The beginner’s guide to running your First Marathon

Around the last mile of my most recent marathon, my runner’s high was interrupted by that elusive inner voice complaining, “This is hard!” What immediately followed and ultimately drove me to a strong finish was the reminder that “Of course it’s hard! That’s what makes it a marathon and such an accomplishment.” For many, the magnitude of this challenge may be daunting enough to keep their sneakers – and dream of completing a marathon – packed away in the closet. While there’s no magic formula to becoming a marathon runner overnight, a bit of determination and an appropriate training plan can put the rewards of marathon running well within reach. The following outline is intended to provide a general understanding of the marathon process, from the earliest aspirations to the finish line and beyond.

Set a goal


Choose a marathon at least four months away (to allow ample training time) and sign up. If nothing else, the money invested in the registration fee might keep you motivated. It is important to have a positive attitude during all this time. As do runners, marathons come in many shapes and sizes, so do some research and ask other runners for recommendations before deciding on a race. Do you prefer the convenience of a local course or the novelty of an exotic destination run? Are you inspired by smaller, intimate races or the crowds and stimulation of larger marathons? If you keep working hard, you would definitely get success. In fact, you might wanna try checking out 7 Secrets of Success.

Devise a training plan


Approaches to marathon training vary widely and include designing an individualized schedule, joining a training team, or even hiring a personal coach. For the do-it-yourself runner, the links section lists three recommended training plans. Most programs assume some previous running experience and that you are able to comfortably run three to five miles at a time. If you are a novice, allow sufficient time to first build-up to this level.

Certain features are common to most programs. Most require at least four months of dedicated training, logging anywhere from 20 to 50 or more miles per week, but few include completing the full 26-mile run prior to the marathon. The first few months are generally spent building up to maximal mileage, followed by a three to four-week “taper” period before race day. Many plans demand five or six weekly runs, with one or two days for rest or cross-training. One run is designated the critical “weekly long run,” which often increases in the distance by one to three miles per week. The remaining runs tend to be considerably shorter than the long run and serve to maintain endurance or refine a particular skill, such as speed work or hill strength. Keep in mind that training plans are not one-size-fits-all, so there is nothing wrong with tailoring a program to your individual goals, strengths or schedule.

Stay motivated and stick to it


In many respects, training for a marathon is a far greater challenge than actually running one. During training, you will likely need to make some adjustments to your lifestyle and schedule. It is beneficial to make a calendar clearly indicating your precise workout for each day. Check this calendar daily and try not to stray! As the runs grow in mileage and intensity, you will undoubtedly find yourself increasingly sensitive to factors like sleep deprivation, alcohol consumption, and dehydration. You must listen to your body’s demands for proper nutrition and rest to remain strong and healthy. Further, the time commitment will likely require running at some inconvenient times to squeeze in a run early before or late after work or school.

Although many runners fear that under-training will leave them weak and unprepared, over-training can be equally detrimental. Rest days are included in training plans for good reason. Regardless of how strong or motivated you may feel, frequent breaks are crucial to rebuild muscle, restore energy, and heal injuries. Avoid the common pitfall of runner burnout by taking all planned rests and allowing yourself occasional additional breaks if you are injured, ill, or just worn out.

Marathon Day!


By marathon day, you already would have taken steps to improve your strength or endurance. So your primary concern should be remaining healthy, rested, and hydrated. In the days preceding the race, get adequate and regular sleep, eat a balanced diet, and drink lots of water. Running should be kept to a minimum, according to your training schedule. On marathon morning, the most important rule to follow is never altering your routine. If you usually eat toast and tea an hour before running, this is not the time to experiment with bacon, pancakes, and a triple espresso. Those adorable new running shorts can wait to be broken in unless hours of chafing are included in your race goals. Expect some pre-race jitters to wreak minor havoc on your usual biological rhythms. You probably will not get much quality sleep the night before and may find yourself making frequent visits to the bathroom in the hours leading up to the gun. Therefore, plan to rise early on marathon morning to allow sufficient time to prepare, relax, and reach the start.

Rest and Recover


The period after the marathon may introduce some unanticipated physical and emotional responses. Following initial feelings of pride and exhilaration from completing the race, it is possible to come down with a case of the “post-race blues.” This is common and likely related to disappointment that the grand event is passed, combined with a sense of aimlessness associated with no longer training. To further exacerbate such feelings, you may also feel lethargic for several weeks as your body labors to restore sore, injured muscles, and combat fatigue. Although you may experience the urge to immediately return to high intensity running and may even be considering which marathon to conquer next. An adequate recovery period is essential for a smooth and prompt return to optimal running condition.

Throughout your training, the marathon, and post-race recuperation, you might sometimes feel discouraged. But these fleeting feelings are far outweighed by the physical and mental benefits reaped from training and the satisfaction of crossing the finish line after those glorious miles.