First Time Marathon Training – What To Expect

Marathon training for beginners

It’s the pinnacle of endurance events, the legendary event that’s made its way from the stuff of Greek legends to the accomplishments of the modern-day weekend warrior: the marathon! 

This 26.2-mile run is a grueling test of your endurance as an athlete, but the rewards are oh so sweet if you’re one of the dedicated few who crosses the finish line. And even though it might seem like a daunting task, the right training program can help even the most casual runner become a seasoned endurance athlete. If you’re thinking about signing up for a marathon, here’s what you can expect from your training. 

Before signing up: things to consider 

Marathons are races that span a total of 26.2 miles. There are a ton of different marathons out there, so before you dive headfirst into your training, you’ll want to do some research into the races that are offered in your area (or, if you’re okay with traveling, you can look into marathons held around the world!). 

As you’re doing your research, the first thing to keep in mind is the type of terrain that your race of choice will cover. Some marathon routes, like those you might find in some cities, are relatively flat, while others cover natural terrain with challenging inclines and declines throughout the course. Figuring out the landscape of your specific race first and foremost will help you set the tone for your program and decide how you should be training. 

Besides the physical toll that your training will require, you should also consider how much time you have to dedicate to your training. Running several miles at a time – several times a week – will require many hours of dedicated training each week, so make sure that you have enough room in your schedule. You’ll also want to consider what the next couple of months look like in your schedule. Consistency is key here, so taking week-long breaks for trips or vacations might not be an option for optimal training. 

You'll also want to understand your nutrition needs in training and for the race. Experiment in training so you aren't using new supplements for the first time on race day. Find the best recovery supplements that work for you, what's the best post workout drinks and most importantly for marathoners, how to stop muscle cramps fast.

One more thing. If you don’t have much experience with organized races to begin with, you may also want to sign up for smaller races like a 5K, a 10K, or a half-marathon prior to setting out for your full marathon. This can help get you accustomed to the world of competitive endurance sports at a less-strenuous level so that you have a better idea of what to expect for your big race. 

When to start training

Your training schedule will vary depending on your current level of running fitness. As a general rule, though, you should give yourself at least three to four months of training to get your body and mind used to the grueling demands of a 26.2-mile run. 

How to train for a marathon

Now, let’s touch on what your marathon training as a beginner will look like. 

Base training

If you aren’t already an endurance runner, you’re going to need to dedicate a good amount of your time to your “base training”; or in other words, the training for your foundational endurance abilities. There are a couple of things to consider on a biological level here: 

  • You’ll want to train your cardiovascular endurance, or in other words, your body’s ability to body to use oxygen efficiently (in more technical terms, your VO2 max), as well as your energy stores, more efficiently
  • At the same time, you’ll want to work on increasing your muscular strength and endurance so that you can last for longer and longer runs without getting tired. 

To train this fundamental component of your running, you’ll want to start by analyzing your current cardiovascular fitness and run about 3-5 times each week, with the ultimate goal of increasing your mileage week over week. Focus on increasing your mileage gradually, rather than pushing yourself too quickly and burning out. For example, if you can comfortably run fifteen miles in the first week, aim to finish 17 the following week. 

Long-distance endurance

Of course, marathons are ultimately a long run, which means that once you’re comfortable with your base mileage, you’ll need to start incorporating longer runs into your weekly regimen. Start running for longer distances (say, six or seven miles), once a week. Again, you’ll want to increase the distance covered during this long run every week, until you can eventually comfortably run about twenty miles or so before your race starts. If you’re really feeling good, you can aim for a full 26.2-mile run for practice before your official race, but it’s not necessary. 

Don’t forget to incorporate some hilly runs as well, especially if you’re going to be participating in a race that’s known for its varying terrain. 

Speed

For the first marathon, many people aim to simply finish the race. But if you’re aiming to finish your run within a certain time, you’ll also need to start training for speed. Once you get comfortable with running longer distances, begin timing your miles and making appropriate training decisions based on that. For example: 

  • If your goal is to finish your marathon in six hours (or 360 minutes), you’ll want to run at a pace of around 13.7 minutes per mile. 
  • If your goal is to finish your marathon in 5.5 hours (or 330 minutes), you’ll need to speed up and run about 12.6 minutes per mile.

Make sure to time yourself during your training runs so you can see whether or not you’re hitting your pacing goals. 

