Marathon Training: A Beginner’s Guide

Marathon Training: A Beginner's Guide

Gearing up for your first 26.2 miler can be challenging. Following these guidelines will help you stick with it.

If you’re a runner, completing your first marathon is a major milestone. Even if you don’t take home the gold, you still walk away with a sense of accomplishment.

But getting ready for it takes months of preparation. You can’t just show up and run a marathon. It takes a huge effort just to get started. Here’s a basic checklist of what you need to do before the race starts. Make sure you check with your doctor beforehand, too.

Get the right shoes

This should be first on your list. After all, you’re going to be putting a lot of pressure on your feet. They need to be as comfortable as possible. Don’t just buy a pair that fits. Instead, spend a little extra to get the footwear you need. Go to a specialty shop with experienced and knowledgeable salespeople. Explain that you need marathon-quality running shoes. It will cost you more, but you’ll come to appreciate the decision. Keep in mind that even the best pair of shoes won’t last longer than about 500 miles.

Decide on a training schedule

There is no one way to prepare for a marathon. But most experts say you need to train for 16 weeks before the race. Plenty of authors have published calendar-styled training schedules to help you prepare. You can easily find them in books, running magazines and online.

Just remember, these schedules are all very different from one another. Try to find one that suits your schedule and lifestyle. Make sure you give it some thought. Once you’ve chosen one, you’ll need to stick with it. Changing schedules later on could undermine the work you’ve done so far. You could end up losing your competitive edge by not being prepared properly.

Give yourself plenty of time

Most training schedules take four months to complete. But you need to be up to speed before you even start one. That’s because your very first run is usually three to five miles. If you’re a beginner, it could take four to six weeks to even get to that point. Unless you’re an experienced marathoner, choose a race far enough in advance that you’ll have time to plan for it. If you don’t, you might not finish it.

Eat right

Treat yourself to a healthy portion of carbohydrates before your run. This will fuel you and help you avoid hitting what many runners call “the wall.” That’s the point at which your body switches over to burning fat and running becomes more difficult.

A serving of whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, fruit or veggies before a workout should do the trick. Also include a small amount of lean protein. For instance, pair a piece of string cheese with a few whole-wheat crackers or a hardboiled egg with a small orange. Afterwards, be sure to have some protein to help rebuild torn muscle tissue.

Take lots of breaks

Some training schedules have you running nearly every single day. But others pare it down to just three or four days a week. While training is important, it’s also essential to rest. Your body uses the down time to heal torn muscle tissue. If you still feel you have to keep moving, try cross-training. Go biking or swimming to increase your aerobic endurance. Hit the gym to tone your other muscle groups.

Be mindful of injuries

Torn ligaments and knee problems make it hard to run. Many runners try to ignore injuries and train through the pain. But that’s a serious mistake. Your injury won’t heal and may even get worse if you strain it every day. Go see your doctor to find out exactly what is wrong.

Then, make sure you follow your doctor’s orders to the letter, even if it means stopping training for a while. There will always be other marathons to run, but only if you take care of yourself.

Scale back before the big day arrives

Most training schedules have you running very little the week of the actual marathon. There’s a reason for this. After all, you don’t want to show up tired and sore. By scaling back, you ensure that you’re limber and ready for the big day. Your body is rested and in peak shape. Now nothing can come between you and the finish line.

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