As health, fitness and wellbeing come deeper into focus for many individuals, more and more people are considering the idea of tackling a marathon for the first time. With no special skills or equipment required, marathons are considered among the most demanding fitness tests and represent a genuine achievement for professionals and amateurs alike. These marathons are never difficult to find as they take place around the world, and they represent the pinnacle for anyone starting a running or fitness regime.
A marathon is something that will get easier after the first time, at least mentally. The thought of running that distance for that long can be hugely daunting for even experienced runners, and preparation is key to overcoming the difficulties that lie ahead. Below, we present our top 10 tips for anyone seeking to prepare for their first marathon.
1. Track your Progress
Preparing for a marathon does involve plenty of running, but the best way to mentally prepare for the task ahead is to keep track of what you have done. It is a lot easier to process the idea of running long distances when you have evidence that you had come close to doing so before, even if it did not all take place at once. Distances and times are the bare minimum that should be tracked, and that information can then be used both to build confidence and to adjust your training schedule as the big race approaches.
2. Don’t Overexert
If you are working towards running a full marathon of 26.2 miles but have never run more than 5 miles in a session before, immediately going out and aiming for 20 miles in your next session is possibly the worst thing you can do. Training should commence well in advance, and it is recommended never to increase your distance by more than 10% each week. These incremental increases are better for the body in general and will minimise the risk of the dreaded industry that could see your marathon running ambitions being cancelled.
3. It is Fine to Go Backwards
There is a fair chance that you will never actually run the full marathon distance before the big day, even with incremental increases. However, that does not mean that you should be striving to do so at all costs. Instead, more beneficial to your overall training program can be dropping back for a week each month. Rather than pushing on, this can be seen as an opportunity to maintain your levels, while giving the body some specific time to recover in the interim.
4. Mix Up your Running in Training
Even those that are perfectly fit for a marathon will not necessarily benefit from running every day. Instead, 3 or 4 days each week is the optimal level, and it is crucial to mix up activities in these periods. One long run on one of these days will focus on endurance, while 2 shorter but faster-paced ones on other days will accustom the body to pushing through sections of the race. An optional fourth run should be a jog as much as anything, focusing on recovery and blood flow rather than pushing the body.
5. Don’t Pile Up the Difficult Days
Recovery has been mentioned on multiple occasions already, and it is hugely important. If you are working hard on your training, but also having more relaxed days, try not to bunch the more intense sessions together. A day off following a long or fast run can be even more beneficial than seeking to capitalise on that burst of effort.
6. Take at least a Full Day Off Each Week
These tips are not necessarily all designed to work in conjunction with each other, and you may find yourself pushing harder than the recommended 3 or 4 days of running. No matter how hard you push, you will benefit from taking at least one full day off from running each week. As a relative beginner, 2 or 3 may even be more beneficial for avoiding burnout.
7. Mix Up the Schedule with Cross-Training
Unsurprisingly, training to run longer distances does not rely solely on running itself. Cross-training has various health benefits and will also aid in preparation for a marathon without the impact on the joints that running entails. Swimming and rowing will provide benefits to the body that will be called upon during the marathon while adding variety to the schedule.
8. Consider Dedicated Strength Training
The better condition you are in, the easier any physical exertion will be. A stronger body will be more capable of dealing with the demands of a marathon than a weaker one, and it can pay to focus outside the legs. There is no need to hit the weights either if you prefer not to, as activities like yoga can also assist with core strength that will help you on your way.
9. Keep an Eye on your Heart Rate
If you are following these tips, you will probably be tracking your training already, and your heart rate is always worth including in those logs. You probably have a smartwatch if you are into running too, and this is a reliable means of checking your heart rate regularly. Log it in the morning before any exercise and then keep an eye on it as training progresses. As you get fitter, the heart rate will come down, but any upward movement over time may suggest that it is time to take a break or schedule a rest day as the body may be struggling to recover.
10. Prioritise your Body’s Signals over a Schedule
You may have planned your training down to the minute, but if your body is telling you it needs a break, that has to take priority over your timings. Pushing even harder when already fatigued will set your training back rather than help your goals.