More and more people these days are training to run a marathon as an exercise regimen and a way to accomplish a big goal. They aren’t in it to win it but to finish—and to feel that amazing sense of conquering something challenging. But a marathon is 26.2 miles—you need to know what you’re doing and how to do it.
Before you start to train for a marathon, you need to have been running for at least 12 weeks, be able to run 30 minutes comfortably and be in basically good health. From there you’ll need several months to get ready for the race.
Marathon training usually involves running four to five days a week and resting or cross training on two or three. Most regimens suggest doing shorter runs during the week and longer runs on weekends when you have more time, but you can tweak the schedule to what suits you best. Each week you’ll add distance.
First priority: good shoes. You’ll be logging lots of miles in training, and you need to take care of your feet. Head to a good sporting goods store, find a knowledgeable employee, preferably an actual runner, and get professionally fitted. This is not the time for discount shoes or shoes that look cool but don’t feel right. You do not want to break them in—they should feel good from the start. You also need good socks and athletic clothes that won’t rub or irritate and will soak up sweat.
Everyone who wants to run a marathon should start well in advance with a plan. Get a notebook and, at a minimum, keep track of the distance and time of each run. You might also note your route, the weather conditions and anything you felt in your body as you ran.
Go over your log regularly; that way you’ll spot the cause of problems or injuries if something goes wrong, determine what works and what needs improvement and motivate yourself to keep training even on days you feel tired.
A marathon is a major run, but your training has to include much more than running. In fact, recovery days—the days you don’t run at all—are just as important to reaching your goal because your body needs time to rest and build stamina.
Marathon training includes cross training, which helps prevent injury and burnout and build your cardiovascular strength; a few days a week you should plan to swim or bike or use the elliptical machine. Simple strength training exercises two days a week will help boost your power and build the abdominal and back muscles you’ll need to reach your goal. Flexibility and balance are also important components of being able to complete a marathon, so incorporate lots of stretching, yoga or Pilates into your schedule.
Training for a marathon is not the time to go on a diet. A smart nutrition plan is just as important as all the running and workouts you’ll be doing—to work your body hard, you need to give it the right fuel. Carbohydrates may have a bad rap in everyday life, but carbs are a marathon runner’s best friend because they provide tons of energy—look for brown rice and whole grain breads and pastas.
You’ll also want to eat lots of lean protein—fish, white meat chicken, lean cuts of turkey or ham—and plenty of fruits and vegetables for the vitamins and antioxidants. And stay hydrated—hard training stresses your body, and water helps you recover and stay energized.
You’ll need support to stay on your training plan, so tell all your friends and family about your goal and let them encourage you along the way. There may be personal trainers at the campus fitness center who have experience prepping for a marathon and can help build a fitness plan for you. Maybe you even know someone who would want to train with you.
There are runners around the world who can help you and give you tips on training. Check out Runner’s World, Cool Running, Runner’s Planet, Marathon Rookie and Marathon Training to find all sorts of great articles by real runners who know what they’re doing. You can also turn to Team in Training, a great program in which people who agree to do a run as a fundraiser for cancer research get a training regimen, nutrition and injury prevention tips and sometimes even transportation to the race site.
Running a marathon is really hard—and it’s not for everyone. Running should make you feel great and rejuvenated, not discouraged and unhappy. There will be days you’re sore and tired, but if you find yourself dreading your training and hating each run, maybe this just isn’t for you. Hopefully you’ll really get into your marathon training—if so, congratulations! You’re on your way to being one of the very few people who can say they accomplished a marathon.
A great resource for a free marathon training schedule that includes an accompanying 9 part video course can be found here: http://runnersconnect.net/marathon-training-schedule/