Ask any runner, and they’ll tell you that a marathon is their “big” goal, the thing they’re working toward achieving within the next few years. Chances are that’s why you’re here – you want to take on this particular challenge. When you think about running a marathon, all 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers of it, there’s something a little superhuman about the concept.
Marathons often hold a mythical status to beginners and seasoned runners alike, and many aspire to have a marathon finish under their belts. And it’s easy to understand why.
When we say “big goal,” a marathon really is a BIG goal – big mileage, preparation, practice, and effort. That’s what makes crossing the finish line such a BIG achievement.
As common as marathons seem to have become in recent years, there’s nothing common about completing your first marathon.
You’ll need to experiment with your pace, fuel, shoes, gear, hydration, and just about everything else you can think of. And that’s what we’re going to go through now – everything you need to know on how to cross that marathon finish line.
If you’re ready to earn your bragging rights, let’s lace up and jump right into it.
- Half Marathons vs. Marathons
- 10 Tips for Marathon Training
- 1. Stick to Your Training and Rest Plan
- 2. Monitor Your Training Volume and Mileage
- 3. Train with Simulated Race Conditions
- 4. Include Marathon Tempo Runs
- 5. Find a Running Group
- 6. Prioritize Your Long Runs
- 7. Don’t Neglect Stretching
- 8. Plan a Few Races
- 9. Allow Flexibility in Your Workouts
- 10. Always Listen to Your Body
- How to Choose a Marathon
- The 4 Elements of Marathon Training
- Marathon Race Day Tips
- 12 Must-Have Marathon Essentials
- Training To Run A Marathon
- Get Started With Your Marathon Training
Half Marathons vs. Marathons
Before tackling your first marathon, you’ll probably do at least a few half marathons. If you haven’t, we highly recommend it. Consider it your “initiation.” And, while half marathons are challenging, there are a few differences when you double the distance.
Here are the main differences between a half marathon and a full marathon:
The most obvious difference between a half and full marathon is, of course, the distance. A half marathon is 13.1 miles or 21.1 kilometers, making it exactly half a marathon, hence the name.
Half marathons are the natural progression once runners have conquered their 5K and 10K goals.
A marathon is 26 miles and 385 yards, but to simplify, we classify it as 26.2 miles. As it’s double the distance, you can expect it to be more challenging as there’s more mileage and more up and down hills.
To non-runners, training for a half marathon may look the same as training for a full marathon, but they would be wrong. Thanks to the shorter distance, you can train for speed in a half marathon. That’s normally the primary goal for longer-distance runners before they tackle the marathon.
But a full marathoner is in for the long haul, which means endurance over speed. That doesn’t mean you can’t train for a faster marathon, but as you’re reading an article about completing your FIRST marathon, the goal is to finish, not finish fast.
Once you’ve trained your body to run a marathon distance without wanting to pack it all in halfway through, you can move on to training for faster miles. To give you a quick idea of how intensive marathon training is: you won’t have many rest days during your marathon training block, and most will be active recovery days, which include light training.
One thing you need to get into your head from the start is that your marathon pace will be considerably slower than your pace for any other race you’ve done (barring trail races with massive elevation). You need to conserve your energy, so you have something left for the final miles.
Your marathon pace will be around 30 to 60 seconds per mile slower than your half marathon pace. If you want a good marathon goal pace to work towards, add 13 minutes to your half marathon time, then double it.
For example, 1 hour 58 minutes + 13 minutes = 2 hours 11 minutes x 2 = 4 hours 22 minutes
This is a great starting goal for your first marathon. Of course, plenty of other factors will influence your time, but this gives you a starting number to work toward.
Hydration and Nutrition
Let’s not pretend that either of these distances aren’t substantial – they both require respect and preparation. But there’s much more wiggle room with your hydration and nutrition in a half marathon.
A full marathon requires a very specific hydration and nutrition plan.
Both need you to fuel your race with carbohydrates every 45 to 60 minutes. This means you’ll need a lot more nutrition during your marathon. You can get away with very little in a half marathon, but you will bonk if you don’t fuel during the race.
Regarding hydration, you need to drink to thirst in both races, but you must ensure you take on around 150 ml of fluids every 15 minutes (this depends on your personal needs based on your training, the heat, humidity, your weight, etc.).
Most races provide aid stations along the way that provide water and sports drinks, so you won’t need to carry anything with you unless you want something specific or the aid stations aren’t at the points you require them after you take a gel.
