The Idiot’s Guide to Training for a Marathon

Don’t read this article and then go run a marathon. But if you love running in the outdoors, participating in a marathon has probably crossed your mind once or twice. So before you go adding it to your bucket list, let’s put a little Vaseline on our nether regions and talk about what this endeavor entails — at least so you understand what you’re getting yourself into.

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Where to Start Your Training
Before beginning your training it is best to take an honest assessment of your current skill level and work from there. So set a realistic time you’d eventually like to finish in (and then, let’s be honest, double it). Most experts agree that aspiring marathoners should keep a consistent base mileage for at least one year before tackling a marathon. That should be enough time for you to come to your senses.

Choosing the Right Marathon for Your Skill Level
Think small. Okay so there’s no such thing as a small marathon, but although you may be used to setting your sights on much higher goals, with marathons, smaller is better. Think about training for a 5k, 10k or half marathon before putting your body through the training for a full marathon.

When it comes to location, marathons can be a great way to experience the tranquility of a quiet, backcountry road or to simultaneously experience excruciating pain with thousands of participants in a nearby urban center. For your first marathon, you may want to pick something close to home where you can enjoy a home field advantage and familiar terrain. Conversely, you may want to run where no one you know will see your armpits bleeding.

Invest Time in Your Training
Marathon training will take up a lot of your time. Tell all of your non-runner friends you’ll see them in six months and then break down your training into these four simple segments:

  • Base Mileage — Run three to five times a week to slowly build your base mileage up over time.
  • Long Runs — Every 7 to 10 days you should be challenging your body and mind with a long run so that you can slowly adjust to running longer distances.
  • Increase Speed — Practice speed work with tempo runs and intervals that increase your cardio capacity and up your overall strength.
  • Rest Days — After pushing your body to the limit, you’ll need adequate rest and recovery days to avoid injury. Hint: if you’re focusing exclusively on rest days, technically you’re not actually training for a marathon.

Additional Training Tips

  • For most marathoners in training, you’re looking at 12 to 20 weeks of training before race day.
  • To decrease the potential for injury… ah, never mind. You’re going to be sore in places you never knew you had and you’re going to get injuries you’ve never heard of. It’s all part of the fun!
  • Increase your base mileage with three to five runs each week, shooting for a total of 50 miles a week before race day.
  • Rest days mean no running at all. Take these days to work on stretching your muscles in other ways by practicing low-impact workouts like yoga, swimming, Pilates, or your fight club.

Get Advice from an Expert
Once you’ve got the basic training steps down, it may be time to seek advice from an expert. The good news is marathon “experts” are not hard to find. Working with a trainer is a great way to make sure you’re hitting your goals and staying safe on your journey to running in a marathon. And if you know a friend or family member who has trained before, it can be fun to join them on their training. Plus they’re more likely to already have your emergency contact info.

Originally published at on April 27, 2016.

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