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Many runners consider running a marathon a goal. However, your mind, body, and soul must be prepared to face the cruel 26.2 miles of running in one go. While this might be a hard task, you can do it with some preparation and tenacity in training. Luckily, I have the ultimate marathon training guide to kickstart your running journey!
Your beginner training regimen must focus on the basics. These include the fundamentals of running, how much to train, proper food and hydration, gear choosing, as well as some tips and tricks on the day of the race.
Ahead, I will guide you through training for your first marathon and the things you have to know before running one. So if you’re an aspiring marathoner, stick along cause we’re going to prepare you for you first marathon.
How to Train for a Marathon
As a beginner, your skills and body are nowhere near to an expert runner. Thus, the first stages of your training should be centered on improving your physical and mental attributes.
Type of Training
The way to train for a marathon is through incremental training. It simply means gradually increasing your running mileage every week until you can run longer without having to stop. As such, you need to dedicate around 3-4 times of running every week for your body to get used to.
When training incrementally, remember to follow the 10% rule. This rule indicates that you should not increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week. That means, if your current weekly mileage is 30 miles, do not increase your mileage to more than 33 miles the following week.
As a beginner, you should start by running 21 to 35 miles a week and gradually increasing each week. If you want to know more about this, I created an article that will guide you through how many miles you should run each week.
Rest and Recovery
Rest and recovery are as important as the workout itself. That said, you should schedule some easy days and total rest days within the week.
For beginners, I recommend that you take at least 2 rest days a week and 1 day to do an active rest day in the form of low-impact exercises. Cycling, swimming, walking, and hiking are a few examples of great active rest day activities.
I created a runner’s guide to rest days in another article. If you’re curious about how you should schedule your rest, you should definitely read it.
Strength training is also a vital part of your marathon training. Research shows that strength training increases running economy and improves posture, therefore, improving running performance. Furthermore, having stronger muscles around the joints helps protect them and reduce the risks of injuries.
A few exercises you should consider are:
- Hip thrust
- Bulgarian split squats
These exercises work your glutes and core which are vital to your running form. In addition, these are compound exercises which means it strengthens multiple muscle groups.
Related post: Should I Run or Lift First? (Based on Experience)
How Much to Train
Training intensity, duration, and frequency are highly-dependent on the runner. However, it is recommended for beginners to train for at least 5-6 months before a marathon event to be fully ready to take on the challenge.
During such time, you must adhere to a weekly schedule regimen so that you can improve your endurance and strength.
If you’re a first-time marathoner but have experience running consistently, I recommend you start with 4-6 miles per session, 3 to 5 times a week gradually increasing by 10% each week. This should safely increase your endurance and aerobic capacity.
When I trained for my first marathon, I did a total of 20 miles a week divided into 5 days in the first 4 weeks before I even began to increase mileage.
I did that to make room for my strength training which, at that time, was significant. I came from a CrossFit background and so it was mentally hard to reduce the amount of lifting even when I was training for a marathon.
As a beginner, your primary focus should be to increase your aerobic capacity, endurance, and stamina. This is done by running at a conversational pace, about 70-80% of the maximum heart rate for long distances.
To get your maximum heart rate, simply subtract your age from 220. For example, if you’re 30 years old, your MHR is 190, which means, your conversational pace heart rate should be around 133 to 152 bpm.
Running fast does little for your aerobic capacity, thus, it should be reserved once you already feel comfortable running for a longer distance.
Another reason why you want to run slow is to improve your form. Your form has a direct impact on your running economy which will determine whether or not you can finish the race.
Thus, patience is an important skill to learn during this time. Building a solid foundation of endurance and stamina is much more important than being able to run fast at this point of your training. You can consider running for speed once you’ve already achieved your goal of finishing a marathon.
Diet and Nutrition
In training for a marathon, proper diet and nutrition is everything. After all, you need specific compounds and nutrients for your body so that it can survive the months of training as well as the day of the event.
Months Before the Marathon
If there is one friend that you need, it is carbohydrates. Carbs, in simple terms, convert into glycogen which acts as muscle fuel. They help with tiredness as well as fill your lost nutrients up during training.
Your carbohydrate intake should be based on the training intensity of that day. On days where you ran hard, you must also eat more carbs to refill. However, on rest or light workout days, you can opt for lesser carbs.
Proteins will also help in muscle growth during training for endurance and strength purposes. Don’t hesitate to grab that extra tuna or fish meat!
