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First Marathon or Half-Marathon? 8 Training Tips

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WebMD Feature

Planning to run your first marathon or half marathon? Knowing the secrets of training can help you run your first race.

First, clear the idea with your doctor at a physical exam. Then, do this:

1. Tell People

This makes you accountable. Tell everyone who will listen, says Joe Donovan, a Milwaukee runner who wrote the Essential Guide to Training for Your First Marathon.

"Only when you tell other people is it real," he says. "Certainly, some people will think you are nuts."

Some did, he recalls, when Donovan announced his decision to run his first marathon while he was a graduate student, working for a U.S. senator. "At first there was disbelief," he says of the people he told. Next? "There was this kind of 'Wow, this is amazing.'"

It became a topic of conversation and support among his fiancée (now his wife) and co-workers, which helped him stick to his training.

2. Set a Specific Goal

It's not as simple as saying your goal is to finish 13.1 miles (a half marathon) or 26.2 (a full marathon), says Cathy Fieseler, MD, a veteran marathoner and ultra-distance runner.

Ask yourself why you are running the race, she says. "Do you have a time goal? Are you trying to qualify for [the Boston marathon]? Are you doing it in memory of someone? Because you are turning 40?"

Figuring that out, she says, will guide your training plan. For instance, if you're running in memory of someone, you may not care about how long it takes you, but if you want to finish within four hours, you might need a different plan.  

3. Make a Plan

You need a nuts-and-bolts training plan. You can get that online, from a running coach if you happen to be in a running club, or from running publications.

If you're easily running 3 or 4 miles at a shot now, plan to train for about three months before a half marathon and about five months before a full marathon, says Todd Galati, an American Council on Exercise spokesman.

Your plan should be realistic. "I don't think you need to run every single day," Fieseler says. "Figure out what works for your life."

4. Don't Overdo It

Don't add miles too quickly, Galati says. The established rule is not to boost your miles by more than 10% per week.

Doing speed work can improve your times. For instance, run faster than usual for an interval of time, then drop back to your slower pace, and repeat. But don't increase mileage, do speed work, and tackle hills all at once, he says. That's too much.

Speed work can make you faster, ''but it also ups the risk of injury," Fiessler says, especially as you age. Be aware of the tradeoff, she says.

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