How to prepare for your first marathon

Are you thinking of training for your first marathon? With the recent tragic events in Boston in the forefront of people’s minds, many casual or fun runners are deciding to raise their game and, in solidarity with the world of running, take part in a marathon.

Running coaches will tell you that in order to compete in this grueling and very challenging event, the ideal is for you to have a personal running coach. A personal running coach (remote or in person) will create a training plan, advise you on preparation, nutrition, running shoes and clothing, the psychology and physiology of running and a host of other details. Running coaches are also great motivators. But what if you aren’t able to find or afford a personal running coach? In this case, you should be prepared to be your own coach.

Your first job is to understand how to prepare yourself for your first marathon. You can do no better than to read the writings of the late great Jim Fixx on the subject. He wrote especially for the amateur runner, and his unique style influenced a whole generation at the start of the marathon running boom in the 1970’s. His ideas are still sound and relevant today.

When preparing for your first marathon, it’s obvious that you need to train your body to be able to run long distances. But this can only happen gradually. It’s ideal to train five days a week. Two days of rest allow your body to recover and also prevent mental burnout.

Remember that your job isn’t to run further and faster every day. You aren’t setting out to achieve a personal best every time you put on a pair of running shoes. A personal running coach would work out a schedule for you. As you are on your own, this task falls to you. Build up your distance gradually. If you are starting from absolute scratch, then begin by running/walking a mile; run a hundred yards, then walk a hundred yards. Gradually reduce the walking element. Once you can run a mile, then aim for a mile and a half, then two. You’ll soon find that you can run greater distances than you believed possible.

One constraint for the marathon runner is the sheer time it takes to train. Even the fastest runner in the world needs a couple of hours to run twenty six plus miles. So use sprint training to build strength, on those days when you don’t have time for a long run.

Before you run your first competitive marathon, you should have a couple of runs of around twenty two miles, and at least one marathon length run. This is to enable you to experience the phenomenon of “hitting the wall” – the time in the run when you have more or less depleted your body’s reserves and are running on empty. This can be an almost hallucinatory experience, and a personal running coach will be able to talk you through this. If you don’t have a personal trainer for running, you need to read, talk to other runners, and experience it for yourself so that you are ready to deal with it.

Correct nutrition during training and before the race itself are important to get you through the marathon. Carbohydrate loading, though considered by some old fashioned, is a great way to fuel your body. Hydration during the race is critical, and you should be prepared to take on water whenever it’s offered by officials.

Even without a personal trainer for running, many people have experienced the joy and satisfaction of running a marathon. But beware – it can be very addictive!