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Marathon is all about discipline and commitment. Athletes spend hours and days honing their skills just to perform their best on race day. 26.2 miles (42 km) is no easy feat to conquer, and one must prepare mentally and physically for the task. But how long do you need to train for a marathon?
In general, beginners need 5-6 months of training to be ready for a marathon. Intermediate and pros, however, may only need 2-4 months of preparation to be ready for a marathon. Ultimately, the goal is to build mental and physical fortitude to conquer the road.
Ahead, I will guide you on the total duration that a beginner, intermediate, and pro runner needs to train to be ready for a marathon. Now that you get the gist of things, let us dive deep into the specifics.
Fundamentals of Marathon Training
These are the core components of a good training regimen:
Increasing run distance. All marathoners, whether beginners or pros, must focus on gradually building up mileage every week. This also entails consistent running workouts at least three times per week.
Marathon Simulation. Doing a long run to simulate the strain of a marathon is always a good idea. This helps to avoid shock during the event and leads to better mental fortitude.
However, experts recommend not to run a full marathon during training unless you’re an elite marathoner as this can be hard for your body to recover from. Most training programs require a 20-mile run at most four weeks before the event.
Healing and Recovery. According to the University of Colorado, enough rehabilitation of muscles leads to longer endurance in the long run. Good athletes are aware that rest is as important as workouts.
In this portion, we will take a look at how long should a beginner train for a marathon event.
How long does a beginner need to train? It might be a case-to-case basis, but at least 5 months of work can get you to where you want to be. This allows ample time for your body to adjust to long-distance runs and exercises.
During this time, a proper training program will be your best ally. Concrete training plans give room for improvement as well as monitoring of your daily/weekly progress.
Newbies to the sport must adhere to their regimen if they want to achieve success on the track. The first marathon you will finish is significant, as it will make a lasting impression on you.
Beginners should start slow and gradually build up repetitions. This entails making use of the run-and-walk method as suggested by coach Galloway to not strain yourself too much. You can then increase time in running and decrease time in walking to train for endurance.
Endurance to Finish Race Safely. As a first-time marathoner, your goal should be to finish the race without any sort of injuries. Thus, slowly build up your muscles to account for the 26.2 miles (42km) of track you must cover. Some strength training also helps to fully enjoy the fruits of your first finish line.
Mental Discipline. Discipline is one of the biggest hurdles for a first-time marathoner. Let’s face it, it is difficult to stick to a training plan, especially if it’s new. Much more when you need to spend hours of exercise and heavy running just to accomplish it. This is where fortitude and grit come into play. As such, having a team or running partner is a good idea to keep you motivated.
Habits to Build
In running, form equates to efficiency. This is especially true for beginners that are just getting a hang of the sport. Choose a form you are most comfortable with, preferably following your natural stride.
Training more means that you get to know yourself better. So, take your time in discovering what’s best for you.
Another habit to build is knowing when to rest. As athletes, we should be aware of the limits of our bodies. Overexerting often means more harm than good, especially when preparing for a competition.
Intermediate marathoners refer to those that actively engage in other endurance activities or have some experience with running but aren’t regularly training for a marathon.
These include swimmers, cyclers, mountaineers, and lifestyle runners (or those who engage in trail running, 5k, and 10k races). Since their body is much more developed for endurance than beginners, a minimum of 3 months of training should be enough to adapt.
The training should involve straight drills, hill climbs, long runs, and up-tempos. You are not a newbie in the world of fitness anymore, so focusing on getting better is a good idea.
An intermediate runner’s innate physical fitness helps in the journey toward running. However, there are still certain skills and habits that they must learn to unlock their full potential. As such, having a good training plan is still a must-have for people in this stage.
Muscle Groups Involved in Running. Different sports have a varied focus on muscle groups. As such, the build of a cyclist will not be the same as a runner. Intermediate marathoners should focus on the muscle memory related to running to keep up with peers.
Developing the muscular endurance of the involved muscles is also something intermediate runners should work on.
Proper Pacing. As an intermediate athlete, you are not new to the world of sports. Thus, improving your pacing through long runs, hill strides, and dynamic stretching will not be a problem. This will also help in setting a goal time for your next marathon.
Habits to Build
Incorporating walking breaks is a very sound strategy for intermediate marathoners. This will teach you the importance of not overdoing things both during training and race day.
Also, in research by Hottenrott, it was found that non-elite runners are capable of achieving similar completion times with less discomfort when talking walk breaks. This means that building discipline in this area is a must to reduce strain.
Recommended: Can You Walk a Marathon? (and How Long Will it Take)
Experienced runners are athletes that have been running and are continuously training for more than a year. They also refer to people who can run at least 15 km non-stop.
Due to their experience and familiarity with the sport, they only need at least 2 months of training to participate in a marathon.
Since their bodies are now developed for endurance and strength, then they can integrate more long runs in the training. Daily mileage should range from 3 miles (4.8 km) on easy days and 20 miles (32.2 km) at most 4 weeks before race day.
As always, a progressive build-up is appreciated so that overexertion is avoided. Once overexerting occurs, your performance and goals will suffer.
Speedwork. Speedwork in marathon training simply refers to the improvement of faster running compared to your usual pace. The goal is to run longer distances at a faster time without risks of injury and harm.
Jerry Schneider, a USATF coach, explains that speedwork is important as it displays the most efficient form a runner can have. Furthermore, it gives the adrenaline rush necessary to go the extra mile on race day.
By incorporating speedwork, you can focus on beating your time goals for the race.
Habits to Build
As an experienced marathoner, you most likely have the necessary habits and discipline needed for the sport. However, having professional support in terms of recovery and body rehabilitation is also a good idea.
This is where sports therapists come in. They can give advanced runners an edge during and after the race by providing faster, and more efficient recovery. Not only that, but they aid in reducing long-term injuries.
No man is an island, and having a good team behind you will surely improve your time goals.
Recommended read: 7 Things You Should Do After running a Marathon
Why Train for a Marathon
Here are some reasons to give it your all during marathon training:
Increases Endurance and Energy
Marathon training is built around the thought of finishing the competition. Thus, it is concerned with cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Through repeated running, walking, and exercise, muscles build enough strength and endurance to perform more.
According to research regarding aortic stiffening, training for marathons decrease the overall age of the cardiovascular system by around 4 years. Not only that, but it also adds energy, especially to older individuals.
Many athletes, including me, would notice that their energy levels have increased with the help of this sport. The same thing will happen to you through proper training.
Allows Enjoyment on the Track
Apart from the physical components, a marathon is also a mental activity. The more you train for it, the more rewarding it becomes especially if you finish the race. Months of hard work are compressed into mere hours of running to prove that you are up for the task.
In an article by Susan Ziegler, she explains that training and running for a marathon have positive impacts on a person’s self-image. Respondents also claimed that their routines become more fulfilling and richer because of running.
Ask any runner or marathoner you know. They will always say that running has changed their life for the better.
Builds Good Habits
Marathon training involves lots of repetitions in exercise and running. Thus, it builds good habits for your well-being. At first, you might feel that the preparation is a burden, but slowly and surely, the training will become part of your life.
Beginners need to spend at least 5 months to be fully prepared for an event. This is plenty of time to form changes that positively affect you. It takes 66 days for individuals to adapt to healthy behaviors.
With exercise and a proper diet at its core, you’ll have a stronger body once such habits manifest themselves.
Marathon is for everyone. It does not matter whether you are a beginner, intermediate, or expert, you will still find enjoyment in the sport. Just remember to stay committed and be disciplined during your training no matter how long it takes, and you will surely reap your rewards.