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How to Train For Your First Marathon

Thousands of people worldwide decide to accomplish the seemingly impossible task of running a marathon. If you’re one of these people, then you may not know where to begin on how to train or prepare for a marathon. Here is a complete guide on how to get ready for your first big race.

gettrainingpic2_0Before You Commit to a Marathon

For most runners, a marathon presents a personal challenge that is a self-fulfilling and among one of the most difficult tasks to complete. Whatever your reason is for running a marathon, it is important you remind yourself of your goal as you train because the training is just as difficult as the marathon itself.

Know your limits

A marathon puts you at a significantly higher risk for injury than your average run. According to several studies, a marathon can inflict high levels of stress on your cardiorespiratory, endocrine, and neuromuscular systems. If there is cold or other extreme weather, you are at an even higher risk for hyperthermia or hypothermia.

One of the most common causes of injuries to runners is building up distance too fast. It is vital that you slowly work up on your weekly mileage before committing to training for a marathon.

It also may be a good idea to run a few short races like a 5k, 10k, or even a half-marathon to test your body and mind. These distances will help you prepare for a marathon and help you understand how to pace so you don’t wear yourself out. You’ll also get used to the race day environment and learn how to incorporate speed work into your training.

Choosing a marathon

Marathons can be low-key races on rural roads or a massive event lined with spectators in a big city. You should run a few smaller races in a variety of environments to test what environment is best suited for you. Once you determine which marathon you want to run, it’s time to start training.

The Four Essential Keys to Marathon Training

There are four main keys to training for a marathon. They are base mileage, long runs, speed work, and rest. Here is what you need to know about each:

Base Mileage

14221_221659-2012-honda-la-marathon-9To adequately train for a marathon, you should plan to train for 12 to 20 weeks in advance. During this time, you will need to gradually increase your endurance and running economy. You’ll also need to train your body to handle this new training load, which is why rest will come in handy.

If you’re completely new to racing, then you’ll want to build your weekly mileage up to 50 or 60 miles over the four to five months before race day. It’s not unheard of for a first timer to run marathons with a weekly mileage of 25 or 30 miles, but you should remember that the more you train, the more confident you will be on race day.

So how can you achieve this weekly mileage? We recommend running 3-5 times a week at relaxed pace. If you can find a friend who is also a first-timer, then you’ll find running much easier. Your goal each week should be to increase your mileage by 10%.

The Long Run

Once a week, you should build up a long run. In other words, you should spend at least once a week running 10+ miles. If you run 12 miles on a single run one week, the next week you should aim for 13 and 14 the following week. However, every few weeks you can scale back on the long run to prevent your body from becoming too taxed.

This run is also known as “long slow distance.” These runs should be at a substantially lower pace and it will enable your body learn to burn fat for fuel, which will come in handy once you’ve burned through your carbohydrates during the first half of the marathon.

The peak distance should be about 20 miles. Some people recommend a 21 or 22 mile run, but a 20 mile run should give you enough of a distance to prepare for the marathon.

Women's Guide to Half Marathon Training 460x345Speedwork

Speedwork is actually optional because your only goal should be to just finish your first marathon. Chances are, you’ve never covered 26.2 miles on foot in a single day, so the distance is enough of a challenge. However, some speedwork can help you increase your aerobic capacity, which will make your marathon much easier.

Speedwork involves changing the tempo and pace at which you run. You might run 4 x 1 mile repeats at a fast pace and follow that up with 5 minutes of slow jogging. You can easily do this at a local school or track.

Rest and Recovery

Rest is vital to your ability to train for a marathon. You should take at least two days off during the initial days of training followed by a day of rest in between runs once you get used to training for your marathon.

You should significantly reduce your mileage and difficulty of your runs during the last few weeks up to your marathon. This will help your body rest so you are fully energized and motivated to run on race day.


These are the most important things to remember before you run your first marathon. Preparing for a marathon is just as difficult as the marathon itself, but the feeling you get as you cross the finish line will be one of the most self-fulfilling experiences of your life. So get ready for the challenge of your life and get out there and start running!