Want to Run a Marathon? 9 Training Tips for First-timers

Feet wearing trainers competing in a road race.
‘run-700188_1920’ by 40799 on Pixabay

So you want to run your first marathon? Even for frequent runners, tackling 26.2 miles is likely to be a big step up in terms of distance, endurance and training intensity.

Few events offer distances between a half and full marathon. So, your first marathon may be twice as long as you’ve ever run before. Training for such a dramatic jump in distance can require a big lifestyle shift. You’ll need to find time to run regularly – most likely every other day. Then, you’ll need to factor long runs into your weekends. Plus, you’ll be washing your kit a lot (trust me).

All things considered, marathon training isn’t easy. But it’s worth it. Completing your first marathon is a huge milestone. Just 0.5% of the US population has run one.[1] So, it’s a rare achievement. Meanwhile, the pride of finishing is immense, whether you do it to prove something to yourself – or to support a cause you believe in.

Here are nine tips to help you get marathon ready – including how to find the right event, training plan and attitude:

1. Establish Your Cause

At some point on your marathon journey, you’ll ask yourself why you’re doing this. You might be dragging yourself out of bed for a pre-work run. You may be turning down a cheeky drink for a tough hill session. Or perhaps you’ll be gritting your teeth in the final miles of the race itself.

In these moments, knowing the answer will help. Do some soul-searching and establish your reason for wanting to run a marathon. You may be running to raise funds for a meaningful cause. Perhaps you’re taking part in memory of someone. Or you could be competing to prove something to yourself.

Every runner has their own reason. Establish yours early on and you’ll have something to keep running for when the going gets tough. At these times, you can use several other strategies to ‘keep on keeping on’ too.

2. Choose an Inspiring Event

Marathon training usually takes months. Make sure you choose an event that will inspire you throughout the miles and hours of training ahead. Come race day, you’ll spend a long time on the course. So, choose a destination you’ll enjoy too. To help you pick, consider which of the following excites you most:

    • The pride of running your home turf
    • The nostalgia of running somewhere meaningful
    • The thrill of exploring a dream destination
    • The excitement of taking part in an iconic event
    • The challenge of tough terrain
    • The speed of a ‘fast and flat’ course

3. Get a Training Plan

To complete your first marathon, you’ll need to run further than ever before – and keep going when fatigue sets in. To increase your strength and stamina both successfully and safely, you’ll need a training plan. Ideally, your plan should be aimed at your ability and target finish time. Otherwise, you risk taking on too much, too soon.

To find a suitable training plan, you can turn to:

    • Running Magazines – Popular titles like Runner’s World and Trail Running frequently feature training plans suited for a range of times and abilities. Keep an eye out at your local newsagent or supermarket.
    • Online Sources – Plans can be downloaded from the internet. Some are free, some come at a price. Seek one from a credible source like a popular running site or a professional trainer.
    • Professional Advice – If you want a truly tailored plan, you could talk to a coach or personal trainer.
    • Fellow Runners – Perhaps you know runners who have completed a marathon before. If so, ask about their training. They may have a plan they are willing to share.

    4. Set Realistic Goals

    You may have chosen your training plan with a target finish time in mind. Ask yourself whether your goal is achievable based on your past results.

    Striving for an unrealistic result could side-line you for your event. The overly-ambitious target could lead you to overdo it in training and sustain an injury. Or you may be tempted to push yourself too hard on race day, which will make reaching the finish line a struggle.

    Give yourself the best chance of reaching both the start and finish lines by setting a realistic goal. A loose calculation that will give you a rough prediction of your marathon finish time is: double your half-marathon finish time and then add 15 minutes.

    If, on reflection, you decide your target finish time is unrealistic, change it. This may require you to switch to a less intensive training plan. However, adjusting your goals is a small sacrifice compared to the disappointment of having to drop out of your chosen event.

    5. Be Ready to Train

    53,229 runners were accepted for the London Marathon in 2017. Yet organisers only expected 40,000 to reach the start line.[1] Yes, nearly 25% weren’t expected to start, let alone finish. Many of them will have underestimated the task or become injured during training. If you want the best chance of lining up at your chosen event, make sure you are ready to take on the challenge.

    Look at the distances your training plan expects you to run in Week One. Do these sessions seem achievable based on your current level of fitness? If they seem out of reach, you have two choices:

      • Switch Plans – Look for a plan better suited to your current level of ability. Usually a plan with a slower target finish time will be less intense, allowing you to ease into training more comfortably.
      • Postpone Your Marathon – Defer or delay your entry whilst you build up your distance. You’re still on your journey to 26.2. However, your first step is to work towards being confident covering the distances required in Week One of your plan.

      6. Flex the Plan (But Not Too Much)

      The sessions in your training plan have been designed to condition your body to the demands of marathon running. So, straying too far from the plan could limit your progress – and potentially lead to injury.

      However, sometimes deviating from the plan is better in the long run. You may feel signs of an oncoming injury. Or perhaps you’re struggling to recover energy between sessions. In these cases, listen to your body. An extra rest day could prevent setbacks and help you return to training stronger. So, don’t beat yourself up if you miss the occasional session. Just make it the exception, not the rule!

      7. Get Social

      Keep in contact with other runners – especially those training for a marathon. The camaraderie will boost your morale, adding momentum to your training.

      Finding a training buddy is one option. Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to know someone training for the same event, or one at a similar time of year. Updating each other on your progress – or scheduling joint sessions – will make you both more accountable. So, you’ll be more likely to commit to your training.

      Social media is another great way of connecting with other aspiring marathon runners. Most events have Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages. Follow them for news and updates about the event and to trade tips with other entrants in the comments sections.

      8. Keep a Checklist

      As your training progresses, you’ll complete miles and hours of preparation. You should be proud of what you’re achieving. Print or photocopy your training plan and tick or highlight the sessions you’ve completed. As more of the plan gets checked off, you’ll see how far you’ve come – and how much closer you are to being ready for your first marathon!

      9. Enjoy the Process

      You’ll encounter many milestones on you training journey. As you conquer new distances, your longest runs will gradually increase. You’ll probably also achieve some personal bests as the impact of the training begins to show. Remember to celebrate these successes along the way.

      Have a great first marathon!


      [1] https://www.sportstoursinternational.co.uk/london-marathon-2017-facts-figures/

      [1] https://www.statisticbrain.com/marathon-running-statistics/

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