Earlier this year, I wrote a post about how to know if you are ready to run a marathon.
Not long after the post went up, I was talking to another runner in my running club. It surprised her that I hadn’t included any specifics, for example, how many miles a week she should be running before she started marathon training.
This was intentional.
I don’t think there are technical requirements you have to meet before you start training. Even if you’ve never run a mile, you can still start training for a marathon.
Don’t get me wrong, your timeline will be drastically impacted based on where start. If you’ve never run a mile, breaking out an off-the-shelf 16 or 18 week training program is a recipe for disaster, but a 6-10 month couch to marathon plan? Totally doable (that’s basically what I did when I started training for my first marathon).
Training for a marathon is a mindset as much as it is a physical activity. But there are a few practicalities you should get in line before you start training for a marathon.
Things To Do Before You Start Training For Your First Marathon
Build a Base
Before you start a 16 or 18 week marathon training plan, you should fairly consistently and fairly comfortably be running 3-4 times a week, 25-30 miles a week, with a long run of about 6-8 miles.
Not there yet?
Add an additional 6-10 weeks (or more) into your training plan, giving yourself time to build that running base.
Give your body the chance to adapt to all that running.
Build a Strong Running Habit
Get used to running regularly and consistently.
Get used to running on days when you don’t want to.
Get used to running when the weather is less than ideal.
Learn the tricks that (usually) work to get you out the door or that will keep you running on days when you have zero motivation or internal drive.
Get your body and your mind used to running on particular days. Do track on Tuesday and long runs on Saturday (or whatever works for you). Eventually, it will start to feel odd NOT to run on those days.
Habit and routine are your friends during marathon training.
Sure, running is a cardio exercise. But that doesn’t mean you can give strength work a pass.
Don’t think of strength work as an optional cross-training activity to do if and when you get around to it. Consider it a necessary part of your marathon training.
Start strength work now. It is good for your muscles and your joints (decreasing your risk of injury) and it will increase your power, flexibility, balance and mobility.
Your strength routine doesn’t need to be complex or elaborate, just 10-15 minutes of body-weight strength moves 2-3 times a week after a run can make a huge difference. Focus on the following areas:
- The lower body is an obvious focus for runners. Lunges and squats are great options for your legs and butt.
- Your core is your foundation and will help you maintain your form as you run. A strong core prevents mid-run slouching. Planks and glute bridges will strengthen and stabilize your abs and spine.
- It’s easy to overlook your upper body as a runner, but your arms are part of the kinetic chain and your arms driving forward and back on the run will give you additional power. Pushups, planks (again with the planks!) tricep dips, and inverted rows will strengthen your upper body.
Zero In On Gear and Fueling
The hunt for the perfect shoes and the perfect gear is a never ending quest.
If you haven’t yet found a pair of shoes you like, head out to a specialty running store and get their advice for shoes that will work for your body and your running goals.
Ladies- find a supportive running bra. The power of a great bra cannot be understated. I often say: I became a runner because I found a good pair of shoes, I stayed a runner because I found a good jog bra.
Start testing fuel and hydration packs and anti-chafing balms.
It’s rare you’ll find just the right thing right out the gate, and it will take trial and error to find out what works for you. The time to experiment is now. If something doesn’t work on shorter runs, it sure isn’t going to work on marathon training long runs.
Also, start experimenting with on-the-run fuel. You will need to refuel on the run to get you through the longest long runs, so start testing your options now. What works for your body? What will keep you energized? What will work with your stomach?
Consider What You Want In a Training Plan
While you don’t necessarily need to choose a training plan before you officially start training, begin to consider what you want in a training plan.
Two runs a day? Regular cross training? Speed work?
Consider your lifestyle and your other obligations. The most objectively perfect training plan in the world (even if it were to exist) won’t be the right plan for you if it requires weekly track work and you know deep-down you won’t do it.
Considering what you want in advance, and knowing what you (and your calendar) will allow for will make zeroing in on a plan (or developing a plan, or helping your coach develop your plan, depending on what approach you are taking) that much easier later.
Up Your Mental Game
Get comfortable being uncomfortable on the run.
Get used to boredom on the run, either by distracting yourself, or by embracing the boredom and using long (and occasionally) boring runs as a moving meditation.
Consider your marathon why and turn that why into a mantra or a visualization that you can call on when you need an extra boost.
Develop the mental skills you’ll need on the run before you need them.