, make new friends, be involved in the community. Running doesn’t have to suck, it can be fun, too!" — Sarah Suwanasung

16. Start Small

"I think what it comes down to is not overwhelming yourself. Take it slow, be OK with starting small and working your way towards your goal. You will slowly see yourself become stronger over time and that alone will be huge motivation. This is coming from someone who 16 weeks ago had only run three (tough) miles." — Aisha Jade

17. Find Clarity For Why You're Running

"The most important thing is clarity for why you’re running. Is it for the sake of fitness? Is it because you’re competitive? Is it for someone else? For me, it was to make myself limitless.

I have huge dreams, but one thing I never dreamed of was running a marathon. The only limitation I accepted is that I would never run a marathon. Once I realized this, I figured if I can do this, then I can truly do anything.

My one 'never' became my starting point to challenge all my standards for living and most importantly for dreaming. My 'why' was to be limitless, find your 'why' and remind yourself of it each minute and each mile. When it gets hard (and it will) you have a secret boost of energy hidden in your 'why.' It’s something more powerful than any kind of gummy or electrolyte. Use it." — Maile Minardi

18. Incorporate Strength Training Into Your Training Plan

"Strength work is an essential part of marathon training. I've been injury-prone during training and quickly realized that in order to become a better runner, I needed to start using runner-specific strength exercises to withstand the impact of running. Adding a few hip and glute strength workouts every week will not only improve overall performance, but it can also make you a faster runner." — Andria Donley

19. Push Yourself & Show Up

"My tip for becoming a better runner is that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try. So push beyond where you think you can go, try playing with running faster than you think your legs can carry you, and you might just surprise yourself! Also, it’s a lot of work, so if you worry about how the work is going to get done, you will exhaust yourself before you even start. So all you have to do is show up. Show up and the work will take care of itself." — Amberely Shaw

20. Stay Consistent

"My best advice to new runners is to stay consistent and find your community. When you have others to go through the journey with, it makes the process bigger than yourself and definitely keeps you accountable all along the way. From my first one to this last, it made all the difference to have training friends. Not to mention, training doubles as quality time with friends built in to your routine every week." — Hannah Minardi

21. Don't Skip Recovery

As for my own best piece of advice? Remember that no matter how athletic you are, your body and mind need time to recover, and this doesn't just mean sleeping eight hours a night and eating your vegetables (although those are extremely important things to do, too).

Make sure to use all of the resources you have: Find a physical therapist or sports masseuse who can make sure your body is in as great of a running condition as possible. Find recovery tools, like the Hypervolt Hyperice gun or Normatec boots, that help reduce soreness and improve your circulation. Make time for meditation or things you know help you relax, like hanging out with friends. As important as it is to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it's just as crucial to listen to your body and give it the rest and recovery it needs.

(Images by John Jefferson and Kyle Miyamoto)