Many runners have the personal goal of running a marathon. Perhaps your friend talked you into running one, or you want to raise awareness or support a favorite charity. Or maybe you want to get healthier and lose weight.
There is so much more to running a marathon than picking the right comfortable workout gear, which is why you should always remember your “why.” Remember to always focus on your reason throughout the process because it will motivate you through the long, arduous process of training and running a marathon.
Let’s dive into the basics of training for a marathon so you finish the big race and achieve the goals that made you run it in the first place.
Things to Know Before You Start Training for a Marathon
When you plan to run a marathon, there are a few things you want to keep in mind before and as you start training.
Start Training Early
Experts vary greatly with advice on how long new marathoners need to start running on a regular basis before a marathon. Many say that aspiring marathoners should start training at least one year before they run a marathon. Others say five to six months. Runners with a strong base may only need 16 weeks. If you don’t know what a base is, read on.
Define and Understand Your Why
Training for and running a marathon is hard work. You need to understand the driving force behind wanting to run a marathon. Write it down and keep it where you can see it every day. When you’re having issues motivating yourself to run or train, always focus on your why. It will power you through the hard times.
Know Your Limits
Being aware of your limits is a vital part of the process. Running a marathon puts you at significant risk of injury, so don’t try to do things beyond your physical limits. You should consult your doctor before starting a running training program.
Build Your Base Foundation
So, what is a base foundation? A base is your endurance, strength, aerobic capacity, and general fitness. Over time, you want to build your base up. This is where a training program comes in.
Your Training Program
There are four main elements of marathon training:
- Base mileage progression – Slowly build up your running mileage by running three to five days a week.
- Long runs – Every seven to 10 days, you need to do a long run so your body can adjust over time to running long distances.
- Speedwork and cross-training – When training, practice tempo and interval runs to increase your aerobic or cardio capacity.
- Rest and active recovery – Rest and recovery are critical when training. Both of these prevent mental burnout and injuries.
A good training program incorporates the four main elements above. You’ll find many free training programs online. Many are 16-20 weeks long, but as a novice, you likely need a longer one. Let’s take a closer look at these four pillars of marathon training.
Base Mileage Progression
Your training plan should include a strategy to increase the miles you run overtime. Many marathon training programs start with 15-20 miles each week and slowly work up to 40 miles a week, with the longest run being approximately 18-20 miles.
Running three to five weeks is a great goal to set, and most of them should be at a relaxed pace. A relaxed pace allows you to carry on a conversation while running. While increasing your mileage, you should be careful never to increase the miles you run each week to over 10 percent from one week to the next.
As mentioned above, you should build up your weekly long run every week. You should increase your long run every seven to 10 days by extending it one or two miles each week. Then every three weeks, make sure you scale it back a few miles so you don’t push your body too hard. Overtaxing your body puts you at a higher risk of an injury that will sideline you and crush your marathon dreams.
Doing runs like this at a slow pace helps your body adjust to running long distances over time and builds your confidence. You’ll also learn how to burn fat for fuel and understand that food is fuel for your body.
Cross-Training and Speedwork
Increasing your mobility and building your strength are viral parts of a marathon training plan. This is where cross-training and strength training comes in. You can work on these exercises before and after you run.
Examples of strength training and cross-training would be squats, mountain climbers, and lunges. You could follow up those exercises with 10 to 20 minutes of a core routine or bodyweight exercises. Cross-training is a great exercise solution, especially if your body is sore. Low-impact activities such as swimming or cycling are great alternative workout solutions.
Speedwork is another exercise element you can add to your training routine. It helps increase your aerobic capacity, making your runs seem easy.
Intervals consist of a set of short distance repetitions where you run at a faster pace. For example, you may run four one-mile intervals at a hard pace followed by five minutes of slow jogging or walking between those repetitions.
Tempo runs and intervals are two of the most common types of speedwork. Tempo runs are usually four to 10 miles, longer distances than an interval. It involves running at a pace that is both challenging and sustainable. These runs teach your brain and body to sustain challenging exercise for longer periods.
Rest and Active Recovery
You need rest days with no running when you’re training for a marathon. Resting allows your muscles to recover after running and working out hard. Rest is the best protection against injuries. If you still want to remain active on those rest days, low-impact cross-training activities are the perfect exercise option.
More cross-training activities include yoga, walking, lifting weights, hiking, and any other low-impact activity. Putting on your favorite tactical hiking boots for a walk in the woods is both physically and mentally relaxing.
These are the four pillars of training to get ready to run your first marathon. Fueling and hydrating your body are also important parts of training as well.
Remember to focus on increasing the distance you run over time and add in some cross-training to diversify your exercise routine. Increasing your aerobic capacity helps build your endurance, allowing you to run longer distances.
Training may be difficult, but in the end, when you finish that marathon strong, you’ll see that all that hard work paid off.