top of page

Maxine's top tips for your first London Marathon

Maxine Napal

Maxine Napal is a long time SV client. She has run several marathons including Chicago, Brighton and London! Maxine has given us her top tips for your first London Marathon!

Jess asked me to share a list of my top tips for first time London Marathon runners.

I completely agree with many of the common ones you see out there like 'drink little and often', 'don't start out too fast', 'the race begins at mile 20, the rest is just the warm up' etc., so here are my personal top tips which you may not have seen, in no particular order other than how I recalled them...

1. Mind the camber

The marathon course goes along Central London roads, and many of those roads are extremely cambered - enough that it can throw your gait well out of whack if you spend too long near the kerb.

If you're used to running on the flat, try to stay as close to the middle of the road as you can to minimise those mid-race niggles. It will also prevent you slipping on bottles and such as you pass through the drink stations.

If you're going for a speedy finish, stick to the blue line they draw for the elites - the shortest measured distance around the course - and run the tangents around any corners.

2. If you plan to run with headphones, don't rely on wireless ones

A colleague of mine trained for her first London Marathon with music, and on the day, she planned to use wireless headphones. She was never able to pick up a signal due to the huge number of other people attempting to do the same. That said, she very nearly ran a good for age... blessings in disguise perhaps?!

3. Take photos with your memory, not just your phone

There are so many magical moments around the marathon route and I was able to imprint so many in my memory which always make me smile, in particular crossing Tower Bridge and the entire scene at the start: from shuffling down that long path in Blackheath and rounding the corner, grinning like a loon and thinking 'holy cow, I'm actually running the London Marathon!’ You'll be working hard but make sure you really take a look around you and drink it all in.

4. Remember to smile

You have either signed up for this in support of an amazing cause or you are a life long runner who is about to attempt something only 1% of the population is able to achieve. So don't forget to smile. Not only will it lift you with those magic endorphins but it will make other people smile back - and those reciprocal grins go a long way to prodding you onward to that glorious finish!

5. There is no shame in walking

Now, you will either be fit enough to run 26.2 miles straight through or not, so if the former applies to you, you'll now wish to skip on to number 6.

For anyone still with me, let me just say that the only person who will care if you walk a bit is YOU. No one will look at you funny, you will either be surrounded by or see plenty of others who take the odd walk break, or if you're like me, you will plan well in advance to use the Galloway Method and run/walk the entire thing intentionally.

As long as you don't go round afterwards saying you 'ran' the London Marathon, there is nothing wrong with taking a brief walk to re-set your form, particularly if you are feeling the odd niggle where you've never had any before. Many people also walk through the drink stations.

26.2 miles is 26.2 miles, whatever your speed.

6. Set Gold, Silver and Bronze goals

For a first marathon, it's great to go out thinking about exactly what time you expect to finish but despite how many training runs you've done, there are no practice conditions which can replicate the race itself.

So many factors must all come together perfectly for your time to be just as you've planned.

So to avoid being completely devastated if something should go wrong, I suggest setting three goals.

My first marathon was London and after I set times for Gold and Silver goals I made sure to set my Bronze goal to 'finish'.

Having taken on an injury at mile 20, I still felt a huge achievement because it was actually a goal to just cross that line. Remember, not many people do!

7. Choose your music wisely

If you run without music you will absolutely love this race because the crowds are like a wave of positivity just pushing you towards the Mall.

But if you run with music, it's good to have a range of playlists on your phone or iPod.

I tend to use more mellow songs from the start to mile 13 so I don't go off too fast, then change to a more up tempo set with lyrics that encourage me forward from 13 to 20. For the final 6.2 it's full out inspiration with songs that make me push myself to the limit.

Think Sia's 'The Greatest', Imagine Dragons 'Believer', Eminem's 'Till I Collapse'.

Include an emergency playlist of very up tempo power walking songs, should you pull up injured. If you need it you will be so glad it's there. You don't have to stop if you get injured. Just keep moving forward and you will finish. You can see SV later to get you back in action!

8. If you're female and need a loo, check the pubs on route

At some point mid race, I needed a pit stop but the queues were not only ridiculous but also full of women (the boys can, and do, 'water' the bridge underpasses!). I didn't want to waste loads of time queueing and as I looked over the road, noticed two portaloos outside a pub. When I walked over to join the queue the five people in it shouted 'runner here! Let her through!' and I was in and out in about a minute. Those girls over the road may very well STILL be queueing...

9. If you blister, try Sudocrem on your feet

After a training hike in Box Hill last year, a friend was checking over a blister on her toe in the restroom when a runner who could've been Paula Radcliffe's body double walked in and, noticing the blister, mentioned that she used Sudocrem on her feet 'even in 24 hour races' because it takes forever to dissipate and even if a toe does blister, it already begins healing straight away due to the medicine in the cream. She was on her way to do a mountain ultra in Switzerland, so pretty clearly experienced!!

I've tried it on dozens of long runs and mountain hikes since and it works like a charm. It's also good for overall chafing prevention (and you will chafe EV. ERY. WHERE. if you don't protect your sensitive bits. Take that as tip 9.5!)

10. Try the alphabet game

I've got a group of running friends from Realbuzz who swear by 'The Alphabet Game' which is basically what it says on the tin. Choose songs, films, names, basically anything you can go through the alphabet and make a fairly good sized list and each mile go to the next letter. It's probably no coincidence that mile 26 and letter 'Z' are equally difficult!

11. The bridges on the route go up and down...

Having completed both London and Chicago marathons, I can honestly say that this is by no means a 'flat' course. If you have been training on the dead flat, you will actually find London a bit 'undulating'. It's no Snowdonia, mind, not nearly enough to be proper alarmed by it, but it did throw me off as I had planned to run a mile then walk through the drink stations, repeat repeat repeat. But then I found many of the overpasses later in the race a bit challenging (I'd been training up the towpath in Lee Valley Park, which is about as flat as it gets!) If you know the bridge over the M25 that goes into Waltham Abbey, there are a fair few similar to that.

12. Bank your failures

You’ve trained enough to go run a marathon so you’ve definitely had your share of rubbish runs. Days when your legs were like lead, your breath ragged, pace in the tank, you name it. When the going gets tough (and it will at any given point in the race so don’t be alarmed… sometimes at mile 4, maybe 11, and always from 20+), go back in your mind to one of the worst runs you’ve had.

Remember how you got through it. Now think of your posture. Draw back your shoulders, get your arms swinging strongly, show the spectators your pride in having slayed that other beast. Then go slay the one in front of you.

Times like these, I often actually pat myself on the back. And it always improves. Remember that most of any marathon is completed with your mind. Make sure you nourish it!


And so there you have it. I wish you all the very best of luck, but most of all I hope that you enjoy that first marathon as much as I enjoyed mine. It will change your life.

If you see a sign near mile 22.5 that says 'Go Forth And Buzz' I will be beneath it with a huge whoop and a massive high five for all you SV heroes!

You've trained so hard for so long, now it's time to go have that wonderful lap of honour. Trust your training and enjoy every step!

bottom of page