There are as many reasons to run a marathon, as there are people who run. Maybe it’s a goal on your bucket list, a personal challenge, a test of sorts, or physical endurance. Whatever your reason, write it down and remind yourself often so you can keep your motivation high, especially when thing get difficult. Marathon training is challenging, but it’s also fun. Less than 1% of people in the world finish a marathon and with perseverance you can be one of them. As with any type of exercise regimen, training for a marathon should be cleared with your doctor before you begin.
You can start your marathon training once you are able to run for at least 30 minutes without stopping. Combinations of run/walks are fine because they decrease the risk of a running injury – especially in the beginning. A very common cause of injury is building weekly mileage too fast. So build up a consistent base mileage over approximately one year. In the meantime, sign up for and run some shorter races: 5Ks, 10Ks, or a half marathon. This is an ideal way to prepare for a first marathon both physically and mentally.
Recovery is equally important as running during marathon training. Do not run every day. Your body needs rest to recover from one run to the next. Getting adequate rest will help your body get stronger between each run. Learning about nutrition and eating the right foods are also very important. Take recovery time as serious as you take your running days.
Most marathon training plans range from 12 to 20 weeks. Three to five runs per week are ideal and most of these runs should be done at a relaxed pace. You should be able to run and talk at the same time. Caveat: increase weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent each week.
The Long Run
Once every 7 to 10 days increase your run by a mile or two. Every 3 weeks, scale it back a few miles to reduce your risk of injury. For example, say you run 12 miles one weekend, 13 the next, then 14 miles. Then you can scale it back to 12 before you increase to 15 miles the fifth weekend. Doing these runs at a slower pace allows your body to adjust to longer distances and burn fat for fuel (added bonus).
Most marathon training plans have a maximum 20-mile run. So on race day where do the last 6 miles come from? No worries, if you have trained properly your body will be in good enough shape that it can make it the last 6 miles on strength, adrenaline, and crowd support.
You don’t have to add speed work to your training – but it helps. Speed work (intervals and tempo runs) can increase your aerobic capacity and make your runs feel easier. Warm up in the beginning and cool down at the end of your workout with a few easy-paced miles.
- Intervals are a set of fast repetitions of a short distance with recovery times in between. For example, try repeating four 1-mile runs at a fast pace, with 5 minutes of slow jogging or walking between the repeats.
- Tempo runs often range somewhere between 4 and 10 miles and require you to run at a challenging pace – with challenging being the operative word. You don’t need to give it all you’ve got, but increase your usual pace.
About two or three weeks before the marathon, significantly scale back the mileage and difficulty of your runs. It will allow your body to rest and be prepared for race day.
Important Tips to Remember
- Stay hydrated
- Like a car, your body needs fuel.
- Don’t wear or eat anything new on race day.
- Eat carbs – this is your chance!
- Start slow. A marathon is about endurance.
- Once the race is over, allow your body at least a week to rest and recover before getting back into your usual exercise routine.
Congratulations, You Made It!
After you finish the marathon, drink water or sports drink with electrolytes to replenish your muscles and walk a little to cool down. Do some gentle stretches. Eat simple carbohydrates to refuel the muscles. Wait a week or more before resuming your regular running schedule.
With consistent and proper training, nutritious eating habits, plenty of rest, and a never ending supply of motivation; you CAN run and complete a marathon. On your mark, get set, go.