How to Train for a Marathon

Training for a marathon can be a very exciting experience. The months and days leading up to your marathon should be fun and rewarding. The feeling of accomplishment once you’ve finished the race will make all the training worth it. If this is your first marathon or you’re new to running, you should spend more time training. 

Deciding to run a full marathon is a big life decision. Marathons can take a toll on your body, but with the right preparation, it can be very rewarding. Here are 6 steps to help you train for a marathon.

1. Start Early

A marathon is something that you work up to. There are things you should consider before making the decision to run 26 miles at once. First, make sure you have enough time to train. Most people need 18 weeks to train. You should probably only attempt a full marathon if you: 

  • Have been running for a year or longer. 
  • Have previously run one or two 5k races and even a half marathon. 
  • Can comfortably run 15 to 25 miles a week. 

2. Build a Support System

Running is a social activity. When training for your marathon, a supportive community can help you reach your goals and keep you motivated. If this is your first marathon, you can join a running group of people who are training for the same thing as you. 

Being around other runners can help you:

  • Stay committed to your goals
  • Learn from seasoned runners
  • Provide emotional and mental support 
  • Cope with the physical, emotional, financial, and mental strains that come with marathon training

3. Alternate Training Days

To get the most out of your training, you need easy and hard days of training. Even if you’re behind schedule, you can’t train hard constantly up to the race. This takes a toll on your body and makes it harder for your body to recover. 

Alternating training days means running shorter and longer distances. This also includes running at slower and faster speeds. Running on hilly terrain can help improve your stamina. Incorporating this landscape into your routine will also help build your strength over time. 

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4. Listen to Your Body

During your training, you’re exposing your body to the risk of injury. There is a 90% chance of running-related injuries for people training for a marathon. Before you start training, you should make sure you’re fully recovered from all injuries or illnesses. Creating a training program that gradually increases and allows for rest can help you avoid injury. 

By listening to your body, you can do the following:

  • Watch out for injuries. You may not even know you have an injury until after it’s worsened. If you start to change the way you run, your body might be compensating for something else. When you feel an injury start to flare up, you should rest your body by biking, swimming, or using an elliptical to rest your legs. 
  • Rest when needed. If a body part is tired or you’re feeling overall fatigued, give yourself a break. You don’t want to burn out your body or worsen the usual wear and tear. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and rest during your training. 

5. Prepare for Race Day

There are a few things you should plan to do in the days leading up to your marathon. 

  • Taper before your race. For the last 21 days before your marathon, you should run less and rest more. This helps you fully recover from your workouts and get your body ready for the marathon.  
  • Reduce your mileage. Two weeks before your marathon, you should try to reduce your miles run by 25% the first week, then 50% the second week. 
  • Don’t worry. As you taper your workouts, you may feel like you’re losing all the progress you’ve worked towards. But don’t worry — this period gives your body much-needed rest time

6. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Staying hydrated is very important. Hydration and good nutrition will help fuel your body during training and race day. When running, you should drink water or a sports drink. Something with extra electrolytes is great for keeping you hydrated. 

On race day, you should continuously drink water while you run. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty, as this can signify that you’re already dehydrated

For a successful race day, you should have the following: 

Make sure that during your race, you're not eating or drinking anything you didn't have during training, so you know how it will affect you.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 07, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Circulation: “How to Train for a Marathon.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Marathon Preparation.”

The Sport Journal: “Strategies for Working with First Time Marathon Runners.”

UCSF Health: “Running a Marathon: Training Tips.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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