Emily Sisson knows what it’s like to compete (and win) in distances like the 5K and 10K. But just over six months ago, the New Balance-sponsored elite middle-distance runner became a first-time marathoner. In her first attempt at 26.2 miles, Sisson finished 2019 London Marathon in sixth place with the second-fastest American debut of all time, and learned a few key lessons on making your initial go a successful one. We asked the 27-year-old to share her tips on handling everything from pre-race nerves to mid-run doubt. So if you’re feeling worried about your own intro to 26.2, replay her advice to get you through the momentous miles.
5 Attitude Tips for First-Time Marathoners
1. Think of everything you put into getting to the start.
Instead of getting anxious about the miles to come, think about all the work you already put into simply getting to race day. That’s what Sisson does—she has a moment of gratitude for making it that far before she even begins. “When I’m on a starting line and I’ve been able to do my marathon build-up and train hard and I have the chance to run against the very best, I think about how everything is positive and how I’m really excited to be there and thankful for the opportunity,” she says. Consider what you pushed through in your training and all your success to date, then channel that on the course.
2. Give yourself a high five.
Think of the race itself as a celebration of your strength. “I’ve learned, I’m very tough—that was something I did give myself a pat on the back for and I think everyone should that does marathon training,” Sisson says. “You put yourself through a lot, you put your body through a lot. You have to remind yourself of that.” As a first-time marathoner, especially, acknowledge that running 26.2 miles is hard and you’re a badass just for signing up.
3. Realize you’ll have ups and downs.
When you start to feel a little tired as you knock off mileage, don’t panic. It happens to everyone and it will get better. “When you’re going through the first rough patch of a race and then at the very end when it starts to really hurt, I would just focus on my form and think, ‘Okay, lift your knees, pump your arms, only two more miles to go,” Sisson says. “If you’re feeling like you’re hurting a little…you must just be in a rough patch and you just need to ride it out.” Your feel-good mentality could be right around the corner from the negative, so keep pushing through.
4. Be open to adjusting your plan.
Race days don’t always go as planned. That’s a really important thing to remember as a first-time marathoner. “Know what your goals are and know what you want to do and then just being willing to be flexible,” Sisson says. “It’s pretty important in the marathon, and in the marathon build-up, because you’re training for three months and it’s really hard to get three months of no problems.” Even if you feel like you’re the only one struggling through long runs or needing to take a day off, trust us: You’re not alone. “Everyone has their little things that happened, but you don’t always hear about it, especially if you’re just looking on social media. People only post the good stuff. So, if you think everyone else has like a flawless build-up that’s incorrect,” says Sisson. What’s more important is always staying true to what you need, no matter how it looks compared to someone else—or to your original goals and plans.
5. Know it’s OK to worry.
“My longest run was 23 miles. So that’s when it hit me, ‘Oh I actually haven’t run this distance before,’” says Sisson. “But whenever I would have a thought like that come to my head, I would just try to acknowledge that it’s normal to be nervous and to have doubt, but then try to let it go. Because you don’t want to start obsessing.” Trust your training and have confidence in your abilities, even if you’re feeling a little scared. For a first-time marathoner, it’s all about staying positive to get you to the finish.