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Things I Learned in My First Marathon - Tips I Would Give to a First-Time Marathoner

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By: Emily Tsang
Emily is a Certified Health and Wellness coach through AFPA (American Fitness Professionals & Associates). She holds a B.S. from MIT & is currently working in strategy & operations at Nayya, a healthcare startup. Click
to learn more or get in touch!
I had the pleasure and honor of running the 2021 NYC TCS Marathon. It was my first ever marathon and while I had been a somewhat-avid runner (I had completed 2 half marathons and a handful of 5/10K), I had been inconsistent with running over the years and by the time I started training for the marathon, I had recently gone through an apartment move and some traveling and had not been running - or even exercising in any way - consistently at all. Here are some lessons I learned through my own experience that I wish I knew going into it.
Please keep in mind these are based on my own personal experience alone.


Start early, start small, and take it one day at a time

I still remember my first run I decided to go on in April 2021 (7 months before the actual marathon), after over 6 months off from running. I was planning to run 5 miles, and ended up walking around mile 2 and then cutting my run short. Needless to say, I did not have my running fitness and remember feeling frustrated and nervous - if I couldn’t even run 5 miles, how was I supposed to run 26.2 later this year?! That’s exactly why it was important for me to start very early and be realistic about what my body was capable of doing. And focusing on just my run for that week or that day was a lot less daunting than constantly remembering I would have to run 26.2 miles eventually. Contrary to a lot of others, I did not follow a specific training schedule, but rather built up to running 5-6 miles 3x during the weekdays and my long run on the weekends (more on that below). For me, having a bit of flexibility helped me to stay motivated in my training.

Find an accountability buddy or buddies

I am not exaggerating when I say I could not have done the training without my neighborhood running group or my running buddy. Having a friend to run with and a group with organized runs helped me to feel excited and stay accountable to runs. As I mentioned, I didn’t follow a specific training plan but my local running club had several people running the marathon and we had long runs every Saturday morning to various locations across the city. This helped me in not only keeping the long runs interesting, but also gaining a sense of community - during these runs, I would talk to some of the experienced marathoners and get tips or hear about their prior experiences. If you live in a city, chances are there is a local running club (for NY-based runners, ), or if you do not have access to one, there are various online communities or reach out to any friends you know who might want to stay accountable together virtually!

Practice for race day

Long runs during training were perfect for testing out various routines to gauge how I felt. Before marathon training, I never ran with hydration, ate before my run, or even stretched consistently (awful, I know). During the long runs, I tested out various methods for fueling, gear, and morning routine. It was fun to experiment and it also ultimately helped me go into race day feeling confident in the choices I made.

Race Day

Be prepared

For any big organized run, be prepared for hiccups and don’t rely too much on things that are ultimately out of your control. For example, if you have to take some sort of transit, keep in mind that on race day there may be a huge crowd and you may have to wait longer than expected. When it comes to food and drink, don’t depend on there being enough food or the right kind of fuel you need for your body (I made this mistake). It’s better to leave some buffer time, bring extra hydration or fuel and ultimately not need it than to feel rushed, underdressed, or hungry!

Trust the training and HAVE FUN!

Whether you are running in a race with millions of spectators or running solo in a virtual marathon, trust that the training will pay off! Leading up to race day, I felt anxious and doubtful. I was tapering and thus running significantly less and I would worry about if I had trained hard enough in the months prior or if I was losing my fitness in those last weeks. I even had a few 3-5 mile runs where I felt tired and slow - was I doomed for race day?! Ultimately I trusted the work and effort I had put in and all that was left was to enjoy the run itself!


The best things I did after the race was (1) fuel up and (2) rest, rest, rest. Adrenaline helped me get through the marathon itself but my body was definitely feeling the pain in the days after. Besides some light stretching, I took the time to sleep, rest my body, and eat. I personally didn’t do any physical activity for 2 weeks straight after the marathon and afterward slowly ramped up by walking and doing other light exercises as my fitness built back up. Now, nearly 3 months out, I am feeling generally back to normal but I have not yet started running again yet and have instead been exercising in other ways.
Overall, the marathon was an incredibly tough yet rewarding experience. I am forever grateful for the opportunity as well as the individuals that helped me along the way. I don’t know when I’ll run my next one but I know whenever it is, I’ll be prepared!
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I am not a medical professional and as a health and wellness coach, I am not providing healthcare, medical, or nutritional therapy services or attempting to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any physical, mental, or emotional issue, disease or condition. The information provided is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute professional medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Always seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before undertaking a new health regimen. Do not disregard medical advice or delay seeking medical advice because of information you receive. Do not start or stop any medications without speaking to your medical or mental health provider.
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