10 Tips for Marathon Training
As you’ve probably guessed from the advice above, our top tip for running a marathon is to run a half-marathon first. Work your way up slowly before you tackle a full 26.2 miles.
You can visit our half marathon training guide to knock this milestone off first.
But now that you know the differences in preparation between a half and full marathon, let’s look at a few tips you can refer to as you go through your marathon training block.
1. Stick to Your Training and Rest Plan
A marathon is a distance that demands respect.
You can’t just show up on the day, lace your shoes, and expect to run a great race. Ask any professional runner, and they’ll tell you that you need a thorough training plan, and you must stick to it religiously.
A proper training plan has several phases; each week builds upon the previous week. Skipping a workout isn’t ideal when training for a marathon. However, a proper plan will also provide you with enough time to recuperate in the form of active recovery.
One of the biggest mistakes first-time marathoners make is not taking the recovery days when they’re scheduled, going too hard for too long, leading to burnout and injuries. This also means the quality of the workouts is compromised.
Training places immense stress on the body, and it’s during recovery that it adapts and becomes stronger. Without adequate recovery and rest, your body can’t adapt. The definition of recovery and rest is different for each runner.
For some, rest can mean a 30-minute easy shakeout jog with stretching; for others, it can mean a full day off with no exercise. Of course, every athlete needs a day of full rest regularly scheduled into their training plan. Amateur plans will normally include one day per week, whereas more experienced runners’ plans will only have a rest day every 10 to 14 days.
The key is to respect and adhere to this rest day. Do not skip it. This rest day lets your body recover from the strain from previous workouts and prepare for the upcoming workouts.
2. Monitor Your Training Volume and Mileage
Most runners gauge their training volume by their weekly mileage. This number is useful to get an idea of your training volume and when to gradually increase your mileage, but be careful not to place too much value on this metric.
Your training volume is not just how far you run; it’s also how hard (the intensity) you train. A good training plan includes a long run, a tempo workout, and an interval session. All other runs should be gentle, slow, and easy.
You shouldn’t be increasing your weekly mileage by more than 10% per week, and your long run should comprise 20 to 40% of your total distance, i.e., if your weekly mileage in week 1 is 26 miles, your long run should be between 5.2 and 10.4 miles.
3. Train with Simulated Race Conditions
We cannot stress this enough: NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. This means that everything you wear, eat, and drink, and how you run, stretch, and warm up should be exactly the same as you’ve practiced in the weeks and months leading to the marathon.
Simulate marathon conditions as much as you can on your long runs. Drink the fluids and eat the fuel you’ll use on race day to see how they sit in your stomach. Eating and drinking before and after a run isn’t the same as taking on a gel after 10 or 15 miles, so try out different options to see that your stomach doesn’t go South with the chosen fuel.
The same goes for your shoes, clothes, running pack (if you’re going to wear one), cap, etc. Try out different options for each, and once you’ve settled on the best choices for your needs, ensure you do exactly that on race day.
Additionally, while finding the right fluid and fuel for the day is important, so is learning how to consume them. Practice drinking every 15 minutes to get your body used to the bulk. Practice eating gels or bars, so you know how to chew and swallow while moving. The last thing you want is to choke in the middle of a marathon.
Lastly, take a look at the course plan for your chosen marathon. If there are many hills along the route, ensure you include hill training (up AND down hills) each week. If your course is flat, prioritize running at a steady pace.
It goes without saying, you should avoid choosing an overly challenging course for your first marathon!
4. Include Marathon Tempo Runs
Tempo runs are longer runs done at a set, stable pace requiring a sustained effort. You’ll be pushing your body, elevating your heart rate, and testing your stamina. Tempo runs are faster than your normal pace but for a shorter distance than your long runs.
How much faster? Well, to get a real calculation on your tempo pace, you need to get analyzed in a sports science lab. But, if you want a rough number, you can use the following method:
- Find a pace you can maintain for one hour.
- Divide the running time (60 minutes) by the distance (10 km).
- The answer (6 = 6:00 per km/9:39 per mile) is your tempo pace.
