So, you are planning on running a marathon, but not sure where to start? Even for seasoned runners, a marathon can be a significant step up in distance, and thus in effort. However, anyone can train for a marathon, even people who have never run seriously before. Proper preparation is key to preventing injuries, staying motivated, and finishing the marathon. Here are some things to consider when preparing.

Allow Enough Time

When choosing a race to aim for, you should allow an extended training time. Most healthy beginners need at least five to six months to train for a full marathon. If you are active in other areas, such as cycling, you may be able to do it in three to four months. Existing runners generally need two to three months of preparation.

Follow a Plan

Everyone’s training needs are different, but you can often start your training journey with a predesigned plan. Particularly for beginners, this can help you stay on track and not become overwhelmed. Make sure the plan you choose includes mobility and strength planning and talks about nutrition, not just “run a little bit further each day.”

Be Realistic

Bluntly, for your first marathon, you should have only one goal: Finish and stay healthy. Don’t worry about your position or your time. You do have to worry about your pacing; one common reason for failing to finish is going too fast in the early part of the race and running out of steam. Use your training runs to help you establish a rhythm and accept that your natural pace is what it is. You can improve it, but this happens slowly over time.

Don’t Overtrain

A huge mistake even seasoned runners can make when aiming for a marathon is to overtrain. A good rule of thumb is not to increase your distance by more than 10% a week.

Training too hard can result in illness or injury. This also means you need to take not just recovery days, but recovery weeks. Evidence shows that running three or four times a week is just as good as six times a week. Some of your recovery days should be for rest and some should be for cross-training to keep your body healthy. Lift weights and work your core too. Do not train if you are experiencing pain when you run, or if you are sick, or otherwise not 100%. You will recover much faster from an injury if you don’t push it.

At the same time, you need mentally and physically accustom yourself to long runs. Get used to being on your feet for as long as four hours, but don’t be afraid to take walk breaks. Keep these training runs at a pace at which you can comfortably engage in conversation. A running buddy is particularly important for distance runners.

Eat Smart

Nutrition is key, and nutrition for runners requires proper balance. Carbs are your friends! It requires carbs during your runs and after your runs. Don’t be afraid to drink sports drinks; this is what they are there for. Yes, the ones with sugar in them. You need that fuel to keep yourself running and the electrolytes help you stay hydrated. Energy gels and chews also work well. After your run, eat a good meal. Bread, pasta, and milk are great sources of carbohydrates.

Yes, you should also eat your vegetables. Another thing to consider is iron. When you run, you sweat, and when you sweat, you lose iron. Make sure to eat iron-rich foods with vitamin C. You don’t have to eat meat, but vegetarians and vegans have to be particularly careful to choose good plant-based iron sources. Some runners use an iron skillet, which does help.

Wear Proper Shoes

We can’t stress this tip enough! Seasoned runners know how important this is. Being fitted for the correct running shoes for your feet, stride, running style, and goals can make or break your run. Don’t be swayed by colorful designs, but instead choose the shoe that supports your gait, pronation (The way you balance on your feet), arch type, and overall foot type. Running places a significant amount of strain on the feet and a great pair of running shoes can prevent foot pain, joint problems, reduce shock and provide traction and stability.

Let us do the work for you. Stop by any of our store locations for a Proper Fit Session. Our Active-Play Experts offer free fitting evaluations with state-of-the-art foot scanning technology to help make the right individualized recommendations.

Marathon running race people feet on city road

Do Right on the Day

First, the painful fact: If you are injured or sick, scratch. You don’t just want to finish a marathon, you want to be happy afterward. On race day:

  • Hydrate
  • Eat a simple, high carbohydrate breakfast several hours before the start of the race. Something like oatmeal and fruit.
  • Vaseline those areas which chafe.
  • Get in line for the toilet facilities early. All the other runners will be there too.
  • Don’t overdress.
  • Start slowly in the race.
  • Make sure you practice drinking and running before the race. Water from the aid station does you no good on your shorts.

Pacing is absolutely key. After you finish, drink plenty of water and electrolytes, eat whether you feel like it or not, and then take a week off before you get back into training. Take your time easing back into the distance and frequency of your runs.

Preparing for a marathon is time-consuming, but the experience and the accomplishment are well worth it! It’s important to do it right, however, so you can stay healthy, avoid injury, and finish the race feeling good. Happy running!