When you first get into running, you establish a routine. But after awhile, it is inevitable that you’ll eventually start looking at races to add to your calendar. You may start with a local 5K (3.1 miles) or two and get the itch to do more. Over time, a 10K (6.2 miles) might be on your radar. Before you know it, you may be training to do a half marathon (13.1 miles).
If you’re very new to the sport, it could take a year of buildup to get to that point—and that’s an amazing accomplishment! Along the way you will get fitter as a runner, healthier overall, and probably make some friends.
But the more you hang around runners, the more you’ll hear about that coveted distance of 26.2 miles. While you certainly may feel intimidated at first, with about a year of preparation and training under your belt, conquering the distance is within reach if that becomes a new goal. Here are the training plans and 10 key tips you need to know as a beginner marathoner.
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Ready to Start Training?
First, it’s always best to check with your physician before beginning any extensive exercise program like training for a marathon. If you get the green light, consider getting a training plan to guide your journey. Runner’s World offers training plans for every type of runner and distance. Here are five of our most popular plans for first-time marathoners:
- First-Timer Marathon (16 weeks, 12–40 miles per week)
- Beginner Marathon (16 weeks, 16–44 miles per week)
- Break 4:30 Marathon (16 weeks, 23–45 miles per week)
- Break 4:45 Marathon (16 weeks, 23–45 miles per week)
- Break 5:00 Marathon (16 weeks, 23–45 miles per week)\
As you train, remember the human body adapts slowly and therefore responds best to small gradual increases in training stress. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, the circulatory system, the cardiovascular system, and the respiratory system all adapt at different rates to training.
They need a minimum of six weeks to make adaptations to the stresses placed upon them, so proceeding gradually as you get ready for marathon-specific training is very important. Training periods of greater workload, like mileage increases or speedwork, should be followed by periods of reduced workload, often referred to as a “cut back” week, where mileage is reduced and speedwork less intense.
Besides just logging the miles, there are many other factors to educate yourself on too, like hydration and nutrition. Obtaining the proper gear and equipment, like shoes, is really important. Have your current shoes checked out at your local running store by a specialist. Tell them your weekly mileage to date, your goal to run a marathon, the running surfaces you train on, and how often you run so they can prescribe and fit you with the best shoe for you.
10 Marathon Training Tips
Marathon training can be life changing because of its impact on your lifestyle. Training encourages you to make positive choices with your diet, social life, and sleep patterns. Having support from family or friends is very helpful, so start recruiting your support team now. Maybe even one or two of them will decide to join you!
Whether you’re in the middle of training for your first 26.2 or prepping for your crack at the distance, here are some training tips that will help you toward your goal:
1. Keep a training log.
Write down your daily mileage, run times, race distance and times, and how you feel. It’s hard to remember what you did later, so write it down immediately. This will help you learn from your training, especially if you end up doing more races in the future.
2. Increase weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent.
This allows for a gradual increase in mileage and reduces the risk of injury over time.
3. Include a “cut back” week.
Every third or fourth week of training, take your foot off the gas and cut back a little. This means reducing your mileage and using it as an easy week.
4. Run three to four days a week.
Include one long run, two shorter runs for speed and strength, and an optional easy recovery run day. For speed, focus on your run pace one day a week by running slightly faster in short increments of time or distance. For strength, include some hills one run each week. Long runs are runs that increase your distance. Run these at a slow, comfortable pace, about 1 or 2 minutes per mile slower than your expected goal pace. (Here’s how you can keep them from being boring.)
5. Alternate a hard day with an easy day or a day off.
This allows your body to properly recover from the hard effort, which is when real adaptations take place.
6. Take at least one day completely off per week.
Rest, and recover. Two days a week for rest and recovery is okay when you’re new to marathon training, too!
7. Monitor your resting heart rate.
Take your resting pulse each morning before arising or use a smart watch that measures heart rate. Keep track of it in your training log. After several readings, you will have a baseline number. As our fitness improves, our resting pulse decreases. If you see your resting heart rate spike up by 10 percent or more above your normal resting pulse, take it easy that day. This can be a sign of fatigue, lack of recovery between workouts, or an illness coming on and it is best to take the day off, sleep in, or change a hard workout to a very easy one, until your resting heart rate returns to normal.
8. Consider cross-training one or two days a week.
Performing complementary cross-training activities will increase your aerobic conditioning without additional running. Swimming, cycling, or rowing are good options. Keep cross-training activities to 45 minutes, one or two times a week, and do them at a very moderate intensity level.
9. Consider strength-training twice a week.
10. When in doubt, always listen to your body.
If you are tired, rest. If a workout feels hard, it is hard. If you need a day off, take one. No matter what a training plan says, the real coach of your training will be your body, so tune in and take notes on what it’s telling you throughout your journey.