Train & Gain: How To Prepare For A Marathon

With the new year here, many health newbies look toward a rather lofty goal: running their first marathon. But going from the couch to 26.2 miles, or even from one workout regimen to a new one, takes preparation and lots of training.

In fact, preparation for a marathon is a marathon in itself. Completing a marathon takes dedication and commitment. But the word “marathon” isn’t just a description of a 26.2 mile endurance race—it’s also a description of the weeks and long hours of training as well as your diet and nutrition, knowing what to wear and protecting your body against potential injury. Here is everything you need to know to prepare for your first marathon.

Preparation and Training

The first step is always the hardest. In the beginning, chances are you’re going to come up with every excuse in the book not to run. This is the mental fight, and running a marathon in your mind is part of the process of steeling yourself for the physical race. Running a marathon is an exciting prospect, but don’t be surprised if you’re slow getting off the block. Once your inner cheerleader kicks in, you’re ready for some serious training.

In order to run your first marathon, Runner’s World recommends three to six months of quality training. On average, you should run three to five times per week, and increase your weekly mileage total the closer you get to race day. Consistency is key, as it allows your body to get accustomed to running for long periods of time. In the beginning, aim for running 15 to 20 miles per week, and then gradually build to a peak week of 30 to 40 miles.

In addition, don’t attempt to complete a marathon before you have run a couple of 5k races; running a race with several hundred participants and overzealous spectators is different than training alone or with a friend. Running a few 5k races will help you gain experience. As a newbie, don’t hesitate to seek out a training group, club or coach to help you with your schedule. You want the excitement to outweigh the agony on race day.

The best way to prevent injury is to slowly and gradually increase your training. Rotate your training schedule between hard and easy workout days, and always reserve one day a week for complete rest. Be sure to stretch before and after your run (some runners love yoga, too). The most important thing, however, is to listen to your body.

What You Should Eat and Drink

You need a good meal plan to maximize your running potential. A training diet will help you go that extra mile. The best way to boost performance is to keep it simple: eat too little, and you’ll run out of energy; eat too much, and you’ll be anchored to the pavement. According to sports nutritionist James Collins, “the more you’re training, the more carbohydrates you need to fit into your diet.”

  • Before your run. When you’re training, eat a high-carb, low-fiber meal beforehand. Add a little protein, too, to help sustain energy levels. Eating a meal three to four hours before you run gives the body a chance to fully digest, but most people don’t have that much time between meals and when they run. Carbs in the form of buckwheat (think pancakes or waffles), pasta, lentils and quinoa are good options. Add protein with a hard-boiled egg or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. A pre-run meal should consist of a couple hundred calories.
  • During your run. You’re going to need to fuel up on the road. Sports drinks such as Gatorade, energy gels, energy chews (Cliff Shot Bloks), energy bars and caffeinated carbs are great ways to stay strong and energized so you can finish the race. It’s recommended that if you run one to two hours, then you should consume 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise.
  • After your run. Muscle tissue needs to be repaired, so eat a meal rich in protein such as salmon or steak. Add a side dish of sweet potato or sautéed spinach. A smoothie is a good option—blueberries, cherries and pomegranates are rich in antioxidants that help the body repair itself. Other good post-run recovery meals include a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, a vegetable omelet and carb-rich foods to restock glycogen levels. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during and after your run.

What You Should Wear

Runners can be fussy about what they wear during marathons. Some love gloves and other accessories, others opt for a minimalist approach, swearing that the smallest seam that starts to rub can magnify exponentially. Weather plays a role in what you wear, too. While you don’t need to break the bank to get ready for a marathon, here are a few clothing essentials.

  • A good pair of running shoes. They’re the only thing between you and the road, so invest in a pair that provides plenty of cushioning and support.
  • Shirt, shorts, socks. Don’t buy cotton items. Buy clothes made out of synthetic materials. Synthetics breathe and wick moisture, which will keep you more comfortable and reduce the risk of chafing.
  • Weather related accessories. A hat/visor, sweatband and sunglasses are important if you’re training in the warmer months. If it’s cold, consider wearing a jacket with weather protection and gloves.

Apps to Help Your Train

Staying motivated to run a marathon can be challenging. Sometimes an app is a good way to keep you on track and in marathon-running shape.

  • MilePost (Available on iOS and Android) This running inspiration app will help you go that extra mile.
  • MyFitnessPal (Available on iOS and Android) Modify your diet and lifestyle with new recipes and workout goals.
  • C25k (Available on iOS and Android) Short for “Couch to 5k,” this app gets you in shape and ready to run a 5k race in eight weeks.

With the right training and preparation, you’ll be going the distance in no time.