So you want to run a marathon? Completing 26.2 miles is an awe-inspiring accomplishment that requires commitment and dedication. But it is not a walk in the park! You need a base of a minimum of three to six months’ worth of running four times per week. (It’s even better if you’ve been running for a year or more.) You should be able to comfortably complete a run of six miles. And you should have run at the very minimum a few 5K races.
Diving into the marathon without doing these fundamental things exponentially increases your chance of injury and a miserable marathon experience – it should be fun as well as a challenge!
How to Train
The key to successful marathon training is consistently putting in enough weekly mileage to get your body accustomed to running for long periods of time. Newer runners may start with 15 to 20 miles per week total and gradually build to a peak week of 35 to 40 miles. More experienced runners may start at 35 or more miles per week and peak at 50 or more miles. Avoid any training plans that would increase your volume by more than about 10 percent in the first week. (For example, if you usually run 20-mile weeks, avoid plans that have you running much more than 22 miles in week 1.)
The most important part of your training is a weekly long run at an easy pace that gradually increases in distance, week over week, to build your strength and endurance. Spending the extra time on your feet helps prepare your muscles, joints, bones, heart, lungs, and brain for going 26.2 on race day. Most training plans build to at least one 18- to 20-mile long run
Your training plan should also feature weekly or biweekly speed work, tempo runs, or miles at marathon pace. These can be done as part of a long run or as an independent workout and help you to ingrain that pace in your mind and body before race day.
To prevent injuries while marathon training remember to increase your mileage gradually and incorporate rest days into your program. Rotate hard workout days with easy days (short, slow runs) and consider reserving at least one day a week for a complete break from running (try cross-training). Using a foam roller—before and after your runs—loosens up muscles and improves range of motion. Strength training—particularly your core, hips, and glutes—corrects muscle imbalances and improves running form, which can result in fewer injuries. Stretching also helps—dynamic stretching is best before a run; static stretching can help you recover post run. Above all, listen to your body. Scale back mileage and take an extra rest day or two if you feel pain that's beyond typical training soreness.
How to Stay Motivated
Running a marathon is an exciting prospect, but the day-to-day training can get to be a grind, particularly in the middle of a program, when you’re experiencing cumulative fatigue and race day still seems far away. Mental training strategies can help you stay calm, focused, and positive throughout your training and on race day. It’s also critical to get plenty of sleep and reserve time for recovery so you don’t risk overtraining, which can leave you feeling burned out. Also, consider running with a partner or group. Training with others helps keep you accountable so you stay on track to reach your goals.
Select a couple of long runs in the month or two before the race to use as "dress rehearsals." Get up and start running the same time you will on race day. Eat and drink what you'll eat on the day before, the morning of, and during your race the day before, the morning of, and during the dress rehearsal run. Wear the same shoes and clothing you plan to wear in the marathon. This gives you the opportunity to troubleshoot any problems, and to respect the cardinal rule of marathon running: Never try anything new on race day!