10 Things to Know Before You Train For Your First Marathon

@tobrook via Twenty20

1) Full marathon training requires a HUGE time commitment

Even if you are running on a minimum mileage training plan, marathon training requires a large time commitment. Long runs are integral to marathon success and 20 milers take all but the fastest runners more than a couple of hours.

Plus, don’t forget to factor in stretching, recovery, and refueling. If you are looking to actually race a marathon and not just finish, the time commitment to training can easily average an hour or two each day. Put your training on a calendar and treat it just like an important appointment.

2) Full marathon training gets tough

The first few weeks are exciting because most runners are focused on a new goal. New workouts, new distances, and getting into the swing of things are all relatively easy to do when just getting started.

But then it gets tough when workouts get harder and long runs get longer. Some days it will be a struggle to even begin the workout, let alone get through it. Give yourself rewards if you are self-motivated or meet up with a running buddy if you need accountability.

3) It requires flexibility

Assuming you have trained and raced other distances before, you might have a goal in mind for your full marathon time. Some people take to the longer, slower distance of the marathon well and others are more apt to run short and fast.

If you find yourself unable to hit the paces in your prescribed training program (or if they are too easy!), you will need to adapt your goals. The distances and times in the plan will stay the same, but you need to be able to revise your goals as you get into the training process.

4) It also requires forgiveness

Life happens. You might get sick, have to work late, a child’s birthday, etc. As long as you are able to hit 80% of your training program and don’t skimp on your long runs, you will be successful on race day.

5) Good nutrition is a MUST

Of course, training for a marathon requires you to eat a balanced diet, but it also forces the issue of ingesting calories while running. Plenty of runners up to the 13.1 distance can race successfully without nutrition, but the marathon uses up glycogen stores in even the most elite athletes. This preparation begins through training and the week before the marathon.

Experiment with what works for you on long runs – gels, chews, liquids, and real food are all options. Don’t forget to consider what is easiest to handle on race day – you might be able to plant bottles all over your regular long run route, but that is likely not an option while racing the marathon.

6) You must be prepared for any kind of weather

Most marathon training programs start at a minimum of 12 weeks which will leave runners in most parts of the country facing different weather conditions leading up race day. There is no way to predict the exact weather on race day, but look at conditions in previous years to get a benchmark.

Fall and spring marathons are popular because they yield the best weather conditions for racing 26.2 miles, but this also means that training will either fall in the summer or winter. Where you live can be a huge deciding factor in which race you will choose.

7) It can hurt

Consider your experience, baseline fitness, and age when choosing a training program. If you try to do too much, too soon or incorporate workouts you aren’t prepared for, you can get hurt. Be honest with yourself when starting a training program.

If you don’t have a lot of running experience or you’ve been injured in the past, aim to get in the mileage, but don’t worry about your pace. Look for signs of over-training or overuse and reduce mileage if necessary. A good running coach or group training program can help newbies prepare while avoiding injury.

8) It requires a long run commitment…

If there is one thing I cannot overstate, it is do your long run. There is no other type of run that will help marathoners be successful in the final 10 miles of the race than the long run.

Even for those that have raced marathons before, the long run is an integral workout in marathon training. Physically and mentally, it is important to build your ability to run for hours at one go.

9) … but also plenty of rest

Just as training is necessary for marathon training, rest is also essential. Taking rest days is important to repair the body and keep from getting injured. Additionally, getting enough sleep is important in the training process.

Before big workouts like speed work or long runs, make sure that you head to bed as early as possible. Professional athletes have been keen to take naps so don’t fight the urge to rest after a long run – just make sure to keep it short so as to not bother your sleep that evening.

10) It’s addictive

If you are successful in reaching your goal of finishing your first full marathon, the training process can be addictive. Seeing yourself improve your time or become more comfortable with a pace is a wonderful reward that is fully yours.

Many runners enjoy a couple of training cycles each year to maintain their fitness and chase new goals. A marathoner never gets tired of crossing the finish line with a brand new PR.

Carissa Liebowitz has run the Boston Marathon as well as dozens of marathons and half marathons. You can follow her running adventures on StravaInstagram and her blog.

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