Another quick way to run at an appropriate tempo pace is using the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale, which focuses more on how you feel than a set pace per mile. Tempo runs should be comfortably hard, with an RPE between 6 and 8. You shouldn’t be able to say more than two words at a time, but you shouldn’t be gasping.
|RPE||HR %||Talk Level||Maintain Pace Duration||Ideal Race|
|Very Easy||1 – 2||< 60||Normal||Indefinite||N/A – warm-up|
|Easy||3 – 4||60 – 70||3 – 6 word sentences||2 – 5+ hours||Ultramarathon, marathon|
|Hard||5 – 6||70 – 80||2 – 3 word bursts||30 minutes – 2 hours||10k – half marathon|
|Very Hard||7 – 8||80 – 90||1 – 2 words between gasps||8 – 30 minutes||5k or less|
|Maximum||9 – 10||90 – 100||Hard to say 1 word||5 minutes or less||1 mile|
A marathon is a long distance, so training your body to handle strain is the only way to get it used to being placed under strain. This is the purpose of tempo runs. The plus side is that tempo runs offer plenty of other upsides, including improving:
- Lactate threshold
- Mental endurance
- Cardiovascular fitness
- Race day speed
- Mood and focus
Remember not to overdo or underdo your tempo runs – they aren’t the same as your intervals or easy runs. If you’re unsure whether your pace is correct, refer to the RPE table and check your heart rate and talk level.
5. Find a Running Group
Running with an accountability partner or a running group is a great way to keep yourself motivated and in check. If you have a day where you feel tired, sluggish, or demotivated, having people who can encourage and support you is often all you need to get out there.
Group running is a fantastic strategy for your training, but ensure that you don’t get too competitive with those you’re running with, causing you to race one another. Finding someone who’s good at running to pace and control the tempo is also beneficial so you can run without thinking. This will also make time pass faster and the run more enjoyable.
6. Prioritize Your Long Runs
Your speed sessions often take priority when you’re training for a 5K, 10K, 10-mile, or even a half marathon. This is because the shorter distances allow you to push yourself harder due to the shorter time frame. The focus is on running faster.
When it comes to the marathon, your long runs are the bread and butter of your training. After all, a marathon is basically just a really long run. When you start your training block, you may only be doing 5 to 10 miles for your long runs, but that will ramp up fairly quickly. Once you’re running 15 to 18 miles per run, you are dealing with the most critical runs in your program.
Your long runs should be done at about 30 to 60 seconds per mile slower than your predicted marathon pace. But this also varies based on the workouts you’ve done in the days before and how your body’s feeling. If necessary, you may even run 90 seconds slower per mile.
Many marathon runners get caught up worrying about running longer and harder. The long run’s purpose is time on feet to get your body used to the strain over distance, so it’s not shocked on the day.
7. Don’t Neglect Stretching
As runners, we know how much you don’t want to stretch. You just want to get out there and get running. But when training for a marathon, stretching is critical. Not only does it reduce your injury risk, but stretching also improves your performance.
There’s a debate among coaches and professionals about whether you should stretch before or after running or both, but it varies between runners. So try all the options and find which works best for you.
We recommend a simple dynamic stretch routine before you set off at the starting line.
One thing that’s not up for debate is that you MUST stretch. Your routine doesn’t need to be more than 15 minutes and should include your Achilles tendons, calves, calves, hamstrings, quads, back, and upper body. Stretch the tighter areas a bit more.
Another part of the stretching is the warm-up: a brisk walk or slow jog for 10 minutes or so (more if the weather is cold).
8. Plan a Few Races
Racing is a great way to push the boundaries and prepare for the racing environment. But which and how many races are vital questions. The “which” is easy – find shorter local runs (10k to half marathon distances) with similar features to your marathon.
How many depends on the race and your schedule. You don’t want to race too much leading into your marathon, and as most races fall on Saturdays or Sundays, it means giving up a long run or doing a long run following a race, which is not advisable.
Treat races as long tempo runs and practice maintaining a set pace. The set pace should be your marathon goal pace – see how it feels over a longer distance and make adjustments accordingly.
Fair warning, though – most marathon runners struggle to do this. The competitive atmosphere kicks in, and they run too hard. If you can’t control your excitement, avoid races, as overdoing it is not an option in marathon training.
A final word on entering races during marathon training: don’t do any races within 30 days of your marathon. This is your peak training time, and you can’t throw yourself into a race when the marathon is so close.
9. Allow Flexibility in Your Workouts
Life throws curveballs, especially when you least expect it. Just because you’re training for a marathon doesn’t mean life’s going to give you a break. Be willing to adapt and adjust your workouts based on current conditions.
