7 tips for New York City Marathon first-timers from an Olympian running coach


As a professional runner for more than a decade, Roberto Mandje competed in the Olympics, the World Cross Country Championships, and the XTERRA Trail World Championship. He now imparts his knowledge to runners as head of training for New York Road Runners, and he even shared a few tips with us for first-timers who want to try tackling their own running goals—maybe even attempting the New York Marathon someday.

Though this year’s New York City Marathon runner registration is closed, watching the feats of extraordinary athleticism on Sunday, November 6 might just inspire you to set some running goals of your own. More than 50,000 runners will take to the city’s streets on a course that traverses all five boroughs, and you can cheer them from the sidelines.

For Mandje, a childhood field day event in his home of South Africa made him realize his skill at running. With that spark of inspiration from that young age, he continued running in high school in the United States and has since run all over the country and the world. Now leading training and coach education programs, Mandje is sharing his top tips to get you on the run.

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1. Set a goal

Start by making a plan. Is your goal to finish a 5K or a marathon to meet a certain performance goal? Decide that first, then figure out how much time you can truly devote to the goal—and be honest with yourself about that, Mandje advises. For those attempting a marathon, a first-time marathon runner needs at least three months (but ideally more!) to train.

“Running a marathon is one of those bucket list items for a lot of people these days,” Mandje said. “If you think about the metaphor of a pizza it’s like, ‘that is daunting how am I going to eat that?’ You eat one slice at a time, you take your time, and before you know it, you’re a quarter of the way done or half of the way done, and it seems less daunting. So when it comes to the marathon, I would say the same thing.”

One slice—or one step—at a time.

Roberto Mandje and the New York Road Runners team.
Photograph: Courtesy of Roberto Mandje | The New York Road Runners team.

2. Get the gear

The barrier to entry is low for running—one of the things Mandje loves about the sport—but it is worth investing in quality running shoes. He recommends visiting a specialty running store to find the perfect pair for your foot and stride. The right shoes can help you stay injury-free and out on the trail rather than in a physical therapist’s office. 

3. Sign up for coaching

Look for a coaching group or a personal coach to help you achieve your goal. New York Road Runners offers both virtual and in-person training programs all across the city for all abilities.

“It’s not hyperbolic to say we literally train thousands of runners each year,” he said, meaning you’ll be in great company.

If you do run the marathon, you’ll be sharing the course with superstar athletes who train and practice just like anybody else.

“If you train really well and you’re giving 100 percent, you’re not running any differently than [Eliud] Kipchoge is,” Mandje said. “It’s still a human being training to their optimum and running at 100 percent.”

A portrait of Roberto Mandje.
Photograph: Courtesy of Roberto Mandje | With more than a decade of professional running experience, Roberto Mandje has proven tips to help your running game.

4. Cross train

While you’ll certainly be running a lot during your training, the coach also recommends cross-training with elliptical machines, aqua jogging and spin bikes. He also suggests asking your coach about tailored strength training to help your muscles support your run as well as possible.

5. Eat

Seriously, Mandje said, you’ve got to eat.

“With running, whether you’re training for a marathon or just running more to get ready for a shorter distance, you’re demanding more caloric output from your body than you typically would just commuting to work and living your regular life. So naturally, you need to either up your caloric intake or be mindful of what you take.”

Protein, in particular, is important in helping muscles repair, and he recommends eating carbs sensibly before a long run. For protein, Mandje loves a simple chocolate milk, which is “easy to grab in any bodega.”

It’s also important to determine what works for your body, he advises. For example, some people need more time to digest their breakfast before heading out on a run.

During the run, Mandje recommends drinking something with electrolytes, not just water, and bringing gel packs which you can find at runnings stores.

Roberto Mandje pacing a runner during the 2018 Al Gordon 4M in Central Park.
Photograph: Courtesy of Roberto Mandje | Roberto Mandje pacing a runner during the 2018 Al Gordon 4M in Central Park.

6. Stay present

Be sure to stay aware while you’re running so you can share the space with fellow runners, cyclists and wildlife. Though he doesn’t personally run with music, if you choose to, Mandje suggests keeping one headphone out of your ear so you can stay aware.

“I like to lose myself in my environment but be present at the same time,” he said. “When I run in the heart of Manhattan in Central Park, I don’t want to listen to music because I want to take in the city and the sounds.”

7. Know you’re part of something special

Running is a unique sport because athletes really root for one another, offering support and inspiration. You can start at any age “because running meets you where you are,” he said.

“I still get out of it what I put into it. I’m making an investment into my own health, into my own future. And that health is both for me, specifically, both physical health but also my mental well-being. Regardless of pace, I lose myself in my thoughts, I work things out, I think clearly. And it offers me some sort of perspective and therapeutic perspective,” Mandje said. “Then obviously, the physical benefits of this keeping me healthier, stronger, cardiovascularly healthy and being able to be around longer for my kids and serve as an inspiration for them.”

Even if running isn’t on your agenda, there’s something magical about the New York Marathon worth experiencing whether you’re on the course or on the sidelines, so lace up your sneakers and get out there on November 6.



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