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Starting a marathon raises a lot of questions. So we fired a few at our Runners’ lab runners and two top athletes from the Runners’ lab Athletics Team. Their insights and experiences will undoubtedly help you towards your marathon.

Thomas De Bock and Simon Debognies are both members of the Runners’ lab Athletics Team and two absolute talents on the road. With a personal record of 2:10’17, Thomas is the seventh fastest marathon runner ever in Belgium. He was already allowed to participate in the World Championships in Doha. Simon made his debut at this distance in April. Although he set a punishing 1:01’52 at the half distance a few weeks beforehand, he did not make it to the finish line. Gastrointestinal problems blocked his pursuit of the Olympic Games limit. Although he has never completed the distance, he has gone through the entire road prior to the marathon and knows the pitfalls. You can read about their experiences in the Q&A below.

Watch the interview

Most common mistakes

What are the most common mistakes novice marathon runners make and how can you avoid them?

Thomas (PR marathon: 2h10’17): “Many runners think they have to make many kilometers during their preparation, but that’s not necessarily true. Recreational runners also often pin down to a certain time their heads, forgetting to enjoy their way toward the marathon.”

Simon (PR half marathon: 1h01’52): “Starting too fast. A marathon is 42 kilometers, so it is more realistic to start the first half slower. In the second half, you can then possibly accelerate if you find you still have energy left.”


What should I definitely think about when creating a training plan?

Thomas and Simon, two marathon runners with Olympic ambitions, complement each other nicely: “Plan your marathon training well in advance. Be sure to balance your personal life with your training. Build up the training volume systematically.”

Does it make sense to add strength training to my training plan?

“Strength and stability definitely adds value in terms of injury prevention and performance, but only when it fits into your schedule. Prioritize your running training anyway,” say Thomas and Simon.

What should I do if I suffer from pain during my training?

“Your first reaction should be to not continue training and immediately seek medical advice from a physiotherapist or doctor. It is wise to temporarily replace your running workouts with alternative workouts such as cycling or swimming. Continuing to train and making the injury worse may result in not being able to run the marathon,” Simon and Thomas advise.

During the marathon

What tricks do you use to stay motivated?

One thing our runners agree on: “Remind yourself why. All the training, preparations, sacrifices… Remember why you did all that, and then you do run on.”

In addition, some good tips came up, including from Stefanie, Vinnie and Melissa of #teamrunnerslab.

Stefanie: “I had something written on each gel by an important person in my life. I did not read that until the moment in the marathon when I needed the gel. That made me feel for a moment like that person was with me, and that motivated me tremendously. I thought that was really cool.”

Vinnie and Simon: “I plan in advance where and when I take and drink gels. So I run from gel to gel and from drink station to drink station. That way, the kilometers fly by quickly.”

Thomas: “Think of what awaits you after the finish line: fun times with family and friends, having a good meal, relaxing…”

Melissa: “I make a playlist beforehand that I also listen during training.” I add songs that amp me up and that I can just run right on.”

How can I combine enjoyment and suffering during the marathon?

“Try to enjoy the marathon especially in the beginning. Certainly until the half marathon you have time to feel nice if you don’t start too fast. Also prepare for the fact that the second part can be tough, and above all, try to mentally embrace the pain,” Thomas said.

How do you flip the switch during the marathon when things don’t go as well as hoped?

“Taking gas back to recover. If necessary, join a group of runners because in group you will stay more motivated than alone. Drop your pace, refill your nutrition with a gel, for example, so that hopefully in the second half you will have renewed energy to pick yourself up,” our runners tell us out of their own experience.

Turning back time

If you could do your first marathon again, what would you do differently?

It quickly became clear from the answers that a marathon revolves heavily around nutrition.

Simon: “I had stomach problems during my first marathon. So I will be at the start with a different nutrition strategy next time. It is important to test which gels or foods are best for you during your preparations. Therefore, the marathon itself is a learning process, so definitely don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go well from the first time.”

Stefanie’s answer was brief, but all-encompassing when it comes to nutrition during the marathon: “Bringmore gels anddrinka lot more.”

Melissa: “I would make sure I am less dependent on someone else. During my first marathon, I had arranged with my boyfriend that he would ride the last few kilometers with me by bike. Mostly as mental support, but also for the extra gels I didn’t carry myself. Due to circumstances, he didn’t get there, so I had to run alone. So next time I keep in mind that it’s possible he’s not going to be there.”

Thomas: “During my first marathon I ran the wrong way, which left me with almost 43 km on the counter. So you can imagine that those last meters felt very tough.”

Vinnie: “Most of all, I’m going to worry less about what’s going to happen during the marathon. Beforehand, I often heard that at kilometer 30 to 35 there would be a man with the hammer. In retrospect, that didn’t bother me much at all.”

Do you have any other tips?

Unanimously, “Enjoy. It remains a magical distance. Don’t run against each other, but challenge yourself a bit.”

Do you have any other questions about your marathon (preparation)? Be sure to ask them through our socials. Our Runners’ lab runners are happy to answer them and to share tips, experiences and motivation so that you successfully complete your (road to the) marathon.

Want to follow the marathon adventure of Melissa, Vinnie and Stefanie? Or are you preparing for the 42 kilometers yourself and want to be well prepared at the start? Then be sure to read the marathon blog.