Updated: Feb 6, 2022
So you’re really doing this — your first marathon. You’re signed up, committed and, hopefully at this point, deep into your training plan.
Completing your first (or second, or third) marathon can be one of the most rewarding and intimidating experiences of your life. Conquering 26.2 miles is a task that requires months of preparation, hard work and lots of running.
Running 26.2 miles can seem even more intimating and perhaps down right terrifying if this is your first marathon. Here are three tips every first-time marathoner needs to pay special attention to.
1. Nutrition is really important. Training for a marathon requires a lot of fuel. Just like a car needs gas to drive, your body needs fuel to run. Endurance events such as a marathon or half marathon predominately use two sources of fuel: fat and carbohydrates, with carbs being the more important of the two. Taking in limited carbs will result in bonked runs, constant fatigue and inadequate recovery. In terms of daily carb consumption, current research recommends:
3 to 4 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight for 30 to 45 minutes of exercise
4 to 5 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight for 46 to 60 minutes of exercise
5 to 6 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight for 61 to 75 minutes of exercise
6 to 7 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight for 76 to 90 minutes of exercise
7 to 8 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight for 91 to 120 minutes of exercise
8 to 10 grams of carbs per kilogram of bodyweight for more than 120 minutes of exercise
Let's look at an example. If you weigh 150 pounds, that equals roughly 68 kilograms. So if you're going for a 90 minute run, you'd want to shoot for 408 to 476 grams of carbs for your daily total. Good sources of carbs include whole grain oatmeal (27 grams of carbs per cooked cup), farro (52 grams per cup), bananas (27 grams per banana), brown rice (45 grams per cooked cup), sweet potatoes (27 grams per potato) and whole-grain bread (20 grams per slice).
2. The long run is the most important run of the week. If there is one run you don’t want to skip, it’s the weekly long run. The long run is the backbone of any successful marathon-training plan and serves both a physical, as well as a mental purpose. Length of the long run varies greatly (16 miles up to 26 miles) depending on the training plan. Truth be told there is no magic distance you must run; consistency with long runs, month after month, is what will prepare you for the marathon distance.
Physically, long runs foster a stronger aerobic system by increasing the number of mitochondria and capillaries and building a stronger cardiovascular and muscular system, which is needed to tackle the 26.2 miles.
Mentally, they help bridge the distance gap between what you can run and what you will run (26.2 miles). Each week builds upon the previous week, making that gap smaller are smaller.
One tip I tell all my clients is to switch the long run to Saturday instead of Sunday. Given that the long run is the most important run, scheduling the long run for Saturday allows you to push it to Sunday if something urgent comes and you cannot get it in. If your long run is scheduled for Sunday, there’s no room to push it back a day.
3. You need to take recovery seriously. Marathon training takes a toll on your body. Long runs equal hours after hours of pounding, which means you will be sore, tired and stiff. Having a recovery plan can help relieve those sore and stiff muscles. Foam rolling, stretching and strengthening routines are all excellent recovery tools, but recovery needs to extend beyond the just the normal pre- and post-run exercises to include sleep and nutrition.
To develop a recovery plan, you’ll want to dedicate time before and after each run for recovery. Before each run use the foam roller or dynamic stretching to loosen up stiff or sore muscles. After each run, use static stretching or mobility and strengthening. Here’s a hip mobility and strengthening routine I’d recommend doing three times per week. Be sure to get at least eight hours of sleep each night.
Marathon training is journey, and the race is a victory lap. If you prepare properly, it will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life.