Running is a progressive sport. You start off just trying to run around the block. And once you conquer that, you add a new challenge.
Most runners start slowly, with running around the block or on the treadmill. For most new runners, the first race they compete in is a 5k. Then it is natural to move up to a 10k. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles—21 kilometers. Next comes a full marathon of 26.2 miles—42 kilometers.
A marathon is on most runners’ bucket lists. If you’re wondering if you should run one, we can give you a number of reasons you should run a marathon.
Here is everything you should know to work your way towards that marathon starting line.
Why is running a marathon so popular?
The marathon was based on the legendary run of a Greek soldier named Pheidippides. He ran from Athens to Sparta—over 150 miles—to request help for the Athenians, who were battling the Persians.
Then, he ran all the way back to tell the Athenians that the Spartan soldiers would be delayed. Just a few days later, he ran the official marathon distance—26.2 miles—to announce that the Persians had been defeated.
But it took many centuries for marathon running to become popular. The year 1909 became known as “Marathon Mania”, after the nation’s interest in running was ignited following a controversial win by Johnny Hayes in the 1908 Olympics.
From there, the marathon gained even more popularity as a sport. As the years passed, big changes were made. Women were allowed to participate. The first marathon in Europe was started in Slovakia. Records were set and records were broken, and the marathon mania only grew.
These days, running a marathon has become the biggest goal for new runners. Participation numbers increase every year, and there’s no sign of the marathon becoming less popular.
Can anyone run a marathon?
Most runners can manage a marathon distance as long as they prepare themselves properly for it. Preparation entails strict training and adjusting your nutrition.
Even though it is an achievable goal for most runners, many of the top running coaches recommend working your way to a marathon distance over a period of one to three years.
While beginners can train for a marathon straight away, it can be hard on the body if you jump in too soon running enough miles to train for a marathon. Overuse injuries caused by too much mileage are extremely common for new runners.
Questions to ask yourself before you start training for a marathon
Have you been running consistently for at least a year?
Training for a marathon requires dedication and consistency.
Experienced runners will need to spend at least two months training for a marathon. New runners will need four months at a minimum, but unless you are already very fit and well aware of the steps to become marathon-ready, it is likely to take longer than four months of dedicated training.
Most new runners need some time to adjust to training and figure out what type of running they enjoy and how best to train. It is recommended to have been running consistently for at least a year before attempting to start a marathon training program.
Have you knocked out a half marathon or two?
Running a marathon is very different from running a 5k or a 10k. Completing a few half-marathons before you attempt a full marathon will give you an idea of what the process is about.
Not only is it advisable to work your way up from 5k races to marathon distances, but having a few half-marathons under your belt will give you knowledge and experience that you can’t gain any other way.
Can your lifestyle support it?
When training for a marathon, one needs to be extremely dedicated. Your training schedule needs to be followed strictly, as does an eating plan and possibly also cross-training.
You will need to make time to train, even if you work long hours or have a busy family life. This is likely to impact your lifestyle in some way, as you may be spending less time with family, eating differently from them, and setting aside other hobbies in order to get your training in.
You will need to be sure that you can sacrifice other things in order to train for the marathon and that you will be able to keep it up for at least four months.
Is it your main goal?
If the marathon is not your main goal, you should wait until you have nothing else to focus on before you attempt it. Trying to train for and reach multiple goals during your marathon training time can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Also, every different type of race has different training methods. You can’t train properly for a marathon at the same time that you’re training for a new half-marathon PR. You also put yourself at risk of overtraining, which can lead to injury and halt your training.
If a marathon is your goal, try to focus on only that for as long as required. You can still run smaller races while training, like a 5k or 10k, but they should be incorporated as part of your training.
Do you really want this?
Your reason behind wanting to run a marathon will be an important motivator for you during the months of training.
Ask yourself if the training and effort are worth it. You will be training for a long time, and a marathon can be grueling. If you feel that your reason is important enough, then that’s a good start.
Is it a good idea to put some races into the preparation time?
When training for a marathon, running some shorter races during your preparation time can be a good idea. You should be able to easily run three to four times a week. Shorter distance races like 5k and 10k can be run as part of your training schedule.
You won’t be able to train specifically for these races, but instead you will use them as part of your marathon training. As you get closer to race day, it may be a good idea to run a half-marathon.
What is typical weekly mileage training for a marathon?
Marathon training plans vary. But they all require the runner to do 30 to 40 miles per week for at least 5 to 6 weeks to be marathon-ready.
To make this easier, the runner should be able to run 25 to 35 miles a week before they decide to do a marathon training plan.
Having this kind of experience before beginning a strict training plan will make it easier for the runner to achieve the required number of miles in the training program. This is why it’s recommended to have been running for at least a year before attempting a marathon.
This number of miles will give the runner enough experience to be able to run a marathon comfortably.
How to know if you are ready to run a marathon?
You may feel like you are ready to run a marathon, but there are some things you should consider before you start training for one.
If you have been running consistently for one to three years and can comfortably manage 25 miles a week, then you are off to a good start.
If you have run two or three half-marathons before, it’s a good way to assess how ready you are for a full marathon.
Consider how you managed while training for a half-marathon. Did you find it easy or difficult? If you felt that training for a half-marathon was difficult, you may need to get more half-marathon experience before moving to a full marathon.
You may also be ready for a marathon if you have other running friends with similar fitness goals and experience who are doing it. This can also be an ideal situation as you could train together or be accountability partners.
You will also need to be sure that you have the time and the willpower to train for and run a marathon. You don’t want to start training and give up after a few months because you have lost enthusiasm or aren’t finding the time to train.
Reasons NOT to run a marathon
In some cases, your lifestyle may not be conducive to training for a marathon. If you work long hours, have a busy family life, travel a lot, or have other important hobbies that you aren’t willing to put aside, then marathon training may not be for you.
Also, if your main sport is not running and you only do it as a form of cross-training, then you may not be able to find the time to train properly in between another serious sport.
If you begin training and increasing your mileage leads to an injury, then you should give yourself time to recover and start working your way to a marathon distance more slowly.
Also, if you have not completed a half-marathon yet then it’s a good idea to get one or two under your belt before aiming for a full marathon.
Tips for newbies training for a marathon
If you have committed to training for a marathon, your first step should be investing in the right running shoes.
If you have a neutral gait, you can wear almost any shoes as long as they have the right amount of cushioning for you. Runners who overpronate—roll their foot inwards on every step—will need stability shoes.
You should choose running shorts and shirts that are technical fabrics and incorporate technology such as anti-odor, moisture-wicking and quick-drying. This will help to keep you dry, cool, and as comfortable as possible while running.
As well as training, you will need to eat a balanced and possible calorie-controlled diet up until race day. Your diet should fuel you to run long distances.
Hydration is another important part of nutrition. You should hydrate before and after long runs, and use sports drinks or electrolyte replacements during long runs to help you perform well.
Schedule your runs into your calendar so they become part of your daily or weekly routine. If you can, do some research on the marathon course and try to mimic it during training runs.
For example, if the terrain is hilly, then find somewhere close by that you can go and train on hills. If you train only on flat ground, you will be underprepared for the marathon course.