How to Prepare for a Marathon [Guide to Help You Crush Your First 26.2]
Are you up for the challenge of running a marathon? Running a total of 26.2 miles is no small feat, but it can be done with the proper preparation and mental attitude.
You might be wondering how to prepare for a marathon. And how to actually run it!
In this article, we’ll explain how to properly prepare for a marathon to maximize your chances of success.
1. Training And Preparing For A Marathon
“It is no secret that practice makes perfect.” Well, running a marathon is certainly a case in point.
Start preparations early. To become a successful marathoner, you must start very early. It is usually recommended that you run consistently for at least one year before beginning a marathon training program.
Make realistic goals. Don’t try to run every day, and remember to have rest days. Increase your mileage bit-by-bit every week and have some variety with interval training and tempo runs. Building weekly mileage too soon is a common cause of injury (been there, done that!).
Once you can regularly run 20–30 miles a week, you can begin preparing for a marathon.
Other activities. You should also maintain proper nutrition, stay hydrated throughout the day, get enough restful sleep every night, and promptly treat any aches or pains. You can also include some strength training in your training program.
Have support. Family and friends can be a huge help during those tough days. They can help keep things interesting while you build the mental toughness needed for 26 miles!
Motivation. The right motivation and consistent effort can enable almost anyone to run a successful marathon.
Don’t go straight to a marathon. First, you should run some shorter races, like 5K, 10K, or a half marathon. That way, you can prepare for what is waiting for you on a race day.
As we proceed with our preparations, let’s take some time now to choose the right marathon.
2. Choosing The Right Marathon.
The right marathon can make all the difference. Marathons range from small local races to major international events like the Boston or New York City Marathons.
Consider factors such as terrain (flat roads or hilly trails?), weather conditions (warm or cold?), and time available for training and travel arrangements.
Knowledge of the terrain is essential, as hills, turns, and other features will affect your pace and energy output.
Some marathons are more beginner-friendly than others (here is our list of beginner-friendly marathons).
3. Establishing A Training Plan
To get to the finish line, you must establish a training plan and stick to it. Most runners take 16-20 weeks to prepare for the big race, so creating a plan that works best for you is vital.
When establishing a training plan, several key components go into it.
1. The first is weekly mileage, which means building your weekly base mileage over time by three-to-five easy weekly runs. During the first months, increase your weekly mileage by 10 % per week. Over the last few months before the race, you should strive for 50 miles weekly.
2. Then comes the weekly long run. These should be done every 7–10 days. These runs should be done much, much slower than other weekly runs. Build the distance gradually, for example, by a mile every week, but on some weeks, make it a couple of miles shorter so that you don’t strain yourself too much.
Marathon training plans do not include running the entire length of the marathon during training. You should aim for 18-20 miles on those long runs at most, as that is close enough but doesn’t strain you too much.
3. Different types of running workouts, such as intervals and tempo runs, can add variety to your training. They will help boost your cardio capacity and make your activities more fun.
4. Rest days are also important to any marathon training plan. Proper rest helps prevent injuries and mental burnout.
5. If you want to exercise more, adding another form of exercise alongside running is better than just increasing your mileage. Walking, cycling, swimming, and strength training are good forms of additional exercise. For example, squats and lunges target core muscles that affect running.
6. Last couple of weeks before the marathon. Taper well. Reduce the amount of running and exertion considerably for the last couple of weeks. The hard runs at the last minute are not helping; on the contrary. Make sure your body is rested for race day.
4. Knowing Your Goals
Running a marathon with clear goals can help you achieve them.
It may be helpful to break up larger goals into smaller ones, for example, “I want to run 20 miles this week” rather than “I need to finish the marathon in under five hours.”
Keep track of your progress so any changes in your training plan can be seen immediately!
5. Maintaining Nutrition And Hydration
Marathon training requires adequate hydration and nutrition. Staying hydrated during and after workouts is crucial.
Wear a running hydration belt if you become dehydrated quickly during longer training runs.
It is crucial to strike a balance between proteins, carbohydrates, and fluids. Poor nutrition can derail your hard work.
6. Pre-Race Preparation
Preparation for a race involves several steps.
Gear. Prepare your race gear ahead of time. Properly fitting shoes and clothing are essential. You might need sunglasses, a hat, and a running belt to carry water and energy gels.
During training runs, watch for areas that may get chafing.
Protect them by applying vaseline or anti-chafing palm.
Race day gear should always be familiar. Test and use everything beforehand (read more about Tips on How to Break in New Running Shoes).
Race guidelines. Check the pre-race instructions on picking up your race number. They might explain how to check your extra gear at the start of the race. Note that some races do not allow hydration vests.
Use of headphones. There are different rules regarding the use of headphones at various events. Headphones might be banned because you may not be able to hear race instructions, traffic noise, and other environmental sounds if you wear them.
