Training for a first marathon: What to Expect?

marathon_calendarWhat will the next few months of training be like? More than likely, not how you imagined!  You know why you’re training.  You have a plan (if you don’t, check out the resources page or the free kick-start guide).  Here’s a preview of what’s to come:

Before you start

You are embarking on a journey that will (positively) impact your health.  Get a physical and the okay from your doctor beforehand.  If you have medical insurance, this is often covered for free.  Expect them to check your vitals, make sure that your heart is functioning up to snuff, listen to your lungs, and ask you about previous injuries.  My doctor mentioned two watch-outs:  if you have any pain, stop what you’re doing and stay hydrated.  Good words to live by. 

Gearing up for running

You will need some basic gear in order to train.  Don’t worry, you probably already have some things to get you through the first weeks.  However, plan on purchasing a few foundational items as soon as you can.  Here’s what I look for in gear – it should keep you as dry and cool (if it’s hot) or warm (if it’s cold) as possible, and protect you from the marathon boogeymen (look forward to hearing about them in the next post).  More posts on gear are coming, but for a preview check out the gear page

 Phases of marathon training

Training encompasses three phases: Building, Endurance and Taper.  First, you slowly build your ability to run far.  Each week, your overall mileage increases slightly (mostly from 1-2 mile increases in your weekly long run distance).  Then, you hone your technique while running long distances.  Depending on your goal and training schedule, you will crescendo to 18-22 mile runs.  During the last few weeks of training, you ratchet back your distances to allow your body to recover before the race.  It’s common to experience changing emotions from nervousness to excitement to anxiousness as you move throughout these phases. 

 weight_lifting_prevents_marathon_training_injuriesA week in the life of a marathoner

Expect to train 5-6 days each week with a rest day before and after your long run day.  Most schedules include several types of runs (short run, medium run, long run, speed sprints).  Short runs of 3-5 miles typically occur 2-3 times a week.  Medium runs averaging 6 miles (but ranging from 3 – 10 miles) occur 1-2 times a week.  Long runs occur once per week.

Incorporating 20 minutes of light strength training 2-3 times a week and 30-60 minutes of cross training once weekly has helped me stay injury free.  More debatable, as of late, is stretching.  I stretch before and after my runs and encourage you to do the same, for now.  In later posts, I plan to explore the research and different perspectives on stretching.  

The race week microcosm

Race week is completely different.  You’re excited.  It’s electric.  There’s a lot to remember.  You’re monitoring your sleeping, eating, drinking and excreting (lovely!).  You’re itching to run but know that you shouldn’t.  You might be traveling, and you’ll probably be nervous.  It’s okay.  You’ve put in the hard work to get here.  If you’ve made it this far, you WILL finish!  I’ll share some interesting statistics about this in a later post, stay tuned! 

You’re not done yet…

Your family cheered for you, you crossed the finish line, got your picture with your shiny new medal and drank that celebratory beer.  You are done!  Actually…you’re not.  Your body is still processing your run for a while.  It’s important to “train” for recovery just as seriously as you did leading up to the race.  You’ll be resting and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a massage within a few days.  You’ll probably be very hungry.  All normal.  You can’t run just yet, even though you might want to.  Hang in there with me and I’ll walk you through your recovery.

marathon_bluesNow what? 

Ah the post-race blues.  I bet you weren’t expecting that!  You just accomplished a massive feat and want that high again.  Don’t worry, it’s common, and I will share plenty of tips on how to ride it out.



Marathon training is an adventure, but if you know what to expect, you’ll be better equipped to train on your own.  Want more information? Subscribe to the Marathon Essentials feed to be the first to get my next posts.

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