If you find the weather is very cold, windy, or rainy, and you have a 10-mile run or an interval workout scheduled, don’t be afraid to reduce the distance or intensity. Extreme cold or hot weather is harder on the body, increasing your heart rate and decreasing your pace.
Be flexible with your workout requirements when needed. The last thing you want to do is push unnecessarily in one workout only to compromise the quality of the next few runs.
10. Always Listen to Your Body
No one knows your body better than you, so pay careful attention to what it’s telling you. Be honest about what it’s saying. Schedule some recovery time if your body’s been feeling fatigued for the last few days.
Pain and fatigue don’t go away on their own. In fact, ignoring your body will typically only make the problem worse. It’s best to nip problems in the bud early on rather than waiting for them to become a serious issue.
How to Choose a Marathon
Depending on where you live, we can help you with this part!
- 19 Best Marathons in the United States
- 21 Best Marathons in the United Kingdom
- 23 Best Marathons in Canada
- 17 Best Marathons in Australia
Marathons come in all shapes and sizes, from quiet, low-key races in small towns and backcountry roads to large, well-attended spectator-lined city races with thousands of participants. To help you decide which type of race environment you’d prefer, sign up for a half marathon in each setting and see which you prefer.
Selecting a marathon close to where you live may give you a sense of calm being on your home turf, allowing you to run on roads you know so you can focus on running. But choosing a “destination” race may add fuel to the motivation fire, giving you something to focus on and look forward to when you’re doing it tough during training.
Most runners follow a 4- to 6-month training block to prepare for their marathon, which takes an average of 4:21 to finish (4:13 for men and 4:42 for women). Most first-time marathon runners can expect a time between 4 and 6 hours.
Marathons have varying terrain, elevation, and altitudes, which should be factored into your decision. Most first-timers opt for a flat course at lower altitudes on asphalt for ease and enjoyment.
Below, we’ll dive into a few things to consider when selecting a marathon.
Number of Participants
Well-known marathons, like the London, Boston, or New York marathons, draw in thousands of participants, whereas others, like the Niagara Falls Marathon, only have around 800 entrants. The size of the marathon determines the experience you’ll have. You need to know what atmosphere you prefer.
A larger race is ideal if you’d like to run surrounded by runners spurring you on with an exciting, motivating, fun, and distracting vibe. Find a smaller marathon if you’d rather focus on your goal and avoid distractions.
When deciding which race you’ll do as your first marathon, there are a few course factors to consider, including elevation, route surface, altitude, and aid station locations.
Let’s just say, you’d be unwise to attempt something like the Everest Marathon without prior experience!
Choosing a course that’s as flat as possible on an even surface like asphalt or cement at a lower altitude can mean the difference between a blazing success or a heartbreaking failure.
If you’ve decided not to carry hydration and nutrition, check whether the race you’re interested in has aid stations at appropriate points based on your needs. Most marathons will also state what items are available at each station, like water, sports drinks, bananas, and portable toilets. Knowing this information will help you decide if a race is right for you.
No matter where in the world you go, you will likely find a marathon in a town or city nearby. You may want to tie your marathon into a trip to a location you’ve wanted to visit. But you also need to consider that this may be a costly adventure as you’ll need to pay for transport and accommodation.
The week leading up to your marathon requires proper hydration, adequate nutrition, and good sleep. And if you’ve never run a marathon before, your mind will be busy enough trying to get all of these things right without worrying about whether the accommodation you’ve chosen has the type of oats you want pre-race.
If possible, find a race that suits your preferences nearby so you can drive to the start location on the morning of the race after a restful night in your own bed and breakfast in your favorite bowl.
Keeping things as normal as possible will help reduce the nerves too.
This is quite simply the amount of time you need to prepare for your marathon and give yourself enough lead time to do adequate training. Most marathon training programs are 12 to 20 weeks long. When choosing a marathon, you need to consider the weather on the day of the marathon and in the training months.
If you choose a winter marathon, it means you’ll train during summer and autumn. If winters are cold in your marathon’s location, you may have a harder time achieving your goals. Most marathoners choose marathons in autumn or spring, giving them fair-weather conditions for their marathon.
You may need to compensate during your training sessions based on the weather, but at the end of the day, you want the best conditions on race day, not while training.
The 4 Elements of Marathon Training
The base elements involved in marathon training, no matter your experience level, are:
- Easy runs: These runs are what you’ll be doing 70 to 80% of the time. They are easy, sticking to an RPE of 4 or 5. You should feel refreshed at the end of your easy runs.
