How to prepare for your first marathon

Does your bucket list include completing a marathon but you don’t know where to start? Marathons are a common sports activity and each year thousands of people take part in the most famous marathons all over the world. However, the sheer distance marathon runners must cover can be intimidating even for seasoned runners.

Not to worry! Marathons are achievable even if you are new to running. In this article, we will guide you through what you should do to prepare for your first marathon.

Why do people run marathons?

There are many good reasons as to why people run marathons. As a start, completing a marathon, whether it’s your first or tenth time, presents a personal challenge that will leave you with a great sense of achievement. If you follow a proper training plan, your constant improvement will also keep you satisfied throughout the whole preparation period.

Marathons are also a great activity to do with your friends and family or your colleagues. You can compete with each other in a healthy way, stepping out of your comfort zone and growing together in the process.

You can also run marathons to raise awareness and money for a cause you believe in. Most annual marathons have official partnerships with charities for which you can help fundraise.

If that wasn’t enough, training for a marathon will boost your general health and fitness. It will not only leave you with a fitter body but also a stronger mind.

a female runner in the midst of a marathon

How to train for a marathon

Defining a marathon training plan

Developing the right training plan is key to your marathon success. But which marathon training plan is the best? The truth is, like many things, the perfect training plan will vary from one person to another.

There are many factors that can affect the intensity of your training. These range from your age to your running experience to your life schedule. Make sure to take these factors into account to create a training plan that’s just challenging enough.

Building up progressively

As a beginner, staring down a 21km run can feel very daunting. You can make this easier by gradually building up your mileage. Start small, and add some distance every time you run. An increase of one to two kms per week is more than enough and will keep you on track with your goal.

You can also gradually increase your running pace. Test out different paces during your training to see how they feel, so you can be sure to find the perfect running pace for the marathon.

If you need extra help setting up your training plan, the NHS has developed a running plan for beginners called Couch to 5K. The program is spread out over 9 weeks, with 3 runs each week. You can also talk to a seasoned marathoner or a coach for advice.

two men running next to the sea

Tracking your progress with an app

Want an accurate way of tracking your progress? You might want to use a running app like Strava, MapMyRun, Nike Run Club, or even the classic Apple Health.

These apps offer a range of features including performance tracking, personalised tips, running route creation & discovery, etc. They also make your run more exciting by letting you share results with your friends and challenge them. Some even provide you with a running coach in the form of guided running podcasts.

Varying your training

Even though you’re training for a marathon, don’t plan to run every day. Cross-train at least twice a week with low-impact workouts such as swimming, skipping rope, cycling, yoga or resistance training.

Cross-training will improve your overall fitness level and give your bones and joints a rest. It will help bring balance to your body, help you avoid injury, and add some variation into your workouts so you do not get sick of running.

man doing warrior pose on the beach


What you should do when you’re not running

What to eat during your marathon preparation

Much like with other sports, your marathon performance will not only depend on your training but also what you do when you’re not running. One of the most important things you can do to increase your running performance is to be careful with your diet.

Now, following a diet doesn’t necessarily mean you want to lose weight. You want to eat enough so you don’t feel faint or weak toward the end of your workout. Make sure to get a healthy balance of protein (fish, meat, chicken, beans, etc.), carbohydrates (grains, pasta, bread, etc.) and fats (oils, avocados, nuts, etc.). Eat a light, energising snack or small meal one to two hours before going for a training run, and make sure to grab something after your run to replenish your energy.

a mix of ingredients for a balanced diet

Keeping hydrated

Hydration is important for your general wellbeing, but it is even more important when training for a marathon, as you’re going to lose lots of fluid by sweating. For daily drinking, stick with water and make sure you’re carrying a bottle with you at all times.

For your runs, use sports drinks to replace carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during training. Fluid intake during exercise should match losses. Weigh yourself before and after a run and for every pound of weight lost, drink an extra two to three cups of water over your regular intake.

Making time for recovery

Even though training consistently is crucial for your marathon success, you don’t want to overwork yourself. Allow your body time to rest, and don’t forget to get plenty of sleep! In fact, muscle recovery and growth happens mostly while you sleep, so a lack of sleep can cause you to feel tense and sore and even lead to the development of chronic pain.

You’ll also want to stretch regularly to avoid injury. Regular stretching keeps the muscles flexible and strong, which reduces the risks of tearing during efforts. The best time to stretch is when your muscles are warm, so right after you exercise or during a yoga or pilates workout. You can also use a foam roller to target those hard to reach areas and remove muscle knots.

two women stretching their hamstrings on a tennis court

Wrapping Up

We hope our comprehensive guide gives you a better understanding of how to prepare for a marathon. As you can see, all of these tips and advice are applicable no matter how much running experience you have.

Before you run your marathon, remember that there is no shortcut. It is a physically demanding event, and just like the most rewarding and fulfilling events that have ever happened in your life, it all begins by taking the first step!