Marathon Running Tips for Beginners: Your Journey to 26.2 Miles

marathon running tips for beginners
In this article, I'll guide you through some essential marathon running tips for beginners, ensuring that your journey is safe, enjoyable, and successful.

Embarking on this incredible journey will test your physical and mental endurance like nothing else. But fear not, because with the right approach and a dash of determination, you can cross that finish line with your arms raised high.

So, let me start by congratulating you on taking on this monumental challenge. And let's get into tip #1 with a discussion about the size of that challenge...

Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #1 – Don't Underestimate the Size of the Challenge

marathon running tips for beginners
One of the first questions you may have as a beginning runner is, "How long does it take to prepare for a marathon?".

I will start with my preferred approach. Then I'll talk to the alternatives.

Ideally, I would like to see somebody go from:

  • 0 to 30 minutes non-stop running in 12 weeks with this Beginners Running Program
  • Take another 12 weeks to build up to a 10k, with a 10k Running Program.
  • Take another 12 weeks to build up to a half marathon, with a Half Marathon Running Program

  • And then take 16 to 20 weeks to prepare for a first marathon. This is an approach that takes well over a year. The marathon is tough. Training for the marathon is tough. It takes a lot in terms of dedication. Not everybody wants to take this amount of time. So, let's move on to the next section.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #2 – How About A "Couch to Marathon" Running Program?

    marathon running tips for beginners
    I see lots of beginning runners get into a "couch to marathon" running program enthusiastically. Only to drop off along the way. Because the build up is too tough and the training is too demanding.

    So, if I were your coach and had full say over your running program. I would say: let's first build up to 30 minutes of running. Then let's build up to a 10k. Then let's build up to a half marathon.

    You will get all the benefits of running. You will build up your endurance, you will get fitter and faster. Let's get you used to running consistently for 3-4 times per week. Let's get you used to doing a regular weekly long run of well over 60 minutes. Then you have got much of the building blocks in place to start a marathon campaign.

    But, you might say, I don't have that much time. My marathon is nine months away, six months away, maybe only four months away.

    Well, it is not to say you cannot finish a marathon with reduced preparation time. But I just want you to get into this with eyes wide open. The journey to the marathon will be tough. You are taking, in my eyes, some shortcuts. You would be wise to focus on "just" finishing the marathon. Without having lofty time goals in sight. You may have to be quite conscious about using a run/walk approach, both in your long runs and in your marathon. You do run a bigger risk of getting injured.

    But, if this is your timeline and this is your plan, then I am not going to stop you. And yes, you can still successfully complete a marathon. Alright, that's enough with the brutal awakening stuff. And maybe you have decided not to listen to this Debbie Downer anymore. That's ok. I can only try to be as clear as possible about the challenges ahead.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #3 - The Importance of Consistency and Number of Runs per Week

    marathon running tips for beginners
    However long your journey to the marathon starting line is, consistency is the backbone of successful marathon training. Make a schedule and stick to it. As best as possible. Sometimes stuff happens. Life gets in the way and you might miss the occasional training session. But, be honest to yourself. Consistently missing training sessions? Then your marathon performance will suffer.

    Consistent running will help your body adapt and improve over time. More regular running, funnily enough, also reduces the risk of injury. You get more time to gradually build up your running. And you get your body more used to the stresses of running.

    How often should you run per week?
    I have seen marathon running programs with only three runs per week. Again, as per the start of this article, I don't think that is ideal. I'd like to see you run four times per week at least.

    However, it depends a lot on your goals. Want to get the most out of your experience and run the whole race? Then you will need more training than somebody who wants to use a run/walk approach to get to the finish line.

    It also depends on the amount of cross-training you are willing to do. I will get into cross-training a bit later. But you can be reasonably successful with a little less running, compensated by a lot more cross-training. There are multiple ways to get to the finish line. One way or another, you are going to have to build up your endurance.

    For a 26.2 miles foot race, you'd better get used to running though.

    And in the end, whether you are running three, four, or five days a week, consistency is key.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #4 - Minimum Required Long Run

    marathon running tips for beginners
    There are different guidelines when it comes to marathon preparation. However, even the most basic marathon running programs will get you to running a long run that is 20 miles, at least once.

    This may seem daunting. But, you will build up to this type of long run over time. And it's not about running at a blistering pace; it's about covering the distance. Your long runs are where you build the mental and physical stamina necessary for race day. It's the most specific preparation for your marathon.

