How to Train for a Marathon

Photo Credit: Miguel A Amutio

The sweltering heat of summer has passed and thoughts towards cooler temperatures and shorter days are here. Usually, summer conjures up more vacation memories and beach days than training days. Sometimes, it’s just too darn hot to train for hours on end, running everywhere in the city that is fraught with pavement heat, feet that swell up in your shoes, and a constant sweat that lingers after a long run of miles on the road. But, training for a marathon is so much more than simply weather implications, either hot or cold. Read on if you’re wondering how to train for a marathon.

The decision to take on a marathon is more of a lifelong goal. Not everyone is cut out for the rigors of months of training, from the track to hill repeats, to logging countless miles on the road or trail. It takes dedication, discipline, and a sincere willingness to carve out the time each and every day, planning a schedule of weekly runs and rest days, as well as which race you want to enter based on degree of difficulty or proximity to your location of residence. 

Most people who choose their first marathon do so with the intent to just “finish” the race. It can go beyond that. The marathon experience comprises three points: preparation, determination, and graduation. These three elements will most definitely take over three or four months of nose-to-the-grindstone training, yet the end result will always leave you with a feeling of exhilaration. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned pro, marathon training requires a full commitment to the process, right down to the daily dietary habits.

The question remains, is now the time to start training for a marathon? If you take into account your current level of fitness, factor in work and family commitments, the time of year the actual race takes place, it is quite feasible to begin your training regimen. You just have to want to do it. You have to commit to it. You have to plan for it. You have to start running, plain and simple. There doesn’t need to be any fancy gadgets or the shiniest upgrades to your wardrobe, you just have to run more consciously and consistently, and do so with your attitude in check.

How to Train for a Marathon

Here are the three main elements on how to train for a marathon:

1. Weekly running schedule

It is easy to fall into a lackluster way of running each and every day or week. Most first-time marathoners need to plan for 13 weeks out, with mileage building to a maximum of 40 to 55 miles at the middle of the training plan. Beginning with a modest mileage amount will ensure that you are preparing yourself safely for the training schedule, especially as you ramp up to the 20-miler that usually happens in the 9th to 10th week of training prior to the race.

It’s important not to exceed 20 or 22 training miles, as your body can’t blow out its reserves prior to race day. The tapering process happens after the longest run of the 13-week program, and more rest days are included as well.

2. Mental edge

There is a true psychological process that occurs during marathon training. With every run building upon the previous run, the mind and body, and spirit, are uniting and creating a real place where you have more than just an endorphin rush. You are transforming your lung capacity, increasing your blood flow, lowering your resting heart rate, and physiological changes are happening within the outer and inner body. This all contributes to the marathon experience.

If you know this ahead of time, you will be prepared for much more than just running miles on end. You will experience one of the greatest endurance feats for your body. Having a healthy mindset, knowing your limits, and listening to the demands of the training schedule, you now have the ability to make decisions on which race you need to enter, what time of year works best for your fitness level, and how to balance work and family. It all has to be part of the program, otherwise you risk sabotaging your marathon training efforts, and the mental enhancement it offers.

3. Nutrition

This goes without saying that what you put into your body the minute you wake up, directly affects your training performance. What you eat after each running workout also affects your performance. There are experts in this field who can guide you to your best marathon race.  Choosing to eat properly and effectively for your race can truly make or break the outcome.  

Back in the day, it was easy to eat whatever you wanted, run like crazy, and hope for the best. Now, due to nutrition and sports conditioning being a true science, healthy dietary practices have to play a part in your running. Carbohydrate loading is an art. It is not simply eating a plate of pasta the night before race day; it goes beyond that. 

The best suggestion would be to study previous athletes and what their diet consisted of during marathon training. If you can’t afford a professional nutritionist to help with the process, at least research what diet works best for you. The nutrition is based on your age, your running output, your desired race result, convenience, affordability, and palatability. It wouldn’t be wise to go on a diet during marathon training time. Granted, the training alone will cause some weight loss, but that is not the main goal of doing a marathon. Eating for performance is the optimum goal during your weekly schedule.

Whether you are opting for a race in the autumn or winter months, it is best to know in advance what time of year works best for your desired schedule. Most marathons happen in the spring or fall, and this is all based on the weather. Most training happens in late summer or early winter. Either way, preparation is vital to completing a successful race. Even if you don’t have “racing” it on the brain, training for a marathon is such a worthy goal as a runner.

How do you train for a marathon? When’s the best time to prepare for a marathon? Please let us know in the comments below.


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