Interested in running a marathon? It’s an excellent goal to work towards if you’ve been running for a while and can handle longish distances.
But even as a beginner, the allure of having a marathon time behind your name is extremely appealing. The good news is that with the right training, beginner runners can run great marathon times!
How many miles are in a marathon? Are there different kinds of marathons? How do you go about training for one?
If you aren’t sure where to start, this article will provide you with all the info you need to know in order to be well-prepared for your first marathon.
Let’s get into it!
What is a Marathon?
A marathon is a race that’s 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers) in distance. This has been the standard distance for a marathon for over a century, since 1908!
If 26.2 miles seems veeeery long to you, you might be more interested in a half-marathon (13.1 miles), a 10K race (6.2 miles), or a 5K race (3.1 miles).
On the other hand, if a marathon is old news to you, ultra-marathons might be something fun for you. These races are any distance over 26.2 miles. Some can even go up to 100 miles or more!
Before You Decide to Run a Marathon
Anyone can run a marathon. But in order to know that your body has a good chance of handling it, it’s advisable to be running consistently for at least 6 months, with a schedule of at least 3 runs per week.
It’s also a good idea to get a few shorter races under your belt. This will help you to set an appropriate goal for your marathon, as well as giving you an idea of if you’re comfortable running the entire race or if you’d prefer to walk it.
A Marathon for Every Type of Runner
Not all marathons are the same! Whatever type of running you prefer, you’ll be able to find a marathon that suits your style.
This is what most people think of when they hear marathon. It’s 26.2 miles on roads or streets.
Some run through big cities, others go through small towns. But road marathons are the most common type, and generally the easiest ones to run.
If you’re a trail runner, trail marathons may be more your thing. They’re held in areas like forests, parks, deserts, or mountains. Basically anywhere there are trails.
While road marathons are generally flat and easy to run, trail marathons can be tricky!
You never quite know what terrain you’re going to hit. It could be fairly flat, or you could be running on rough terrain.
Most marathons give you some hint of the terrain beforehand, or you can simply find out the route and check it out on Google Maps to get an idea!
If you want to check a marathon off your bucket list but you don’t think you’ll be able to run the whole thing, you can also walk a marathon.
Some marathons are specifically designed to be walked! But most of them are walker-friendly, as marathon walking has grown in popularity recently. Race organizers of most large marathons have made their races walker-friendly.
It’s important to check the cut-off times of the marathon before choosing to walk it. Naturally, you’ll take a few more hours to finish the race if you’re walking rather than running.
Marathon relays are a great way to get a marathon under your belt and have a fun experience with friends or family! Relay marathons are done as a team (between two or more runners), who each run part of the full distance.
This could be the ideal type of marathon for runners who don’t feel that they can handle a full 26 miles on their own. Depending on how many people are in your team, you’ll end up running anywhere from 3 to 13.1 miles.
Each runner will pass their timing chip (in the form of a bib or baton) to the next, as they reach their allocated distance.
Not all marathons offer relay events. They’re mostly for small to medium-sized races, but it’s a great way to have some fun with others and ease into your marathon experience.
How Do You Know You’re Ready for Marathon Training?
The first clue that you’re ready to train for a marathon is having enough time to put into your training! If you can’t find time to train, then you’re certainly not ready.
If you’re a beginner, you’ll need at least four months of training. What counts as a beginner, you ask? Well, if you’ve been running for less than 2 years or you average less than 25 miles a week, you’re classified as a beginner in this scenario!
Rushing through your training may leave you unprepared for the full marathon. We advise taking the time (four months or more) to train properly and thoroughly, so you have the best chance of running an amazing marathon!
Trying to Run a Marathon Without Much Training
Running a marathon with little training is possible for experienced runners who’ve run marathons before.
For beginners, though, you could be shooting yourself in the foot if you try to complete a marathon without the recommended minimum of four months’ training.
If the marathon you want to run is less than four months away, it may be best to wait on that one. Choose one that’s a reasonable amount of time away, so you can get adequate training.
Trying to rush through your training leaves you open to injury, illness, or just a difficult experience during the race.