    An interesting strategy for the long run that I would recommend if you are a beginner aiming to finish the marathon, is to add some walk breaks in your long run. You are still covering the distance. However, the recovery from a run/walk is much faster than from a continuous run. I would recommend maintaining a ratio of at least 75-80% running to 20-25% walking.

    When we are talking about the long run, we need to talk about diet and fuelling during the run.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #5 – Marathon Diet and Fuelling During the Run

    marathon running tips for beginners
    When you run a lot, you need to eat properly. Simple as that. It is likely that because of all the running you will be doing, you will be losing a few pounds. That may be one of the goals you have. Get fit, lose a lot of weight, etc.

    One thing I urge you NOT to do, is to follow a harsh diet when you are in the midst of marathon training. You need to feed your body appropriately. Not doing that will lead to you being very fatigued and you will also be increasing your risk of injury. Check out the Runner's Diet page for more info and some warning words about RED-S, Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport.

    Is your long run getting well over 60 minutes? Are you even hitting 90 minutes and more? Then I would recommend starting to implement a fuelling and hydration strategy. Gone are the old days in which runners would run for hours and "train their bodies" to get used to running in an energy-deprived state.

    It's simply better to hydrate and fuel properly. It helps you recover faster. You get more of the benefits out of the long run when you take care of your body. Also check out the marathon training nutrition page for further information about fuelling during the run and other thoughts on eating while preparing for the marathon.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #6 - Increasing Mileage Safely

    marathon running tips for beginners
    Increasing your weekly mileage is crucial for marathon success, but it must be done safely. Some keys to a successful mileage build-up are:

    Hard / Easy Principle
    Follow the principle of training hard one day, taking it easier the next. On the hard day you could be doing a longer run, on the easy day you could be doing a shorter run, or rest or do some cross-training. Rest days are when your body repairs and strengthens itself, so don't skip them.

    Suppose you are running three days in a row. And your schedule says to run 6 miles on each of them for a total of 18 miles. That's not hard/easy. I'd much rather see the schedule say 7 miles – 4 miles – 7 miles. Still a total of 18 miles. But with a clear hard/easy pattern.

    Listen to Your Body
    When building up your mileage, the 10% rule that you may have heard about is not too bad. But, in reality, this needs to be balanced with the key rule of listening to your body.

    Check out all the information you need on my page about increasing mileage safely.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners #7 - Staying Injury-Free

    marathon running tips for beginners
    Injury prevention is paramount during marathon training. Strength training and cross-training can be your secret weapons.

    Strength Training
    I can't overemphasise the importance of strength training enough. I simply don't know a runner who has not benefited from strength training. It helps make you stronger. It helps make you faster. Most importantly, in a marathon build-up, it helps get you to the starting line by staying injury free. This helps keep you consistent.

    So, incorporate strength training exercises to improve your core and leg muscles. This added stability can help reduce the risk of injuries, such as knee pain and IT band issues. Check out the strength training for runners page for a lot more information about strength training.

    marathon running tips for beginners
    Cross-training, like swimming or cycling, can give your running muscles a break while maintaining your cardiovascular fitness. When you want to improve your running, generally, doing more running is the answer. However, there may be reasons why that is not the case for you.

    You may be experiencing some niggles from the relentless pounding of the streets. Rather than doing another run and getting injured, cross-training may be the answer.

    Suppose you do get injured, cross-training can help keep some of your fitness while you recover. And lastly, it can also help alleviate the monotony of running every day, providing a mental break from running.

    Check out the cross training for runners page for more information.

    Final Thoughts

    marathon running tips for beginners
    Remember, running a marathon is a significant achievement, and your journey should be as rewarding as crossing the finish line. Embrace the process, celebrate the small victories along the way, and don't be discouraged by setbacks.

    With dedication, consistency, and smart training, you can transform yourself from a beginner into a marathon finisher.

    So lace up those running shoes, find a training plan that suits you, and start your marathon journey today. The road ahead may be long, but every step you take brings you one stride closer to your marathon dream. Good luck, and may your training be filled with joy, determination, and the knowledge that you're becoming a stronger, healthier, and more resilient version of yourself. See you at the finish line!

    Still feel overwhelmed with the challenge of the marathon ahead of you? Take the guesswork out of your training and check out the running coaching I can provide you with. A marathon is a big undertaking. And you will do so much better when you train with a running program specifically tailored to you!
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