- Long runs: These are your foundation runs, the mileage where your body learns to cope with the effort of running distance.
- Speed workouts: These are your tempo runs and interval sessions to increase and improve your cardio capacity.
- Recovery and rest: These are days when you do light active recovery or nothing at all. These days prevent burnout and injuries.
Let’s take a look at what each of these elements means for you as you go into your marathon training block.
1. Easy Runs
As we said, most marathon training blocks last 12 to 20 weeks. Beginner marathoners should aim for more time to prepare, at least 16 weeks. You’ll also need to build your weekly mileage up to around 50 miles in the months of training. Most of this mileage will be made up of easy runs.
Most plans will have you doing 2 or 3 easy runs per week. These runs should be at a slow, relaxed pace where you can hold a conversation for the duration. Your marathon training plan will start with much less mileage than it’ll end with. Ensure you never increase your mileage by more than 10% per week.
2. Long Runs
You should do a long run every 7 to 10 days. Long runs shouldn’t exceed 40% of your weekly mileage. Each week, you’ll increase your long run to build up your endurance. Every third long run will be a bit shorter to minimize your injury risk.
For example, if you ran 10 miles in week one and 11 miles in week 2, and 12.5 miles in week 3, you’ll run 10 miles in week 4, then move on to 14 miles in week 5.
Long runs should be done at a comfortable yet challenging pace – harder than your easy runs but not as hard as your tempo sessions. These runs allow your body to adjust to the longer distance, build confidence, and burn fat as fuel.
The maximum distance you should ever cover in your marathon training is 20 miles. But what about the last 6.2 miles you’ll need to run on race day? Don’t stress! Your body will have enough reserves left to cover the distance if you’ve trained properly. You need to ensure you’ve tapered properly, so you have the rest in your legs, then allow crowd support and adrenaline to do the rest.
3. Speed Workouts
Speed workouts are the smallest part of your workout program, but they are critical to building your aerobic capacity so you can run for longer before getting tired. The most common speed workouts are interval sessions and tempo runs.
Interval runs push you to run at your maximum speed and power for short bursts. Intervals require you to run a set time or distance at a specific pace, RPE level, or heart rate zone, pull back, recover for a set time or distance, and then repeat. Intervals allow you to do much more work in less time, so you don’t strain your body.
Tempo runs are different from intervals. Rather than the stop-start reps done in intervals, tempo runs are a sustained effort at a set pace. Tempo runs are challenging and uncomfortable but sustainable. They teach your body and mind to handle challenging efforts over a longer period.
Before starting any workout, especially speed workouts, do a warm-up that includes stretching and a brisk walk or slow jog for 10 to 15 minutes before starting.
4. Recovery and Rest
Recovery days allow your muscles to recuperate while keeping your body moving with light low-impact activities like walking, swimming, cycling, hiking, a strength workout, or yoga. A rest day means absolutely no activity at all. This allows your body to recover from the effort and strain to reduce mental burnout and physical injuries.
The biggest enemy of any runner in training is an injury. The best injury prevention method is allowing your body to recover and rest.
Tapering: The two to three weeks before your marathon are critical to your marathon’s success. They’re the weeks where you start scaling back your mileage and intensity to allow your body to rest for race day.
Marathon Race Day Tips
We said it earlier, but we’ll say it again: Nothing new on race day.
Don’t wear new shoes, even if they’re the same brand and model as your training shoes. Wear the pair you’ve already broken in. Don’t try a new shirt or shorts – who knows what sort of chafing situation that could create?
Not you because you’ve never tested them, and now’s not the time either.
Once you know exactly what you will be wearing, eating, and drinking on race day, keep the following tips in mind.
Before Your Race
You’ll thank us later for this!
- Eat a simple, high-carb breakfast at least 2 hours (more if possible) before your start time. Oatmeal, bagels, sports bars, nuts, and fruit are good as long as you’ve tested them before. Whatever you do, don’t forget to eat!
- Make sure you’re properly hydrated, not just on race day but in the days before the marathon. Drink a large glass of water the night before and the morning of the marathon.
- Add generous amounts of chafe cream or Vaseline to any areas you’re likely to chafe. Your long runs will likely have enlightened you on this, but don’t forget your inner thighs, nipples, and (excuse us) your butt crack – you’ll thank us for that later.
