The recent running boom has brought with it a huge number of new and enthusiastic runners eager to challenge themselves and test their limits. Today, newcomers to the sport are increasingly setting their sights on the full marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I fully believe that anyone can complete a marathon with smart and dedicated training. If you’re wondering where to start with your training, follow this roadmap to your first marathon finish line!
- Build up a base. Before beginning marathon training, you should be able to run comfortably for 45 minutes to 1 hour at your preferred pace. If you currently use run/walk intervals and plan to do so for the race, build your base mileage using those intervals.
- Choose a training plan. Beginner marathon training plans focus on building mileage slowly, usually over the course of about 16 weeks. These plans will place little to no emphasis on speed, and often cap out at a final 20-mile training run 2-3 weeks before the big race. Beginners may find that trying to increase speed while increasing mileage can cause injury, so try and focus on mileage for your first attempt. Some great beginner training plans can be found here, and here.
- Cross-train! Cross-training is incredibly important for distance runners, and nothing is more beneficial than core strengthening exercises. While cardio workouts like cycling are great for keeping up your fitness level, it’s equally important to do your core work. Strong abs, hips, glutes, and lower back will help preserve your form in the later miles of a marathon when you’re fatigued, help you run more efficiently, and reduce your risk of injury. A helpful core strengthening routine for runners can be found here.
- Take your rest days seriously. It can be tempting to run more and more, even on your scheduled off days, when you’re a new marathoner. Many people feel underprepared or worry about not doing enough to make it to the finish line. Trust the training plans and your hard work, and give your body time to recover from the additional strain you’ve been putting it under. It’s better to make it to the finish line slightly under-trained than never make it to the start line because of injury.
- Be consistent, but not obsessive. The key to a successful training program is consistency – follow your plan and complete your mileage to the best of your ability. However, life happens. Sometimes things get in the way and we miss a scheduled run. Rather than trying to cram in the missed run, simply move on to the next day of your plan. One missed training run will not make or break your marathon success, but cramming in extra runs could lead to injury. All you can do is your best!
Marathon training is hard work that requires scheduling, dedication, and a lot of food. It’s also incredibly rewarding and, for many people, transformative! You’ll learn a great deal about yourself during training, and nothing is more rewarding than crossing that finish line for the first time. Enjoy the journey!