Marathon Prep 101

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Athlete laying on field with a sponge on his knee

Completing a marathon. It’s so much more than an athletic endeavor. For many people, weekend warriors and trained athletes alike, it’s a rite of passage and a bucket list itch that aches to be scratched. Finishing a marathon can be an immensely rewarding achievement that showcases your ability to overcome odds and accomplish challenging goals. And in that regard, the marathon becomes a metaphor for many walks of life.

However, it’s in the months before you’ve dissected rows of cheering supporters en route to the finish line that the 26.2-mile course is actually defeated. Navigating a race this long and grueling doesn’t happen without a well-defined plan or the perseverance to follow through with that plan.

Use Your Head
Fulfilling any athletic endeavor, particularly a marathon, requires a holistic mind-body approach. True, it’s the legs that’ll power the body up steep hills and through the inevitable walls encountered by every distance runner, but nothing is possible without the right frame of mind. Before even signing up for a race or beginning training, be sure to know your limits and current fitness level. Understanding where you’re at today will help you set realistic goals and avoid injuries tomorrow.

Pace Yourself
To properly prepare for the rigors of running a marathon, be sure to give yourself no less than 3-4 months to train for the event. Nothing about this process ought to be rushed, from your schedule to your actual running pace. You’ll want to gradually build up your endurance, logging 20-30 miles per week, while mixing in one long run every week or 10 days. An occasional 5K or 10K can be an ideal way to shake up the monotony, though no long runs of any kind are recommended within three weeks of the marathon.

Consistency Equals Results
Leave the wild ups and downs to the NASDAQ. Completing a marathon is all about sticking to a schedule, week-in and week-out. It may sound a little mundane, but it works. The key is to establish a weekly running schedule, based on your conditioning, write it down and then commit to sticking to it. Naturally, any number of circumstances will cause the occasional skipped—or bad—workouts. Just don’t allow those periodic hiccups to create self-doubt or derail your progress.

Feed the Beast
As your roadwork increases, so too should your caloric intake. During your training regimen, you’re taxing your body and pushing it to new limits. In order to meet the elevated energy demands, it’s essential to fuel up before and after workouts. Lean proteins, such as chicken and fish, and a variety of plant-based carbohydrates are highly recommended to adequately repair starving muscles. And, of course, staying hydrated is important every step of the way. If you’re not drinking eight 12-ounce glasses of water daily, your recovery period will be longer than it should be.

Treat Your Feet
You wouldn’t outfit your car with second-rate tires, so why put your feet in an ordinary pair of sneakers? Your running shoes separate you from the pavement, and the wrong choice will have a detrimental effect on your training. To help with this critical decision, it’s a good idea to visit a running store. Since that’s where the pros reside, you’ll get an expert consultation on not only the best fit, but also the right manufacturer for your specific gait and running style.


Take Breaks
You’re motivated and focused to improve your endurance as the race nears. But don’t make the mistake of becoming blinded by ambition. It’s important to listen when your body speaks, because tone-deaf athletes run the risk of suffering setbacks and debilitating injuries. Yes, proper rest is almost as critical as the training itself, so don’t be stingy with your down time. It’s when resting that the body heals and recovers from all of the sweat equity you’ve banked since beginning this journey. If you insist on remaining active on an off day, consider a low-impact activity, like yoga or swimming.

Race Day
You’ve made it to this preparation finish line. All of that hard work and determination is about to pay dividends. But it’s not quite time to raise your arms and celebrate. There’s still a race to be conquered amid a sea of determined runners. Now is the time to stick to the basics—a sound night’s sleep, enough pre-race carbs and fluids to support your body and absolutely no new apparel or routines. The big day is not the time to find out that the tag inside your shirt is going to irritate your skin for four hours. Most of all, have fun. You’ve earned it.

Running a marathon is a personal challenge that less than 1% of the population has met. You’re eminently capable of joining that exclusive club, provided you prepare your mind and your body far in advance of race day.