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You can protect yourself against this masochism posing as athletic ambition by telling a broad selection of friends immediately after the race that, should you ever enthuse about doing a marathon in future, they are to prohibit such foolhardy optimism and channel it in a safe, healthy way. Like suggesting a karaoke night instead. Or that you buy a sports car. Or go out with a 20-year-old.

Running a marathon is a bit like childbirth. You will hate parts of it, it will be immensely painful and you will swear to yourself NEVER AGAIN. Six months later, the agony all but forgotten, your brain will trick you into thinking it’s a good idea to do another one.

When I started training for my first marathon, I jumped in without thinking much about the gear I had, or what I might need. That came back to bite me as I learned I was in the wrong shoes for my feet, for that distance.

Andy Barton is working with Holiday Inn® Hotels and Resorts, official hotel partner of the Virgin Money London Marathon, to provide mind and body training tips to help get runners across the finish line

Your diet can help you recover and run better. Make sure you're up to speed with our advice...

As we approach the end of January, I have noticed many of you considering running your first marathon this year. Perhaps you listed it as one of your goals on route to having your best year ever.

Note: This article is an overview on what you'll need to focus on generally to prepare for your first ever marathon run; the specifics of race training programs are not provided but should be sought separately in accordance with your own fitness level, personal needs and relevant race terrain and requirements.

Your first goal should always be to finish. It’s a very long way! I’m guessing most of us want to do more than finish however.

What you eat before, during, and after you run can make or break your training. Eat too little and you’ll bonk—that is, run out of energy to finish your run. Too much and you’ll find yourself running to the bathroom. Midrun fuel—from sports drinks, gels, gummy bears, etc.—helps you sustain energy to finish the effort.

Whether you are steeling yourself for your first marathon or your 10th, 26.2 miles is a mental battle as well as a physical one. A mental performance coach, who has worked with Olympians and Premier League footballers, offers 12 pieces of advice

Andrew Byron Head of health content and clinical engagement

This is a comic from my upcoming book about running.

One mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training programme, where distances are specified, we've rounded them to the nearest mile for simplicity.

1 mile is equivalent to 1.6km. For this training programme, distances in km have been rounded to the nearest whole number for simplicity.

For first time marathoners, it can be very difficult to determine what sort of time you should set as a goal. I think your first goal should always be to finish (regardless of your time). After that, you need to determine what you think is a realistic goal.

And should you have your period on race day? Why not take a tip from Kiran Ghandi who ran last year's London Marathon while 'free bleeding?' Hero.

Related: Up Your Style Game With These Good-Looking Gear Basics

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Maximum effort - sustainable for one minute or less

Marathon training is not easy. It is tough, difficult work. Before you jump into your training, (whenever that may be), here are the five things I think you need before you begin training.

“Four weeks out is when I do my longest run,” says 2:13 marathoner Keith Dowling. “I’ll run up to 26 miles, with this twist: I do my usual easy long-run pace for most of it, but with eight miles left, I’ll work down to six-minute pace and drop the pace every two miles to finish at five-minute pace.”

Definitely. I used the Hanson program this ear. It’s the first year I’ve done speed work and tempo runs

An hour before the start, find a quiet place, and spend five minutes reviewing your race plan and motivation. “Remind yourself of why you’re there,” says Rodgers. “Take confidence in the months of effort behind you. An exciting and satisfying day is just ahead of you!”

As bad as the rest of your body looks, your feet will look even worse. Cracked heels, hard skin, calloused, bulbous toes – and all just in time for sandals season. And, of course, you can look forward to your toenails turning black and dropping off. Yes, you heard me: your toenails might fall off. And yes, it does look as disgusting as it sounds.

Before you post, we’d like to thank you for joining the debate - we’re glad you’ve chosen to participate and we value your opinions and experiences.

How to run a marathon

David, I’d be curious to know what your marathon plans max out at?

Your primary goal is the one you’ve been working toward during your buildup, whether it’s a personal best, qualifying for Boston, or breaking five hours. Your secondary goal should keep you motivated at the 22-mile mark on a bad day: finishing in the top 50 percent, slowing only 10 minutes over the second half, or just reaching the darn finish line.

Location: Some runners enjoy traveling to races, while others find it stressful. If you’re in the latter camp, you may be most comfortable racing in or near your hometown. Hoping to get away? Seek out races in locations you love to visit (or have always wanted to see) and make a trip of it.

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No matter how much you’re raring to go, keep things under control until well past the halfway mark. Then you can start racing. “If you feel relatively good at 18 miles, that’s the time to get aggressive,” says Dowling. “You’re down to eight miles to go, so if you’re still fresh, you can approach it mentally like a shorter race.”

The best way to stay in the moment is to set yourself small goals. People can work well to different lengths: a mile, a kilometre or just that lamppost in the distance. But that’s all you focus on: then you set another one. Then another one. And that makes a big difference because you are staying more in the moment than focusing on the distance, which is where all the anxiety is.

People will say things like: “You must be losing loads of weight now you’re training for a marathon”. Don’t count on it – those long runs are going to be fuelled by a shed load of carbs so that you avoid burning fat, as converting the latter into energy is a far more tiring process.

There is no shortage of free marathon training plans out there. When I ran my first marathon, I used a combination of a Nike+ plan and something from Hal Higdon. The plan you choose should reflect your goals.

Before you embark, lubricate like it’s going out of fashion – Vaseline up every bit of your body that might touch another bit of your body or clothing, including breasts, bum and inner thighs. If it helps, pretend you are doing it in preparation for a misogynistic music video, or a lads’ mag cover shoot.

Brisk - challenging running at increased pace; breathing should be harder

Men have it a lot easier when it comes to long distance running, purely because they can take a whizz just about anywhere. Look around during any marathon, and there will be guys weeing up against trees, parked cars, statues, bollards, dogs – you name it, someone will be relieving themselves on it.

 Fifteen minutes before the start, begin some gentle stretching. Concentrate on the muscles of the back side of your body–your calves, hamstrings, glutes, and lower back. Remember, your goal is to start the race comfortably, not to audition for a yoga video, so go easy. Try to keep stretching after you’ve been herded to the start area. Jog in place as well, to keep your heart rate slightly elevated.

For the first 13 miles – before you start seriously questioning whether what you're doing actually constitutes self-harm – you will feel like a rock star with her own Topshop clothing line. People are cheering for you! They're chanting your name! You will find yourself blowing kisses to the crowd and high fiving small children, and this will seem like totally normal behaviour. By mile 22, you will remember that girl you once were and hate her.