Things to Consider Before Committing to a Marathon
Running a marathon is a commitment. If it’s a goal of yours, you need to ensure that you can dedicate the time and effort necessary.
Consider your lifestyle and how you’ll fit in your training (at least 3 days a week, or 25 miles a week).
If you have a full-time job, a family, spend time traveling, or spend a significant amount of time on other hobbies, you’ll need to assess whether or not you can truly fit in proper training.
You may need to ease off on other hobbies, and let your family know that they’ll see less of you for the next few months.
You’ll also need to think carefully about committing to marathon training if you’re prone to injury or if you know you lack discipline in terms of training.
That being said, if you truly want to run a marathon, you shouldn’t let anything stop you!
Ideal Marathon Training Schedule for Beginners
It’s important to know that when following a training schedule, you need to be consistent. You can switch days around to fit your own schedule if you want to, but make sure not to have two intense or long workout days one after the other.
You should also know that there’s no right or wrong time during the day to train. If you’re more comfy getting up and training in the early morning, then do it. If you’d prefer to get your runs in after work or later during the day on a weekend, that’s perfectly fine too.
Here’s what a typical week might look like:
Mondays can be tough days! They’re often stressful, busy days preparing for the week. With that in mind, we recommend making Monday a rest day.
Don’t think this is a cop-out. Rest is a crucial part of training! Your rest days are equally as important as your workout days, so make the most of them.
Tuesdays and Thursdays
Tuesdays and Thursdays should be active training days. You should be running at a moderate pace, not overreaching. Remember to warm up and cool down.
There are two ways you can structure your runs. Either, you’ll set a distance target or you’ll set a time target.
Here are two examples of training plans, one with time-based runs and one with distance-based runs. Choose which method works best for you and structure your training plan around it!
Wednesdays and Fridays
Instead of a full rest day, we recommend doing a cross-training activity on these days. The type of ross-training you choose is up to you, although biking, swimming, rowing, jumping rope, and the elliptical machine are popular choices.
You should work out for 30 to 45 minutes at a moderate intensity level. Going too hard during these training sessions can hamper your run the following day!
If you do need an extra rest day during a particularly heavy or stressful week, it may benefit you more to take Friday as a rest day before you do your long run on Saturday.
Saturdays are usually quieter days for most people, which makes them the ideal time for a long, slow-paced distance run.
You should be running at an easy pace. You should be able to breathe with no trouble and even hold a conversation while on the move.
Like your Tuesday and Thursday runs, this one can be based on either time or distance. It’s best to choose one (distance or time) and stick to it for at least the first half of your training schedule, before transitioning over to distance for the second half so you’re sure you can make the full 26.2 miles comfortably.
It’s also worth noting that most training plans you find online won’t have you running the full distance during your training! But if you’re putting at least four months of effort into your training, your endurance should be enough to see you through that distance quite comfortably.
If you want to work up to running the full marathon distance in your training before race day, we recommend adding an extra week or two onto your training schedule and increasing your distance over that time to hit 26.2 miles.
Don’t try to increase the distance or the recommended pace during an average training schedule! If you want to increase mileage, you need to do it at a controlled pace. Rather take the extra time than try to push through too quickly and risk overuse injuries or a compromised immune system.
Sundays should be an “active recovery” day. That means a short, easy-paced run that’s light and comfortable, loosens up your muscles, and keeps your body active but ensures that you don’t overdo it.
The day or two before your race, you should do your training run in full marathon gear. That includes a shirt and shorts very similar to what you’ll be running in (or the actual items you’ll be running in), the shoes and socks you’ll be wearing on race day, and possibly accessories like a running belt, a hat or cap, sunglasses, and anything else you may be wearing. Remember this can change depending on the weather.
That way, you get the best indication of how you’ll feel on the day. It’s also important not to wear new gear for the first time on race day! If you don’t yet know what chafes where, you can’t prepare for it. This could lead to a miserable and painful marathon experience.
Remember to fuel up adequately with things like energy gels, energy chews, energy bars, or sports drinks (depending on your preference).
Also, make sure that you get enough rest throughout your training. By rest, we don’t mean rest days (although they’re highly important), but sleep. Poor quality sleep can have negative effects on your health and performance. A good rest the night before your race is extremely important!