Beginner Marathon Tips

Here are some beginner marathon tips to help make your training, your race and your recovery a positive experience – and one of the most positive experiences of your life.

A few years ago the American College of Sports Medicine reports a very high dropout rate of seventy percent for first-time marathoners. A marathon training program is not easy – in fact, it is a very big commitment and as you build up your mileage in preparation for the race itself, it has a way of taking over your life. So you can’t underestimate the amount of hard work you will need to put in to make this a good experience.

There are a variety of ways to train for your first marathon. But a good objective is to have a good experience – in training and in the race itself. So what are some ways to help you achieve your beginner’s goal of finishing the race – and enjoying it?

When do I know I’m ready to train for a Marathon?

First of all, you need a good running foundation before you decide to run a marathon. A good running base means consistent running training for four or five days per week for two or three years. Once you have this foundation you can consider preparing for a marathon.

Next, it’s important that you’ve run some races of various lengths including 10K’s and half-marathons. These shorter distances are great preparation for racing itself and help you to gauge whether or not you’re ready to increase your racing distance to the marathon level. After you can comfortably complete a half-marathon, you’re ready to take it to the next level.

Finally, it’s important that you are healthy and free of injuries. Training for a marathon is grueling and will bring out anything that’s been bothering you. Rather than watching your training come to a halt because of a prior injury, make sure you’re in good shape before beginning a marathon training program.

How many miles will I need in my weekly training schedule?

It’s important to know your limits before setting up a training schedule and everyone is different, but a good way to start is to build two long runs into your weekly schedule. Usually, you will have one long run mid-week and then your longest run on Saturday.

For example, when I was coaching my wife for her first marathon, we build a 90-minute run into her schedule on Wednesday, and the longest runs were done on Saturday. We started with 12 miles as her longest run about three months before the marathon and build up to 22 miles during the month before the marathon. Knowing that she could do 22 miles comfortably gave her the confidence that she could run the full distance on the day of the race.

How fast should I run during training?

Start out your training by running slowly. As your level of fitness improves with the distances you’re piling on, your speed will naturally pick up. You want to give your body time to adjust to the additional training demands and distances, so keep it slow until you naturally feel your body wanting to pick up the speed.

How long is the Conditioning Phase?

If you are a beginning marathoner, I recommend sixteen to twenty weeks of conditioning training with the assumption that you do have a good running foundation as I mentioned above. This approach allows you to plan good recovery time into your training schedule so that you are less likely to get sick or injured. This approach is referred to as periodization and you can see what a beginner’s schedule would look like at this link.

Using Periodization

As I mentioned above, periodization allows you to recover from your long, grueling training sessions. You do this by planning a recovery week every third week of your training program. So basically, you are increasing your running for two weeks, then backing off for a week, then increasing your volume for another two weeks, then backing off for a week, and so on. This schedule shows you what this might look like for you.

What you’ll find is that after your recovery week you will be feeling refreshed and ready for the increased volume. Without this recovery week, you run the risk of burnout, over-training, or injury.

When should I do speed training?

If this is your first marathon, I’d suggest that you don’t do any speed training. Concentrate on running the distance first by doing long, slow runs. Once you’ve successfully completed your first marathon then you can build some speed workouts into your training program for your next marathon. Typically the goal of the beginning marathoner is to finish the race. Once you’ve done that, then you’ll want to improve your time for your second marathon, so save the speed training for later.

I’m worried about getting injured during training – what can I do to prevent this?

There are several ways you can prevent injury and exhaustion during your training:

1. Use a periodization in your training schedules. This will help you to recover from your harder weeks before adding more mileage.

2. Try running on softer surfaces at least some of the time – golf courses, sawdust or wood chip trails, any soft surface will be easier on your legs. Try and do this a couple days a week, if possible.

3. Don’t be afraid to take a day off if you’re feeling exhausted. An occasional day of rest will not harm you and will help you to recover before you hit the road again.

Should I do strength training or cross training?

If you haven’t been doing any strength training up to this point, this is not the time to add it to your schedule. But if it’s already part of your routine, then a couple strength training workouts on your easier running days is okay.

You can do some cross-training on one or two of your shorter running days each week. Running long distances tends to lead to overuse injuries and sometimes boredom, so you can substitute another activity, such as cycling if you like. There has been some research that shows that high-intensity cycling might actually improve your running performance, so give it a try if it appeals to you.

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