For many folks, running a marathon is an important fitness goal. As one of our culture's proudest athletic competitions, it represents a benchmark for physical achievement. And innate talent notwithstanding, most everyone can finish a marathon with the right training. For that reason, it is an important accomplishment for anyone trying to advance their level of fitness or conquer a new workout goal.
That said, this usually isn't done overnight. For most folks, running, jogging or even walking 26.2 miles requires a fair amount of preparation. Otherwise, you could leave yourself vulnerable to serious injury or fall short of your goal. No matter your current level of physical fitness, use this guide to properly prepare for a marathon.
Unless you are already a seasoned runner, odds are you will need to do a bit of training to get ready for a marathon. As REI found, on average, this process takes between 12 and 20 weeks. One key benchmark is being able to run 50 miles over the course of a week.
As such, there's no reason to push yourself too hard, especially during the beginning of your training period. Otherwise you could get hurt or discouraged, derailing the entire process. Set a few realistic goals when you get started, and remain focused on increasing the distance of your runs in a reasonable way.
Select the appropriate gear
This step is important, but it can be understandably a little underwhelming. There can be such a dizzying array of items marketed toward runners that it becomes difficult to know what you actually need.
Your best bet is to keep things simple. Select a pair of supportive running shoes that are comfortable. Likewise, choose outfits that are breathable and won't lead to any rashes. Otherwise, skip the fancy stuff for now.
Make good dietary choices
Preparing for a marathon requires so much more than energy supplements and plates full of pasta. In reality, you need to create a well-balanced diet to better your odds of success. In particular, you want to avoid foods with too much processed sugar and fat.
Runner's World found that eating a full breakfast, in particular, is a key step, especially one full of complex carbohydrates. That way, your body has enough energy to finish a tough workout later in the day.
Take care of your body
Selecting the right fuel is only part of making sure you're taking care of your body. You, of course, need to consume a balanced diet of vitamins and minerals, but you also want to make sure you are staying hydrated.
"Addressing any pain the right way is critical."
Otherwise, another key step is to stretch before and after working out. Prior to a run, this warms your muscles up and reduces the likelihood of an injury. Following or in-between exercise, taking the time to stretch helps improve flexibility, which leads to greater fitness overall.
Stretching is also key because it helps reduce lactic acid buildup which can otherwise lead to stiffness and soreness. To further reduce any pain, consider using vibration therapy. Intellinetix has a number of helpful wraps and other products that gently massage muscles in a way that offers soothing comfort. Addressing any pain the right way is critical.
Prepare for emotional difficulty
Another critical step for taking care of your body is to get plenty of sleep. This allows your muscles time to recover.
Unfortunately, preparing for a marathon comes with a number of emotional stresses that may compromise sleep and other aspects of daily life.
As Active reported, the weeks right before a marathon can be especially difficult. Many people experience something called "tapper madness." Ramping up a training period requires a lot of focus and mental energy, but once the date comes close, some folks begin to feel anxious or worried. This could mean obsessing over weather conditions, getting antsy about the right clothing or even having nightmares.
Feeling stressed or worried is perfectly normal. Your best bet is to be mindful of any negative feelings. Active suggested talking with family or friends for support.
Run a simulation
A key way to improve your conditioning and prepare for a marathon is to focus on adding more time to each run. Rather than obsessing over miles, slowly tack on an extra 10 minutes of running every time you head out. That said, before the big day, you want to try to mimic the actual course itself.
For example, the famous Boston Marathon is known for a steep incline known as Heartbreak Hill, and if runners don't spend time preparing for this challenge, it can become a serious barrier. Do some research about any specific obstacles for the marathon you're training for. If you can't train on the specific route itself, consider simulating some of the toughest stretches. Try this step further into your training process after you feel comfortable pushing yourself more.
Keep it simple
Above all else, the best bet for training for a marathon is to keep your routine simple and consistent. The latest advances in sports science may help professional runners shave precious seconds off their race times, but for the average person, trying to do too much or integrate overly-complicated preparation techniques can lead to failure.
Find a schedule that works best for you, and look for small but meaningful ways to make changes to your diet and daily habits. Start small, take care of your body and stay focused.