5 Things you Should do Before Running your First Marathon
As we approach the end of January, I have noticed many of you considering running your first marathon this year. Perhaps you listed it as one of your goals on route to having your best year ever.
When I ran my first marathon in 2007, I was ill prepared. I basically decided on a Friday night and began training the next day. I didn’t take time to think through what I would need to begin. It was a bit of a disaster. Kind of like going on a road trip without packing or looking at a map.
Marathon training is not easy. It is tough, difficult work. Before you jump into your training, (whenever that may be), here are the five things I think you need before you begin training.
1. Run A Half Marathon
I think that before you can successfully run a marathon, you should successfully complete a half marathon training cycle. Sure, you can go from casually running a few miles here and there to running a marathon. Lots of people do it. However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Running a marathon is tough. Jumping in to a 16 or 20 week schedule can often lead to injuries if you are not used to training. What might be worse is when someone becomes so burnt out from the demands of marathon training that they quit running all together.
At a bare minimum, you should be able to run at least 5 miles (in under an hour), averaging 20 – 25 miles a week running 3 – 4 per week, and be doing that consistently for 4 – 6 months.
Because your body needs time to adapt. It will grow stronger and adjust, but only over time. You will set yourself up for a much better experience. Trust me, it will go better.
2 Get Your Gear
When I started training for my first marathon, I jumped in without thinking much about the gear I had, or what I might need. That came back to bite me as I learned I was in the wrong shoes for my feet, for that distance.
Your shoes are, without question, the most important piece of gear you own as a runner. Your feet need to be treated with as much care as the tires on a race car. Spend the time now to get fitted at a specialty running store. They might cost $100+, but well worth the potential problems from running in the wrong shoes.
When I was training for my first marathon however, I realized I needed a bit more stability doing longer distances (something I would have known, perhaps less painfully, had I trained for a half marathon first).
You’ll also need other gear. Shorts, shirts, hats, water bottles (and more depending on the time of year). You don’t need to get all high end stuff. I love C9 from Target! Over the years I have built up a great collection of higher end items. You get what you pay for.
3. Determine what your Goals Are
Your first goal should always be to finish. It’s a very long way! I’m guessing most of us want to do more than finish however.
For first time marathoners, it can be very difficult to determine what sort of time you should set as a goal. I think your first goal should always be to finish (regardless of your time). After that, you need to determine what you think is a realistic goal.
I have heard that one way to estimate your time is take your half marathon time, double it and add 10 minutes. Another way is to use a VDot calculator like this, and plug in a previous race time.
4. Find a Good Training Plan
There is no shortage of free marathon training plans out there. When I ran my first marathon, I used a combination of a Nike+ plan and something from Hal Higdon. The plan you choose should reflect your goals.
Also, you need to find a plan that reflects your current life situation. If you find something that only has you running 3 days a week, that might not be enough. If you follow one that asks you to run 7 days a week, how sustainable is that?
A few general guidelines to know if it’s a good plan…
- It Has some form of speed work. Even if you “just want to finish,” you need to be doing more than only running long slow miles.
- It Ramps up your mileage by about 10% per week. This assumes you have some base, and aren’t jumping into it (see #1 above). One sure fire way to avoid injury is to ramp up those mile slowly. If your plan shows big jumps, look for another. Jason Fitzgerald has some good stuff on this.
- It Has a long run that is only 25 – 35% of your total weekly mileage. I was looking at one plan that has a 20 mile long run, and only 12 other miles that week! Yikes!
- It Doesn’t have you running longer than 3 hours. For newer marathoners, runs over about 3 hours bumps into the law of diminishing returns. You won’t be improving cardiovascular (although perhaps mentally). It is going to take you a few days to recover, and possibly not be ready for your next run.
5. Map everything out on your Calendar
Training for a marathon is like a part-time job. It can easily consume 10+ hours a week when you factor in all of the pre and post running activities.
Before you begin, I encourage you to plot all of your long runs into some type of training log (if you need one, here’s a free one I made in Google docs). Life is so busy, and unfortunately, training for a marathon means you will need to schedule your long runs around whatever else you have going on.
I always block out three hours (even if it is a shorter). That way I know I can do what I need to do.
Some planning will help you see the bigger picture. Can you run and do some form of strength training, while getting good sleep, eating healthy and keep your work, family and other commitments? If not, maybe right now you should train for a half marathon…
It’s also important to map your weekday runs as well. If the only time you are able to run is at 5 am, how will you adjust your evening routine to get enough sleep?
And this too…
Before running your first marathon, recruit some friends, join a running group or get connected online to like minded people. I’ve mentioned this multiple times already, but training for and running a marathon is tough! It also happens to be fantastically rewarding! Sharing the experience with someone else is truly one of the most amazing parts of the whole process.
What was it like running your first marathon? Still considering it? What can we do to help?