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Ready to Run? Here’s Everything to Know Before Signing Up for Your First Marathon

Ready to race? Here’s what to know about the world’s second-oldest sport before signing up for that first marathon.

Photo: Josh Hearnden

Getting started

First, narrow down what’s driving you, says Tom Walker, partner and head of endurance at InnerFight, a Dubai-based gym and fitness coaching group. “We always advise understanding why you want to run, as knowing this gives the running journey sustainability. Then, start small and grow into the sport, whether that is what races you enter or how you tackle a training program,” he suggests. Running can be so much more than the exercise itself, considers Jordanian athlete and fitness influencer Abdellatif Adwan. “Running holds a special place in my heart and life, as it transcends being just a sport or fitness activity. Instead, it became the optimal means to initiate my day, clear my mind, and chart my path ahead,” he says. Whether you want to run your first marathon after a year or want to clean out some mental cobwebs by chasing the runner’s high, having a focus will help determine the intensity and frequency of your training.

Find your tribe

Despite appearances, running can be a team sport. Adwan credits his New Balance Run Club community for first getting him committed to the activity, then pushing him to succeed. “There will be days when motivation is lacking, but the running community can help strengthen it. With valuable advice and experienced coaches, your development as a runner will be improved. This is experienced in the New Balance Run Club, which aims to bring running communities across the world closer, fostering a sense of belonging, inspiration, and progress.” Most runners benefit mentally from joining a dedicated community, says Walker, pointing to the psychology model Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which suggests the third-most important element of humans thriving is to love and belong. “You wake up at 5am knowing you will arrive at the start of your run with others there who want you to succeed. You know the people around you know what it is like to have bad days and good days. No one is judging you for it, only supporting you through it.” His InnerFight endurance program combines coach-led training, as well as group running sessions and socializing.

Goal setting

Walker suggests beginners set their sights on achievable distances. “This will help you understand if running really is for you. Twelve weeks for most new runners is a good time frame to work towards a 5k; although if you previously played a sport that involved running like football, rugby, or tennis, you might want to target 10k.” Since completing his first marathon in 2019, on the Berlin course, Adwan is now aiming to run the six major marathons: Boston, Chicago, New York, Berlin, Tokyo, and London, with his training dedicated to tackling these longer distances. “This year, I am preparing for the Chicago and New York marathons, following a tailored training regimen crafted in alignment with the goals I established alongside my coach, Tala Elajou.” Goal setting is a huge part of targeted training, says the New Balance-backed runner, who agrees that working towards reasonable objectives makes it easier to commit.

Gear up

Having the right gear, from shoes to shorts, goes a long way to enhance performance, says Adwan. Choosing the right product for level of experience as well as type of running makes all the difference for an enjoyable run, he continues. “In terms of footwear, I recommend the just-released New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080v13 for easy recovery runs,” he suggests. “I also find the FuelCell Rebel and RC Elite to be excellent choices for tempo runs, speed workouts, and races.” Don’t risk shopping for new trainers online. In-store fittings are the best way to assess the differences in foot shape, balance, and stride. Shop at the end of the day, when feet are their most swollen, to get the best fit. Allow a half-inch to an inch of space between the tip of the big toe and the end of the shoe; most men will go up a half-size from their usual kicks. As training increases and the number of miles per session racks up, serious runners will also want to invest in compression wear to help extend muscle performance and endurance, plus ankle-supporting cushioned runner’s socks, and a good anti-chafe gel.

Training tactics

For the new five and 10-km runners, slow and steady still wins the race. “Both distances require endurance over any other fitness attribute, so you should aim for two endurance runs a week, where the pace is nice and sustainable, lasting from 20 to 60 minutes,” says Walker. Adding interval training also helps build speed and fitness, with InnerFight coaches recommending alternating a minute sprinting and a minute walking for 10 minutes. “Strength work for running is best done with unilateral exercises focusing on your lower and upper leg muscles plus the trunk muscles,” Walker explains. “It’s also a good idea to stretch or foam roll your calves, hamstrings, hip flexors and quads after each run.” While your distances will increase over time, experts warn not to overdo it, with impatience often behind injuries, as runners go too hard too soon. “We recommend ensuring you have the right mix of harder days with easier days as recovery for runners is just as important as the training,” reminds Walker. “This never changes no matter the level of runner you are.”

Originally published in the Fall/Winter 2023 issue of Vogue Arabia

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