So check the rules if you plan to listen to music during a race.
Note that bone-conduction headphones, like Shokz OpenRun, don’t block surrounding sounds.
Terrain. Review the course maps to understand the terrain you will face. You’ll better know what pace to expect and how you will perform on race day.
Hydration. Stay well hydrated up to a few days before your race. Drink some water every hour (there is no exact number, it depends on the weather and how you feel). Drink enough water in the morning of the race but not too much to feel bloated.
Nutrition. Make a plan for when you’ll need to eat the night before and throughout the race day. Try to eat breakfast well before your start time. Have only some light snacks before the race.
The temperature at the start time. Many marathons start early in the morning, and it might be chilly. It’s likely to get warmer during the race, so don’t overdress. Try to keep yourself warm until the race starts. You can wear some old clothes that you can discard once you get warmed up.
Start group placement. Toilet queues can be long, so keep this in mind when moving toward the start area. Have enough time (30-60 minutes) to find your start group.
As preparations have been made, transitioning from pre-race to race is easier.
9. Race Strategies
Now that you’ve finished your pre-race preparation, it’s time to focus on race strategies.
As you review the course map, find the locations of water stops, aid stations, and portable toilets. The first toilets are usually the most crowded.
There are often gels or electrolyte drinks available on the course. You should only use these products if you have practiced using them. Even slight variations in sugar concentration can cause stomach upset. Bring your own supply.
Stick with your hydration and eating plan (that you have practiced on your long training runs). This is not the time to change the plan.
The start of the race is usually slow, as it is so crowded, but it will thin out as it progresses. A slow start allows you to warm up your muscles and saves you from sprinting out too fast.
Keep going slowly. Usually, a fast start is a recipe for disaster. You can start running faster later in the race if you feel strong.
It is the last few miles of the marathon that are the hardest. Mentally prepare yourself, so you won’t be surprised by their difficulty.
10. Recovery And Reflection
After the finish line, it is time for recovery. Post-race fatigue can be managed through physical rest, mental relaxation, and dietary changes.
Rehydrating and refueling help your muscles to recover faster by replacing lost electrolytes. Walking around and gently stretching for about an hour after the race will reduce soreness and stiffness.
In the days following a race, taking a break from strenuous activity allows your body to replenish glycogen (stored carbohydrates) that was depleted during the race.
Listen to your body when recovering from a marathon – if pain persists for more than two days, seek medical attention!
Your reflections should include positive outcomes, such as completing a challenging task or setting a personal record, and areas that could be improved.
Make a note of what went right or wrong during the run. You can develop a better strategy for your next race with these insights!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Can I Find The Right Running Shoes For A Marathon?
Most experts recommend having moderate-to-high cushioning in your marathon shoes.
The type of feet you have will also determine whether you need neutral or stability shoes.
Additionally, stick to the heel-to-toe drop that works for you.
For example, Hoka Clifton and Brooks Glycerin are popular cushioned shoes. But you can visit a local store to try different running shoes. Some shops will even let you take them out for a test run!
A marathon should never be run in new shoes. New shoes haven’t been broken in, so they can put more stress on your feet and lower body.
Finally, it’s important to replace your footwear regularly. Most experts suggest buying new running shoes after 400-600 miles of use. Doing so will ensure your feet remain safe and supported throughout your marathon journey.
What Is The Best Way To Mentally Prepare For Running A Marathon?
Preparing mentally for a marathon is just as important as physical preparation.
Remember why you started and believe in yourself. Keep in mind all the hard work and dedication you put into your preparations, which will motivate you to finish.
Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Instead of thinking, “I’m so tired,” remind yourself that you’re doing your best.
Break down the distance into smaller goals and set realistic expectations to ensure an enjoyable race. Focusing on each mile marker one at a time will make crossing the finish line seem achievable.
How Can I Prevent Injury During Marathon Training?
Preventing injury is crucial since it can make or break your preparations. According to one study, most runners who suffered overuse injuries had only been running for less than five years.
So regardless of your experience level, preparation is essential!
While preparing to run a marathon, you should take some steps to protect yourself from harm:
- Increase mileage and intensity gradually to prevent strains on your body and to allow your body to adjust.
- Rest days will help your muscles and mind recover between runs, so make sure you have them regularly.
- While training for a marathon, cross-training exercises such as swimming, strength training, and yoga can also help build muscular endurance in different body parts.
Know what your body needs. Ensure adequate nutrition and muscle recovery. You can reduce the risk of injury this way.
The Bottom Line
Marathon running is a remarkable accomplishment! But with enough preparation and training, anyone can reach the finish line.
If you’re up for a challenge and ready to try something new, sign up for that race today and get set on the path toward becoming a marathoner. Good luck!