Cross-training

While it might seem like you should be focusing purely on your running training, it’s also important to train other aspects of your fitness as well. Strength training is especially important as a runner since it can help build your muscles and soft tissues, which ultimately means less chance of injury and more power when you need to speed things up. Add weight training periodically throughout your training schedule to keep well-balanced. You might also want to consider adding lower-impact cardiovascular activities to let your joints rest between long runs, like swimming or cycling. 

Example of a 12-week marathon training plan for beginners 

Your personal training schedule is going to vary based on your current fitness level. However, here’s a good example of a 12-week (three-month long) training routine to get you prepared for your big marathon that’s suitable for casual runners.

Weeks out 

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

12

2 miles

Rest

3 miles

Weight training 

3 miles

Rest 

6 miles 

11

3 miles

Rest

3 miles

Weight training

4 miles

Rest 

7 miles 

10

4 miles 

Rest 

5 miles 

Weight training

4 miles 

Rest 

8 miles

9

5 miles 

Rest 

6 miles 

Weight training 

6 miles 

Rest 

9 miles 

8

5 miles

Rest 

7 miles

Rest 

6 miles 

Rest 

10 miles

7

6 miles

Rest 

8 miles

Weight training 

7 miles

Rest 

13 miles

6

8 miles

Rest 

9 miles

Weight training 

9 miles 

Rest 

15 miles

5

5 miles

Rest 

7 miles

Weight training 

6 miles 

Rest 

17 miles

4

7 miles

Rest 

8 miles

Weight training 

7 miles 

Rest 

19 miles

3

8 miles

Rest

10 miles

Weight training 

6 miles 

Rest 

20 miles 

2

6 miles 

Rest

13 miles

Weight training 

4 miles 

Rest 

20 miles

1

5 miles

Rest 

4 miles 

Rest 

5 miles 

Rest 

Race day! 

The art of using supplements to boost your performance

If you’ve ever done any kind of long-distance running, you’ve probably fallen victim to painful cramping at one point or another that got in the way of your ability to push yourself to the limit and give the workout you want. In training and on race day, you'll want to stop leg cramps immediately so you can keep on going. While there are plenty of rumors out there about what causes this cramping, like electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, more recent research is now suggesting that muscle cramping during intense endurance sports (like the marathon) is due to neurological reasons. In other words, the motor neurons that control your movement begin to fire uncontrollably as your muscles tire, leading to involuntary cramping. HOTSHOT for Muscle Cramping is the only sport shot that has been scientifically proven to stop muscle cramps fast by addressing the neurological factors that can cause your muscles to cramp and seize up. Keeping one on hand during both your training and your race can help you perform better without pain. 

Marathon running also uses a ton of your body’s stored energy for fuel, so it’s also a good idea to carry endurance-specific supplements to help your body refuel both your carbohydrates and your electrolytes during your race. Try out a few and find the right electrolyte drinks or electrolyte powder that works for you. You can find them in convenient gel packs which you can rip open and use even while you’re mid-stride during the marathon or on a long training run. 

Rest and muscle soreness recovery

While you’re going through your training, you can’t underestimate the importance of giving your body enough time to rest and recover in between long training sessions. After all, those long intense runs are grueling on your body, challenging your endurance, your energy usage, and your ability to handle high-impact movements all in one. 

Your muscle will get sore and that's part of the process to build strength and endurance. You may start to feel the pain anywhere from 24 hours to 72 hours after your workout. This is called delayed-onset muscle soreness. During this time your muscles can repair themselves and will strengthen over time.  But to help prevent muscle soreness, try HOTSHOT for Muscle Soreness. It's the only sports shot supplement specifically designed for pre-workout to help reduce the pain you can feel after.

While consistency is crucial for your running schedule, don’t forget to give yourself two or three days to rest and allow your muscles to recover. The last thing you want to do is burn out and overtrain before the big race even begins. 

Conclusion

Marathon training is a huge endeavor that requires a ton of time, dedication, and motivation, but there’s nothing quite as nice as the feeling of crossing the finish line after a grueling 26.2 miles of running and knowing that you’ve joined an elite league of endurance athletes. Make sure to set aside time, follow a strict training regimen, and keep the right supplements on hand -- your hard-working muscles will definitely be thanking you come race day. 

Featured image credit: Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-doing-marathon-2770408/