- Arrive at the start line early, preferably an hour or so before. You need time to use the portable toilets, stretch, and warm up. The last thing you want is to be caught in traffic and rush to the gun.
- Most races start quite early in the morning, so the temperature will increase as you get further into the day. It may be cold at the start, but don’t overdress. A quick tip: dress according to the current weather, then remove a layer. Also, wear a jacket you’re prepared to lose, so you can remove it and throw it to the side of the course when you’re warm enough.
- If you want to listen to music or a podcast while running, check whether your marathon allows earphones on the course, as not all marathons allow this. Running with earphones prevents you from hearing what’s happening around you, which can be dangerous.
During Your Race
- Don’t start too quickly. We know this one is hard. You’ll be full of nerves, excitement, and adrenaline. When the gun goes off, you’ll be carried with the crowd’s momentum, but don’t allow yourself to be pushed faster than your goal pace. Monitor this closely, especially over the first 3 to 5 miles, or you’ll pay for it later.
- Don’t skip aid stations or try drinking from a cup while running at race pace. Either slow down and walk while drinking or practice drinking while running on your long runs. You don’t want to dehydrate because you’ve shared too much water with the front of your shirt.
- Draw on the spectators’ energy – they’re there to watch you succeed and will cheer, hoot, and holler to get you amped. Use this to motivate you.
- AVOID the people who are offering donuts and treats along the way. This is a surefire way to get a sugar rush and crash that’ll leave you feeling awful.
- Portable toilets always have long lines at the first couple of aid stations. If you can hold it, wait until the 3rd or 4th station – you’ll spend much less time waiting.
- If you’ve invited friends and family to cheer you on, plan a location where they’ll meet you. Having a familiar face along the way is a huge boost. But not knowing where they’ll stand means you’ll be searching the whole way, distracting you.
Being nervous or anxious before your first marathon is normal, but keeping yourself in check through organization and routine will help you stay calm. Sort your race gear the day before and have everything ready for the morning.
Leave for the race with plenty of time to spare. You want to ARRIVE at least 60 minutes before the start. You shouldn’t feel rushed at any point based on your logistical plan.
Conserve Your Energy
Running is a game of energy – as long as you have energy, you can keep moving. You must top up your energy levels before they get too low. Have breakfast 2 to 3 hours before you start the marathon, then have a sports bar about 30 minutes before starting.
If the weather’s cold, wear just enough to keep you warm but not enough to overheat once you start running. Do a short warm-up jog, about 5 to 10 minutes, followed by stretches to keep your muscles fired without tiring you.
A marathon is a race between you and the distance. If you ask any seasoned marathoner, they’ll tell you the best advice they can offer is to be patient and start sensibly. Sadly, most runners ignore this. Run the first 3 to 6 miles at your goal race pace or just slower.
Settle into the feel of the pace and work on your breathing and form. Don’t worry about time or pace too much. Just stick to an RPE of 5 to 6. If you can’t talk to those around you (not that you have to), you’re going too fast at this stage.
Most runners who hit a wall have inevitably run the first 9 to 12 miles too hard and fast. You should run at a pace where you drive at 19 miles feeling strong and ready to grind to the end.
Push to the End
For the last 6 miles, take it mile by mile, and focus on the mile you’re running. Once you’ve run 20 miles, it can feel so close but so far, and you can become discouraged by the work you still need to put in, so break it down. Dedicate each mile to someone you love and focus on them and fun memories with them for that mile. Whatever it takes to pull through!
While reminiscing, relax your shoulders and check your posture. Focus on a runner just ahead of you and keep the distance between you the same, or slowly start moving to pass them. Small goals can make the big challenge feel more attainable.
After Your Race
So you’ve crossed the finish line and collected your shiny new medal – well done! Pat yourself on the back; you deserve every feeling of satisfaction and pride. But before heading off to the bar for a celebratory beer, there are a few things you need to do to take care of yourself.
Drink at least 2 glasses of water or electrolytes to rehydrate and nourish your muscles. Walk or do a slow jog so your muscles cool down without seizing. Do some gentle stretches, focusing on the muscles that feel tight. And most importantly, grab a post-race snack that’s high in protein to help your muscles start repairing.
You won’t feel like eating, but this step is vital.
Now that everything’s run and done, take at least 7 to 10 days off to let your body rest, heal, and recover.
It’ll feel strange after the 12 to 20 weeks of constant training, but your body has earned this holiday. It can take a surprisingly long time to recover from a marathon’s exertions.
