5 Marathon Training Tips for First Timers


We are now in 2014, and if you’re anything like me, one of your new year’s resolutions is to get into shape. First you merely tinker with the thought of joining (or for once, actually going to) the gym, and then, in a fit of excitement, inspiration and renewal characteristic of the transition into a brand new year, one thing leads to another, and you’ve signed up for a marathon. Not just a run around the neighborhood – a marathon. Regardless of how fit you are, taking part in a marathon, or a half marathon, requires preparation. The following 5 marathon training tips will guide you on your trek to the finish line of your first marathon, well before the race starts.

1. Make a Schedule

There are many ways to go about a running schedule, because there are simply too many factors to fit into the equation. If you have a full-time job and live in a runner-unfriendly city, when and how you train will differ from someone who has a flexible working schedule and lives in a rural neighborhood with plenty of running paths.

You want to give yourself a few months for marathon training – ideally, about five. As a general rule, aim for four days of running per week. One day per week you will rest and the two remaining days you will engage in some cross-training activity – biking, swimming or strength training. For the four days in which you will be running, one day will be for a moderate run, another for a a tempo run, another for a long run and the last for a short, easy run. The moderate run and tempo runs range between 3 to 6 miles, being on the longer side as training progresses, the short run will remain at about 3 miles throughout training, while the long run will begin at some 4 miles and eventually reach 20 miles a few days before the race. A typical schedule may look like this halfway through training:

  • Monday: rest day
  • Tuesday: moderate run, 4 miles
  • Wednesday: cross-training
  • Thursday: tempo run, 4 miles
  • Friday: cross-training
  • Saturday: long run, 10 miles
  • Sunday: short, easy run, 3 miles

The internet is your best friend in a marathon training process, as many experienced marathon runners have outlined possible schedules throughout the week, each week, up until the race.

2. Eat for Your Feet

For your long runs, especially, it is important to eat in a way that will prevent you from tiring. This means having a carbohydrate-centric snack about 2-3 hours before you hit the ground running. This may be a half bagel with jam, a granola bar or a banana. Protein and fat are also important and you should divvy the ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats 60-20-20, respectively. The reason carbohydrates are emphasized so much is that the body stores carbohydrates as glycogen, which prevents the leeching of protein from the body, and you need your protein store intact to help rebuild muscle. Make sure you digest it well before heading out the door, or else you may encounter an upset stomach on the trail.

There are many products on the market, such as sports gels and beans that are meant to fuel runners during long runs. While they may do the trick, they are not whole-food sources of nourishment. If you want to keep things healthier, stick to complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean proteins.

3. Stretch

You may have heard that stretching before a run is bad. Or perhaps you’ve heard conflicting information surrounding this topic. Recent research has shown that static stretching, which is when you hold muscles past the point of tension for longer than 20 seconds, you are more prone to injury. However, “dynamic stretching” will do the opposite by increasing your body’s range of motion, improving blood flow and loosening muscles.

Check out Runner’s World‘s dynamic stretching video to make sure you are doing it the right way.

4. Talk to Yourself

Training for a marathon is no walk in the park – it’s a physical and, perhaps even more so, a mental challenge. Some days you will have a hard time getting yourself out the door, and it is on those days when you need to know what to do to motivate yourself.

If every step feels heavy and you’re mind is simple distracted or eager to attend to other things going on in your life, it helps to have a mantra that you repeat to boost your energy and sense of purpose. Don’t just chant “You can do it!” if it doesn’t mean anything to you – come up with words that will make each step worth it. I personally find that when I dress the part, I perform more confidently.

Long runs can also be immensely boring if you have a busy mind. Bring along your iPod and make several playlists that last as long as each of your distance runs – perhaps one for a 4-miler and another for a 10-miler, etc. Keep the songs interesting and upbeat in the beginning and more relaxed as the run progresses, so you can zone out. Listening to Podcasts are also a popular way to get through a long run.

5. Honor Rest

As hard as it is to motivate yourself to train consistently for a marathon, it can be just as hard to hold yourself back from going overboard. If you aspire to complete the run under a certain amount of time, this desire to train nonstop is magnified and you become harder on yourself, which can lead to negative thinking. The truth is, rest will help you achieve your goal. If you don’t rest enough, your body will become your worst enemy. One day per week should be for complete rest – no cross-training, nothing. On cross-training days, you can opt for a rest day if your body is asking you for one. If you don’t honor rest, you may find yourself injured, coming down with cold after cold, or seriously compromising your health. Proper nutrition and plenty of sleep are just as important as the training itself.

Photo Credit: Josiah Mackenzie

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