26.2 miles seems outrageous to some people, but kudos to you for deciding to tackle an awe-inspiring mission. Completing a marathon takes commitment, dedication, and time but ultimately provides many rewards. The majority of training plans call for 16 to 20 weeks of training. A good training plan will have you run three to five (or sometimes more) times per week, and your weekly mileage will increase as the weeks go by. By race day, you’ll be prepared and raring to go.
Gear Beast recommends that you have a minimum of three to six months’ worth of running four times per week before you run your first marathon. You should at the bare minimum be able to run 5K races, but ideally should comfortably complete a six-mile run. Diving into a marathon before you can comfortably run shorter distances is not advised as it increases chance of injury or unhappy experiences. Running is fun and we want you to enjoy training for and completing the marathon.
Here are all the do’s and don’ts of training for a marathon!
How to Train
It is incredibly important to put in consistent weekly mileage in order to get your body accustomed to running for a long time. New runners should start with 15 to 20 miles per week total and gradually increase to a peak week of 35 to 40 miles. More experienced runners may start at 35 miles per week and peak at 50 or even more. Of course, everyone is different- try not to compare yourself to others!
Your training plan should not increase your volume by more than about 10% in the first week. (If you usually run 20-mile weeks, avoid training plans that tell you to run much more than 22 miles in week 1).
Your training plan should include a weekly long run at a “conversational” pace that gradually increases in distance each week, to build up your strength and endurance. The more time on your feet the better- it prepares your muscles, joints, bones, heart, lungs and brain for going 26.2 on race day.
Use a couple of these long runs as a “dress rehearsal.” Get up and begin your run at the same time you will on race day. Eat and drink what you would the night before race day, the morning of, and during the race. Wear the same shoes and clothes and bring your usual running gadgets. This allows you to fix any problems you come across. Never try anything new on race day!
What to Eat and Drink
What you eat can make or break your race. Eat too little and you’ll run out of energy. Too much, however, and you’ll run straight to the bathroom! Mid-run fuel such as sports drinks, gels, and gummy bears, help you sustain energy from start to finish.
Before you run: You must MUST eat something before any run lasting more than 60 minutes. Roughly three to four hours before you run, you should eat a high-carb, low-fiber meal. Your body will fully digest before you start your run, and thus reduce risk of mid-run stomach issues. If you only have an hour or so before your workout, eat about 50 grams of carbs (a bagel and honey, a couple pancakes or waffles). A long run would entail more energy, in which case consider adding in a little protein, such as a PB&J sandwich or a hard-boiled egg.
During your run: Take in fuel -mostly carbohydrates- to keep your blood sugar even and your energy levels high. Runners should consume roughly 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise, but it is best to spread that out over time intervals). Everyone’s tolerance is different however, so find out what works for you during your training and keep it with you on race day.
After your run: Mixing carbs and proteins within 30 to 60 minutes of ending your run is crucial because it helps speed up your body’s recovery. Carbs restock the energy you spent running and protein helps repair tiny damage done to your muscle tissue. If you only ran a short amount of time, consider a small snack or whatever your next meal is. Of course, if you ran hard or for a longer period of time, you will need something more substantial. A good post-run meal includes 15 to 25 grams of protein and 50 to 75 grams of carbs.
What to drink: In order to perform your best, you must drink enough before, during, and after your run. It is especially important to stay hydrated, especially in the summer months, when you sweat more. Before you run, you should have at least six ounces of water, sports drink or even coffee. While some experts claim, you should solely drink when thirsty, others say you should develop a plan via sweat test- a weigh-in before and after exercise. Any weight loss corresponds to fluid loss, so you would want to drink enough to replenish that weight. For runs shorter than 60 minutes, water is usually fine, but when your runs exceed that, consider a sports drink with electrolytes and carbs to replenish your body.
How to Stay Healthy
In order to prevent injuries and stay healthy, you should increase your mileage gradually while including rest and recovery into your training program. Rotate your harder workouts with easier days and consider a rest day once a week. Foam rollers are your friend! Use them before and after your runs to loosen up muscles and improve your range of motion. Stretching helps immensely. Dynamic stretching is best prior to your run whereas static stretching and yoga can help post-run recovery. Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel pain that is beyond typical training soreness, take your mileage down a notch or take an extra rest day if necessary.
How to Stay Motivated
It often takes a long time to properly train for a marathon, and the day-to-day training can be tedious, especially when you experience cumulative fatigue and your race day still seems years away. Mental training strategies can help you stay calm, focused, and positive throughout the entire training program. Try developing a mantra, practicing visualization, and reframing negative thoughts. Don’t burn out yourself; get plenty of sleep and leave recovery time for yourself. Avoiding overtraining is crucial or else you’ll start to feel cranky.
What to Wear
You most certainly do not have to break the bank for your marathon. However, the one thing you should definitely splurge on is your shoes. The right pair of running shoes is crucial. Expect to spend around $100, sometimes more. Your purchase is not only investing in the shoes but also a specialty running store. These employees will help you learn about your training plans, your running style and all of your specific needs (ie. fit, cushioning, support). Some stores allow you to run outside or on a treadmill briefly to analyze your potential purchase.
Outfit yourself with a shirt, shorts, socks and (for women) a sports bra. Avoid cotton like your life depends on it. Seek synthetic materials or merino wool, which breathe, wick moisture, and fight odors better than cotton. The right outfit will keep you comfortable on those long training runs while decreasing chafing.
Some people think the more expensive, the higher the quality. That may be true with some articles of clothing, but you can find exceptionally great exercise clothes from Target or even Walmart.
Other important articles of clothing include hats or visors for training in the warmer months, a jacket for the cooler months, a running watch, or a way to carry fluids. Hats or visors are best when they are made of synthetic material. Jackets should have some level of weather protection but also breathability to keep your core dry. You can find cheap running watches that track your time and distance. Lastly, there are several options to carry fluids; handheld bottles, waist belts, and vests can carry water and also your endurance fuel, smartphone, keys, license, and whatever else you can think of.
How to Choose Your Marathon
Timing: Most marathons in the US are held in October or November because that is when race-day conditions will be most pleasant, but a Fall race requires summer training. Consider the weather you’re likely to face on race day as well as in training when selecting a race.
Location: Determine whether you want to travel or not. Many racers are most comfortable racing in or near your hometown, but if you are hoping to get away, seek out races in locations you want to visit and make a trip of it.
Size: Runners thrive on the energy and support of other people, so big-city marathons draw crowds. These big races are likely to have amenities like on-course entertainment, finisher’s medals, and expos. But if that is overwhelming, or too pricey, consider a more low-key marathon.
The Course: You should visit the race’s website first to find a course description and map. If you don’t like seeing the same things twice in one run, avoid double-looped or out-and-back races. If wind is your enemy, avoid races that run along water. Consider races that mimic the terrain you’ve trained on (ie. find a flat race if you trained on flat terrain, or a hilly route if that’s what you are prepared to run).