Here’s The Best Way To Train For Your First Marathon
You’ve enjoyed your fair share of 5Ks, tried a few 10Ks and even completed a half-marathon or two. And now, it’s time for the big leagues. It’s time to lace up for your first-ever full marathon.
Before you get too overwhelmed by excitement and the little voice inside your head screaming, “OMG, I’m actually going to do this!” we need to talk about all the things you need to think about as you move into what will probably be the longest, hardest training season of your life. Don’t worry, knowing what lies ahead makes the journey that much more doable and — dare we say — fun. Plus, a little planning never hurt anyone, especially a marathoner. Here’s a step-by-step guide to gearing up for your first 26.2.
1. Check that calendar.
When it comes to training for your first marathon, it’s key to give yourself plenty of time to rack up those higher miles and have your body fully adjust before race day. We recommend starting your training plan five months out. Many training programs will keep you going for 18 weeks, but we like to factor in things like vacations, potentially coming down with the flu, a family emergency or whatever else decides to surprise you this year. So add two “shit happens” weeks to those 18 training weeks and — boom — you have five months. Find a marathon event that coincides with a weekend five months from now, and that’s your race, baby.
2. Invest in some quality kicks.
Before you log more than a 5K at any given time, you need to make sure your sneakers are supporting your feet properly. So head over to your local specialty shoe store, take advantage of the complimentary gait analysis and take the running shoe recs from the salesperson seriously. You’re probably going to drop a decent amount of cash on these new kicks, but they’re definitely a worthwhile investment. If you skimp this early on, you risk facing a bunch of painful running injuries and possibly not participating in your marathon at all.
3. Pick your training plan.
Now here comes the fun part — deciding exactly how you will train each day for the next five months of your life. You need a training schedule that includes short run days, long run days, tempo days (adjusting your pace as you go), cross-training days and rest days every single week. This variety helps your body progress at a steady pace without overdoing it, keeping all of your muscles and joints healthy as you go.
Looking for specific recommendations? Hal Higdon’s marathon training plans have never steered us wrong. He maintains a realistic approach to gearing up for the big day because, while this race might be super important to you, you also have to do things like work 40 hours a week (minimum) and see your friends and family and, you know, be a human being.
No matter what plan you pick, make sure to take ample time to warm up before each training session and prevent any unnecessary injuries. Similarly, take your cool-down time seriously with a slow walk, stretching and foam rolling. Your body will thank you every day throughout your training regimen — we promise.
4. Spend some time with a nutritionist.
If you’ve never logged seriously long miles before, it’s a good idea to seek out some expert meal-planning advice that’s catered to your body specifically. Running a marathon is a true feat of endurance, which means you have to fuel properly and carefully. A nutritionist appointment is especially critical if you have major food allergies (gluten, eggs, dairy, etc.) or follow a certain dietary lifestyle (vegetarian, vegan, paleo, etc.) because you’ll need to ensure that your body is getting the right amount of protein, fats and carbs to keep it going and feeling strong for months on end.
5. Build out those playlists.
Oh yeah, mid-run entertainment is crucial — unless you’re a pro meditator and can remain in your zone in silence for hours at a time. We recommend making several running playlists of varying lengths and with different moods to cater to whatever kind of day you’re having when a training run approaches. Spotify is our go-to platform for all things playlist-related, and it even has some workout-focused playlists ready for you to get you started. If you’re not a big music buff, we bet that podcasts and audiobooks will become your new BFFs.
6. Pick a training time that works best for you — and then stick with it.
If you’re not a morning person, don’t try to force yourself to get up with a 5 a.m. alarm and log those miles before work. And similarly, if you’re not a night owl, don’t save that half-marathon mileage for the treadmill at 9 p.m. after you’re finally done working for the day and eating your dinner. To have the best training experience possible, you need to lean into your body’s natural tendencies rather than go against the grain. Seriously, marathon training is already hard enough.
7. Know that what you put into training is what you’ll get out of race day.
Okay, so there are definitely going to be days when happy hour sounds way more appealing than logging that 15-mile run. And then there are going to be days when you have to work overtime and completely skip your cross-training session. And then there are going to be days when you just don’t feel like getting up off the couch. We aren’t knocking any of these scenarios — we just need to enforce that the more days of that training program you skip, the less prepared you will be when race day rolls around. It’s your marathon experience, so you decide how you want it to go.
8. Hydrate like you’ve never hydrated before.
If you’re the person who struggles to drink enough water on a normal day, you’re going to need to pay extra close attention to the number of ounces of H2O you’re guzzling throughout your entire marathon training season. Calculate how much water your body needs on an average day, and then up the ante to reflect the amount you’ll sweat out from that day’s training workout. Note: You’ll need to hydrate more on an 18-miler day than you will after strength training on a cross-training day. Basically, don’t go anywhere without your reusable water bottle in hand.
9. Take your rest days seriously.
Now, for some good news! When your training plan delineates a rest day, it really means rest. Don’t try to be a hero and log a few extra miles or go for a long walk “just because.” Your body relies on this period of time during marathon training to repair torn muscle fibers, give your joints a much-needed break from pounding the pavement and help your digestive system make use of as many nutrients as possible. So take that day off each week in stride — you’ve earned it.
10. When the race finally arrives, enjoy every moment.
All of your hard work has brought you to this moment. Your body is flooded with adrenaline, your heart is pounding and your nerves are fluttering. But remember how prepared you are. You just worked your ass off for five months, which means your body knows exactly what to do to get you across that finish line in one piece. So take a deep breath, stop at every water and fueling station along the way and smile as big as you can as you finally cross that 26.2-mile run off your bucket list. You are officially a long-distance running badass.