A Week Before the Marathon
In the first half of the week, it is a good idea to just eat normally. After all, you will be tapering off your running mileage to increase performance during the competition.
On the second half of the week preferably days 4 to 3, you should engage in carb-loading. This is the process of increasing carb intake so that you can stock up as much fuel for the competition. Experts recommend around 3.6 to 5.5 grams per pound of body weight. You can take such nutrition from pasta, rice, and bananas.
The Day Before the Marathon
On race day, eat what you normally do and remember to routinely munch on some bananas for additional carbs. Furthermore, do not eat too late at night as it might affect how you wake up in the morning. 3-4 hours before the race, make sure to get a light breakfast for easier digestion.
During the Marathon
Grab some carb snacks and refuel every once in a while. This can be in the form of bananas, energy bars, nuts, or even gummy bears. Make sure to consume 30 to 60 grams every hour so there is enough room for your body to stock up on lost glycogen.
For hydration, stick to what you used during your training routine. If you drank water, then use water during the race. If you are used to sports drinks, then you should opt for them. The goal is to lessen as much shock to the body to avoid drastic changes.
After the Marathon
The best recovery food includes protein, carbs, and electrolytes. Eat immediately after the race as it is advantageous to consume food after a high-endurance activity. A ratio of 3:1 or 3 carbs to 1 protein serving is suggested by experts for optimal recovery.
Small meals every 4 hours is the standard so that your body’s rehabilitation is well facilitated. Some top picks for meals include pasta with chicken, as well as potato with ground beef.
How to Choose Running Shoes
Now that you are aware of how to train and what to eat, it is time to look at how to choose gear, particularly running shoes. The first thing to know is what type you want as well as the support that your feet need. Let us take a look at some of these.
There are mainly 3 types of shoes, and they are classified based on skill levels. Cushioned or “soft” shoes are those that prioritize comfort. As such, they are perfect for beginners who want to enjoy their first race on the track.
Another is the energized, which provides a balance between “soft” and “firm” to the user. This is suitable for intermediate users who want to bounce back a bit.
Lastly, our firm shoes allow for faster running times due to short contact with the ground. It promotes natural gait and must be handled by experts.
For beginners, I highly recommend sticking to a running shoe that is most comfortable for you. Most beginners benefit greatly from well-cushioned running shoes such as Brooks Glycerin and ASICS Gel Cumulus. They reduce the impact on your body, thus, helping you get across the finish line with less pain.
You must also be aware of the support type needed for your feet. For those with a natural arch, neutral shoes will do. On the other hand, people who tend to overpronate should purchase “stability” shoes such as the Brooks Adrenaline to compensate for motion.
Here are some other tips to help you in your search:
- Try out different sizes for different brands as they are not the same
- Ask the clerk about the perfect shoes for your gait
- Comfort should always take precedence over style
- If you have shoes that you are already comfy with, then choose to purchase them again.
- Avoid buying shoes online as you will not get a general “feel” of the shoes as well as how it fits on your feet.
4 Tips to Avoid Injuries
Here are some ways to avoid getting injured in your first run:
1. Avoid overdoing it
Many beginner runners tend to overdo their training in hopes that they excel immediately. However, marathon training is a gradual process especially if you have no experience in running before. Even the best and most elite runners in the world suffer from skeletal muscle injuries due to overwork, so take it slow and rest every once in a while.
2. Don’t wear fresh shoes to the marathon
A rookie mistake for beginner runners is that they do not get used to the shoe before running a marathon. Get some miles on your shoes before a competition so that you will be used to them. This also gives you enough time to identify potential problems with the shoe before wearing it on race day.
3. Never skip fundamentals
Running fundamentals such as proper form, breathing technique, refueling, and hydration are essential to the field. They are non-negotiables that should be learned slowly but surely during training. Lack of one of these will surely lead to failure on the track.
4. Always warm up and cool down
Warming up is very important for marathoners. You will be using your running muscles to full capacity, so it is a good idea to prep them up with some light exercise like jogging. 5 minutes of warm-up is great for beginners, as it gives ample time to jumpstart your nerves, joints, tendons, and skeletal muscles.
Furthermore, cooling down after the run with the help of breathing exercises, light stretching, and foam rollers also proves to be effective.
Your first marathon can sound daunting, but following these tips will guarantee enjoyment, fulfillment, and fun on the track! Stick to your dedication and commitment and you will surely get to that first finish line in no time.