How to Train for a Marathon

How to Train for a Marathon
Training to successfully complete the 26.2 miles of a full marathon requires months of faithful effort. Although there's no single program to suit the ability, needs and goals of every runner, following key concepts can help anyone cross the marathon finish line injury-free.


Difficulty: Challenging

Step 1
Educate yourself on marathon training. Obtain knowledge by reading relevant books, respected magazines (such as Runner's World) and online resources (such as Cool Running). Consider joining a local running club or charity group--such as Team in Training or the Atlanta Track Club--to build relationships with seasoned coaches and runners. Absorb as much information as possible about marathon training programs and philosophies.
Step 2
Ensure you have a healthy mind and body. Consult your physician before embarking on a marathon training program. Complete an annual physical exam, and ask questions about your current health. Consider other aspects that may hinder your marathon training, such as work commitments, stress and family commitments.
Step 3
Evaluate your current running ability. Run recreationally for at least a year before beginning a marathon training plan. Once you can comfortably run 12 to15 miles per week, incorporate a long run of at least 3 miles into your initial fitness assessment. Run for 30 to 45 minutes and analyze your pace, breath and fatigue levels. Running expert Hal Higdon begins his 16-week novice plans with a long run of 6 or 8 miles. Coach and Olympian Jeff Galloway offers a 32-week program with an initial long run of 3 miles.
Step 4
Set fitness goals. Choose a marathon that will allow at least 5 or 6 months of injury-free training for an optimum fitness level. First-time marathoners should only seek to finish a race; intermediate and advanced runners may hope to set a personal record or time goal.
Step 5
Invest in new running shoes and appropriate equipment. The most important piece of gear for a marathoner is a pair of properly-fitted running shoes. Ensure you purchase a high-quality pair appropriate for your foot strike, shape and mechanics. Buy running apparel made from synthetic materials that help wick moisture away from the skin (such as Cool-Max).
Step 6
Follow an appropriate marathon training plan. Programs by Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway and Runner's World are all excellent training options. Consider your initial endurance assessment, training schedule, pace and commitment level. Analyze the training program's guidelines on rest days, long runs, strength training and tempo runs. One program may call for 3 days of running paired with 2 days of cross-training, while others have a strict 5-day running schedule. Some programs promote walk breaks. Once you have selected a marathon training routine, don't fluctuate between programs. Stick with it and consult a medical professional if you have concerns during your training.
Step 7
Prevent potential running-related injuries. Warm up your muscles before every run. Complete each training session with a 5- to 10-minute cool-down. Follow a regular, healthy stretching schedule, holding each stretch for 30 seconds. Discover photos and descriptions of muscle stretches on the Runner's World website. Additionally, work to strengthen key muscle groups (such as abdominal muscles) through weight-lifting and cross-training to help keep injuries at bay.
Step 8
Keep a marathon training log. Utilize a notebook, calendar or online running log (available on Runner's World or Cool Running) to help track your marathon training. In addition to providing motivation for training sessions, logs help track overall mileage, pace and quality. An added bonus? Online calculators can keep a mileage tally on your running shoes, letting you know when it's time for a new pair.
Step 9
Take proper care of yourself. Ensure you are adequately hydrated and eat nutritious meals with good carbohydrates, healthy fats and lean protein. Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Deal with stress in a healthy way (such as through meditation or yoga). Consult running resources and a trusted physician with tips on marathon training nutrition.
Step 10
Think positive. Many marathoners say that running a marathon is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. While training for a marathon, visualize yourself becoming the runner you want to be. Picture yourself running with perfect, in-control form and feeling full of energy. Push away negative thoughts that may enter your mind. If you don't feel like running, remember your initial goals. Focus on your training achievements and stay on track with the program. Successfully training yourself mentally for a marathon will help keep you confident on race day.

Tips & Warnings

Joining a running club or having a training partner will help keep your training level (and motivation) high.
Only train for a marathon if you are physically and mentally healthy. Invest in a new pair of running shoes every 250 to 500 miles. Many marathoners will buy two pairs and rotate them during a training cycle.
Only train for a marathon if you are physically and mentally healthy.
Invest in a new pair of running shoes every 250 to 500 miles. Many marathoners will buy two pairs and rotate them during a training cycle.

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