This is the time to eat nourishing food, drink plenty of fluids, get proper sleep, and take care of any injuries and weaknesses you may feel post-marathon. When you start running again, ease into it with short easy runs and build up from there.
12 Must-Have Marathon Essentials
As you’ll have figured out by now, running a marathon requires a higher level of preparation and gear than shorter distances. There are certain items that every marathoner needs to have a successful day. These items include:
- Running Shoes – Your old sneakers are NOT appropriate for marathon training or race day. For a marathon, you need proper running shoes that are a proper fit for your needs.
- Running Socks – The choice for socks is endless, and the pair you choose is personal. Find a pair that wicks moisture, supports your arches, and provides gentle compression.
- Running Watch – You can get away with running a 5K, 10K, and half marathon without a running watch. But there’s too much room for error in a marathon. You need a running watch that will track (at the very least) your pace, distance, and heart rate.
- Water Bottles – This may not be relevant on race day, thanks to the aid stations, but running bottles are a must during training. You can’t do 13-mile training runs hoping you’ll pass a water fountain. Preparation is key.
- Running Pack or Belt – We mentioned that most marathons have well-stocked aid stations, but if you rely on a specific brand of gel or bar, you’ll need to carry it with you, both during training and on race day. Try out different running packs and belts to see what works best.
- Phone Holder – Many runners prefer running without their phones, which is fine for training. But you’ll need it with you on race day to coordinate your transport or if there’s an emergency. If you run with a pack, you can simply pop it in the pack, but if not, a phone holder that straps to your arm is very helpful.
- Identification – Don’t leave your home without identification during training or the race. If something happens to you while running, authorities need to know who you are to contact your family.
- Waterproof Sunscreen – Another one that’s relevant for training and race day. Ensure your sunscreen is waterproof, or you’ll sweat it right off. The last thing you need on top of tired muscles is a sunburn.
- Sunglasses – If you do a lot of training in the late morning or afternoon, we can’t emphasize how much a pair of sports sunglasses will improve the experience. You don’t need anything fancy, just something that stays on your face and shields your eyes.
- Anti-Chafe Cream – This is an item that every runner MUST have. No matter your gender, size, speed, age, or experience level, you’ll chafe at some point. Believe us. Apply anti-chafe cream or Vaseline to the risk areas and be generous.
- Headphones – These are more for training than race day, but depending on your marathon, you may be able to listen to music and podcasts to keep your mind busy as you’re running. We prefer bone-conduction headphones as you can still hear what’s happening around you while wearing them.
- Recovery Tools – When it comes to recovery tools, there are so many things to choose from, so it comes down to your preferences. But make sure you have the tools needed to aid recovery, such as a massage gun, foam roller, hot gels, anti-inflammatories, etc.
Training To Run A Marathon
So, we’ve covered everything from pace and nutrition to heart rate zones and mindset. Now, we’ll look at a rough guide of the training you need to run a marathon successfully.
Most training plans are between 12 and 20 weeks and require that you can run 5 miles without walking. If you aren’t at that point yet, allow another 6 to 8 weeks to reach this step, then start with the plan of your choice.
What should your marathon training plan include?
If you’re reading this, we’re assuming you don’t have a coach or trainer, and you’re going at it alone, and that’s perfectly fine! There are so many plans available online that you’ll easily be able to find something that suits you. But every marathon plan requires a few basics, so ensure the plan you choose has these:
- 1 long run
- 1 tempo run
- 1 interval run
- 2 – 3 easy runs
- 2 cross-training sessions
- 3 – 4 strength sessions
The way these workouts are configured varies from plan to plan, but an example could be:
- Monday: Strength
- Tuesday: Tempo Run
- Wednesday: Cross Training or Easy Run + Strength
- Thursday: Easy Run + Intervals
- Friday: Rest
- Saturday: Cross Training or Easy Run + Strength
- Sunday: Long Run
The distances will be determined by your experience and fitness levels. If possible, we recommend speaking to a coach, trainer, or someone with experience finishing multiple marathons to guide you.
Get Started With Your Marathon Training
Running your first marathon is nothing to scoff at – in fact, it will put you in an elite group: less than 1% of the world’s population has run a marathon.
But there’s a reason why completing a marathon is such a rare feat — it’s hard, really hard!
You’ve got to have patience, dedication and a whole lot of cardio to reach that finish line.