female marathon runner

Are you preparing for your first marathon? These training tips will help you prepare for the 26.2 miles ahead. 


Tip 1: Talk to your doctor before training

“Exercise has numerous health benefits and is essential to a well-balanced lifestyle,” said Matthew Wagner, MD, Catholic Health Pediatric Orthopedic Surgeon. “Marathon training is rigorous and can pose risks for specific individuals, such as those with heart or orthopedic conditions.” 

Make an appointment with your primary care physician before you start marathon training to discuss:

  • Previous injuries

  • Previous surgeries

  • Existing medical conditions

  • Seeing a specialist for further testing (such as a cardiologist for a stress test)

  • Seeing a specialist for targeted training exercises (such as a physical therapist) 

Tip 2: Start your training program early 

Running consistently for at least a year before training for your first marathon will help you prepare for race day.

Typically, most training programs last 12-20 weeks. Experts recommend that your first training program last at least 16 weeks for proper progression and adaptation. Consider a 12-16-week program as you advance your running journey.

“Marathon running demands a lot on your body,” said Dr. Wagner. “As with any workout routine, your marathon training program depends on your experience and fitness level.”


Tip 3: Exercises to include in your training

A well-rounded marathon training plan should include a mix of workouts to improve endurance, speed and overall fitness. Typical workouts in a marathon training plan include:

  • Long runs. A cornerstone of marathon training to help build endurance. Long runs are done once a week and gradually increase in distance.

  • Tempo runs. A comfortably hard pace to improve lactate threshold and increase speed. They are typically done once a week.

  • Interval training. Alternating periods of high-intensity effort with periods of recovery.

  • Hill training. Running uphill and downhill to build strength, improve running and improve overall fitness.

  • Recovery runs. Short, easy, slow runs aid recovery and improve blood flow to tired muscles.

Most marathon runners taper their workouts two to three weeks before the big day. Scaling back mileage and intensity of activity lets their body rest before running the full marathon.


Tip 4: Pace your training

“Consistency and gradual progression are essential to successful marathon training,” said Dr. Wagner. “Always listen to your body and take rest days as needed to avoid fatigue, overtraining and injury.”

For beginners, start with three to four days of running per week. Then, gradually build up to five or six days as fitness improves. Incorporate rest days and cross-training into your training program to allow your body to recover. 

Rest days can include rest or active recovery, such as:

  • Stretching

  • Pilates

  • Light walking

Cross-training activities can help improve overall fitness, prevent injury, and provide a mental break from running. These exercises can include:

  • Swimming

  • Cycling

  • Strength training

Tip 5: You do not have to run a full marathon before race day

Most training plans do not include a full marathon distance run. Running the full distance in training can increase the risk of injury and mental or physical fatigue. Only experienced runners with a solid training base should run a full marathon several weeks before the race to allow for proper recovery.

Most plans leading up to race day include several long runs that gradually increase from 18 to 22 miles, depending on the program. These long runs help build endurance and confidence for race day.


Tip 6: Take care of your mental health as you train

“Running a marathon is more than physical fitness,” said Dr. Wagner. “It is important to prepare mentally as well as physically.”

Here are some tips to support your mental health as you train:

  • Set realistic goals to avoid feelings of failure and disappointment.

  • Practice self-care, including getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and relaxing and unwinding.

  • Manage stress and develop coping strategies.

  • Visualize crossing the finish line and achieving your goals to boost confidence and reduce anxiety and stress.

Tip 7: Eat healthy

Proper nutrition is essential to fuel workouts, aid recovery, and support overall health and wellness. Individual nutrition needs vary based on age, gender, body composition, and training goals. Consulting with your doctor or a registered dietitian can help ensure proper nutrition to support marathon training.

Here are some food groups to incorporate into your marathon prep diet:

  • Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for endurance exercise.

  • Protein is essential for muscle recovery and repair.

  • Healthy fats play a role in overall health and can help provide sustained energy during long runs.

Consuming a snack or meal before a run can help provide energy for workouts, and post-workout snacks or meals can help aid in muscle recovery and repair.


Tip 8: Stay hydrated

Staying hydrated is also essential for performance and overall health. Consume fluids throughout the day, especially before, during and after workouts. Water, no-sugar sports drinks, and no-added-sugar coconut water are good options for hydration. 


Join the Catholic Health Suffolk County Marathon

Support our veterans at the Catholic Health Suffolk County Marathon on October 20.

Register today.  


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