Preparing For A Marathon

The marathon is a huge obstacle to take on. For many of you, it is your first big event. How can you successfully train for and complete a marathon?

For others, you may have completed one or more marathons, but want to be faster. How can you maintain in the off-season and be ready for rigorous marathon training?

Start Slow

While some programs tell you that you can go from no exercise to completing a marathon in 6 months or less, we know that to be successful it takes longer. You need 3-6 months of steady mileage to get that muscle and connective tissue fitness needed to be ready for all the miles of marathon training. For most marathon training programs including ours, some months of running are prerequisite.

Make your goal to run comfortably for a long distance. The biggest mistake beginning runners make is to run too fast limiting the distance they can go. Running should be comfortable and fun, not a gut busting, air sucking process.

To start, walk 4-8 minutes to warm up, jog slowly for 30-60 seconds or until your heart rate exceeds 190-age, (e.g. 150 for a 40 year old). Walk until HR recovers to 165-age or 30-60 seconds. Repeat the run/walk throughout the distance finishing with a 4-8 minute walk. Often beginners start on the track jogging the straights and walking the curves. As the breathing becomes easier, add more running and decrease the walking until you are able to run the whole distance maintaining your HR under 190-age. It takes about 6 weeks for cardiovascular fitness, but if, you are running slowly enough, you should be able to run most of the distances after 3-4 weeks. 

Use the Hard/Easy training system

Alternate long and short workouts to get your base mileage built. Run one longer day a week to increase your endurance. You will get more from your training using this overload/recovery system than you will by doing the same run day after day. You can use the schedule at the end of the article if you are a beginning runner but want to be able to start training for a marathon in 3 months. It will give a good base for starting your marathon training, will increase connective tissue fitness and has enough mileage to allow you to participate in 8K and 10k events for fun.

Buy the right shoes to begin with

Go to the nearest technical running store and have their knowledgeable staff help you choose the shoes that work best for you. Know the shape of your foot and what type of shoes might work best for you. Plan to spend at least 45-60 minutes trying on, running in and having someone watch you run in several models of shoes. If you can't tell which pair feels the best, try running in 2 different models at the same time. Remember that adding mileage and running muscle can change your biomechanics and that after 3-4 months, you will need new shoes, and may need a different model.

Start with some strength workouts

Although aerobic exercise does build and strengthen muscles, beginners, especially previously non-exercising women, could use some strength training. Focus on quadriceps, hamstrings and butt muscles. Using bodyweight for semi-squats and doing lunges is an easy way to work on these muscles.

Work on maintaining and increasing flexibility

As you develop the strength and endurance in your muscles and connective tissue, they respond by getting firmer and tighter. It is important that all exercisers spend some time on flexibility exercises. When to stretch? The best time is when the muscles are warm and relaxed. That usually means after you run, not before. You can warm up by walking, or slow jogging and then do a little light stretching. But the majority of your stretching should be done when the muscles will respond to the relaxation, they need to be warm and hydrated.

Train at an easy pace

Most runners left to their own devices usually train too hard. Running should be comfortable and easy. However, runners perceived exertion of comfortable and easy is often way too hard. If you have trouble with the proper pace, buy a heart rate monitor and use it to stay aerobic.

Many runners think that running a faster marathon means running all your training runs faster, at least at marathon pace. Since the marathon is a different physiologic process that the shorter distances, the training faster approach leads to injuries, burnout and running out of fuel in the marathon. The best approach to running a better marathon is learning the slow easy pace, running more miles and adding small amounts of race specific speed work. If you have run a race or have a marathon goal, you can use the Pace Wizard at to find your proper training and racing paces.

Enjoy the process

Running should be fun and enjoyable. This spring join some Marathon Training Clinic runs for the group camaraderie and to have companions of your ability level. To find out how to train safely to run your first marathon or how to run faster in your next marathon, join the seminar sessions of the clinic.

How you approach the lead up to marathon training is going to vary a great deal from person to person. I find a simple 3 runs a week with 2 strength and conditioning sessions works well. Build up strength in key areas then, and as training progresses, you can then swap another run in for one of your strength sessions. The remaining S&C session then works to maintain strength and flexibility throughout. My preparation schedule looks something like this.

The aim of this approach is to reduce risk of injury and improve performance by building a baseline, avoiding large increases in mileage and working on strength and conditioning. Rest days are utilized prior to long runs and to prevent multiple consecutive days of training.

Closing thoughts: there are always so many things you can do to help your development as a runner, sadly though there are only so many hours in a day! For some the level of preparation detailed above might be unrealistic or unnecessary for your goals. See what fits for you. The key points are – gradually build up a baseline, think about your training schedule and deal with any injuries. Good luck!

1 comment

Very valuable info.

Kulwant Arora January 17, 2017

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