My goal before I was 40 years old, was to run a marathon. Here is what I learned and might help others planning to run their first marathon.
How long will it take to train for it?
This answer depends on your running history—how often you run, and for how long.
If you’re a brand new runner with, less than a year of running regularly, then set marathon training aside until you have at least a year of running consistently.
This probably isn’t what you want to hear when you’re looking forward to running your first marathon, but while you may be mentally ready to take on the task of marathon training, your musculoskeletal system isn’t. What do I mean by this? I mean your ligaments, tendons, bones, and muscles need time to build strength. Without building your strength, you’ll be more susceptible to a running injury. And nobody has time to get injured – rights?
What do you need to know for running your first marathon? A marathon training program.
Some marathon training programs schedule 4 days of running, while other plans include 6 days of running.
One marathon plan may have your longest run at 16-miles, while another program may have a 20-mile long run.
So how do you decide which marathon training plan is best for you? When you look for a marathon training plan, ask yourself these questions.
- How many days do you run now? Do you want to stick with your current running schedule, or do you want to add another day or two to your running week?
- HIIT running? Low on time – maybe look into incorporating sprints into your training plan, like I did?
- How many miles do you run in a week? And what does the first week of your potential marathon training plan look like? Let’s say that you run 20 miles a week, and the first week of your potential marathon training plan begins with 30 miles a week. Running 30 miles a week is a bit of a stretch right now and can pose an injury risk from taking on too much too soon. Look for a training plan that meets you where you are—at 20 miles a week.
- How much does the weekly mileage change? Does the training plan increase mileage by 10% or less every week? A general guideline to follow is to only increase your mileage by 10% every week to build your strength and endurance slowly and safely.
- Does the training plan have at least one rest day a week? And one rest week every 3 to 4 weeks? Running is a form of stress on your body, so taking scheduled rest days helps your body recover from that stress. Some runners may need more rest days than others, but a good guideline is to look for a plan that includes one total rest day a week and a rest week (with a reduction in running mileage) every 3 to 4 weeks.
The best marathon training plan is one that works for you, your current weekly mileage, and your schedule.
Consistency is Key (let’s be honest – it is in all things, so why would running be any different)
The biggest challenge when you’re training for your first marathon is finding the time to get out and run, especially when you enter the peak weeks of marathon training.
Some runners like to run early in the morning and others like to run at night. There’s no right time to run, only the time that’s best for you.
Though it’s tempting to skip several workouts, running regularly throughout marathon training is crucial.
Without a consistent running routine, you’ll miss out on one of the essential pieces of the marathon training puzzle—’cumulative fatigue.’
Cumulative fatigue teaches your body to continue running when you’re tired and it simulates how you’ll feel late during your marathon.
Let’s say that you feel tired from yesterday’s run. Today, your legs don’t feel as fresh as you’d like them to be.
You may decide to skip your run today*, and if you do, you won’t be teaching your body how to run on tired legs.
Your legs will feel tired late in the marathon—it’s unavoidable—but you can teach your body how to press on if you run consistently.
*There’s a fine line you’ve got to walk throughout marathon training—pushing yourself to handle more distance while also balancing rest and avoiding injury.
And there are times where you *should* skip a run, but it’s not always easy to tell when to do so.
You might be reluctant to take time off training for your first marathon, but taking a small break is better than dealing with an injury for months.
When you’re training for your first marathon, remember that every run in your plan has a different purpose
Every run in your training program is designed with a specific purpose in mind. I love science and I love to know the WHY behind it all.
Marathon training is a piece of a puzzle.
If you forget the purpose of a run, you might run an easy day too fast, leaving you too tired to do a quality speed run. What it means is, you won’t be getting the true benefits of each workout.
So let’s do a quick overview of each run that’s in your marathon training plan.
- Easy running days build your musculoskeletal system and endurance.
- Long runs develop your muscle strength and the mental toughness you’ll need for the distance.
- Speedwork, such as strides, intervals, and tempo runs teach the body to use oxygen efficiently.
- Recovery runs, usually scheduled the day after a hard run, shakes out stiff muscles.
- Rest days, a day with no running to repair muscles, and for a mental break.
- Rest weeks, typically scheduled every 3 to 4 weeks to let you rest, recharge, and adapt to your workouts.
If you’re running your first marathon, learn to use food as fuel before, during, and after running
Ever wonder whether you should eat before running? Or what you should eat and drink on your long runs?
Figuring out what to eat before, during, and after a run is one of the trickiest things to do. Because what works for one runner doesn’t always work for another.
It takes time, trial, and error to find your ideal fueling strategy.
As a general guideline, opt for foods that are low-fat, low-fiber, and low-moderate protein to avoid any mid-run bathroom stops. Careful of the gatorade or other chews – too many will upset your belly.
What you eat before and during a run changes based on the length of your run.
Got a run that’s less than 90 minutes? You’ll probably want to grab a small snack of about 300 calories.
A run that’s over 90 minutes? You’ll need to add more carbs on top of a small snack.
Build your running mental toughness
Running a marathon is not only a physical feat. It’s also a mental endeavor. The good news is, you can train your mind as you would your body. There are some amazing articles, books, eBooks and more. For me, I learned to download new soundtracks on race day, the new music made me listen to that instead of my breathing. Find what works for you.
You just never know the areas that running will take you, so enjoy the journey 🙂