Have you ever dreamt of running a marathon? Before I ran my first marathon, I used to dream about what it would be like! As a kid, the idea of conquering those 26.2 miles always seemed like a fun, heroic feat especially as I watched my mom finish multiple marathons. However, when I first started training, I quickly learned that running a marathon was much different than running sprints in the school yard. As I wrote in Chapter 3 of my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach for Your Stars, “Consider this: Is your dream a marathon or a sprint? Sprints and marathons are both running races but are fundamentally different activities, and as such, need different strategies.”
Like our dreams, training for a marathon takes time (no one can run 26.2 miles right away! If you do, maybe call up Marvel?) and requires a specialized training plan. I completed my first marathon in 2017 when I ran the Space Coast Marathon in Florida, and training for it taught me a lot about the importance of goal setting, having a motivational mindset, and making a plan. The lessons I learned in my preparation have helped me achieve many of my goals and accomplish one of my running dreams (literally)! Keep reading for my advice on how to train for a marathon.
Train for a Marathon by Determining Your Goals
If you are dreaming of running a marathon, you likely have more goals in mind than just completing the 26.2 miles. In fact, the more goals the better! They could be big or small, but if you make progress towards one of your goals, this gives you energy to take on even more! I know when I personally finished the Space Coast Marathon, I had an extra confidence boost and energy to pursue my astronaut dreams.
What Are You Hoping to Accomplish?
When determining your goals in running a marathon, first think about what you hope to accomplish. Ask yourself: Are you doing this for experience? Just trying to finish? Consider your actual running goals, too. Are you trying to set a personal record? Trying to reach a new pace?
Remember: there is no right answer to any of these questions!
Oftentimes, we set goals based on what we think we should be doing based on other people’s standards. Doing so makes working towards your dreams much less enjoyable, and you’ll likely find yourself unmotivated and unwilling to continue. On the other hand, if you focus on what YOU hope to accomplish, the experiences you have and the memories you make will be much more fulfilling. Make this experience about yourself – you’re the one putting all the hard work in!
Why Are You Running This Marathon?
Outside of your goals, think about why you like running and why you are passionate about running. For me, I run because I want to maintain a healthy body for astronaut training and future space travel. I also just love spending time outside and running by such beautiful sights! You should run because you want to do something, not because you feel like you must. Remembering why you are doing something and having your own internal passion will motivate you to cross the finish line!
Train for a Marathon by Making a Training Plan
Once you have a clear picture of your goals, it is time to make your training plan! This plan will break down exactly how you intend to accomplish your goals step-by-step and help you stay on track for success as you work through your training.
How Can You Accomplish Your Goals?
There are two parts to a good running plan: how much mileage you’ll tackle per week and how often you will train. First, mileage. It’s recommended that you work up to 50 miles per week before running your race, but you can start at any point. Your mileage will all depend on your prior running experience. Overtime, as your endurance improves, your capabilities will grow, and you’ll be able to work up to longer distances. Check out this graphic for an example training plan.
Now, you may be asking yourself, how long will it take to build up to 50 miles per week? That has everything to do with how often you train. Many marathon training plans last between 12-20 weeks, and it is recommended that you run three to five times per week. Over this period, slowly increase your mileage and incorporate a mix of long runs and speed work. These two things, combined with your relaxed-pace run, will help improve your stamina and make it easier to increase your mileage.
Consider Your Circumstances
As you develop your training plan, remember to consider your circumstances. Take into consideration other activities that will affect your plan. School, work, extracurricular activities, responsibilities – these all impact when and how often you are able to run. Think about your location, too. Is there a safe route nearby that you could run long-distance?
It is also important to consider your health. Running such long distances affects everyone’s health differently. Make sure your training plan also takes into consideration your individual health needs, including what you need to eat, how long you can run at a time, how often to stretch, and specific gear needs. Getting the proper gear in particular can be tough because running is such an expensive sport! Keep reading for my tips on how to find affordable options.
Remember to Take Care of Yourself
The most important thing to do when making your training plan is remembering to take care of yourself! Rest days are essential. You need to take care of your body so that you are able to accomplish your goals. A lot can happen in 26.2 miles, so it is important to make sure you are listening to your body and taking breaks when you need to.
Getting the right gear is essential for marathon training! The right equipment will prevent injuries and help you maintain good physical health so that on the day of the marathon, you can give your peak performance. You don’t want to put in over a hundred hours of training just to get injured and not be able to compete, so take the time to think about the gear you are using.
What to Wear When Running
The most important piece of equipment is a good pair of shoes! Shoes support your feet, which take a beating as you run. A good pair can prevent foot, shin, knee, and other leg injuries. They can also improve your stride, boosting your performance and making your long trek more comfortable. If you’re looking for specifics on how to choose a good running shoe, I suggest checking out this article from Running Warehouse to learn everything from proper sizing, to type, to lingo, and how much you should be paying.
Clothing-wise, you want to wear something you will be comfortable in and that will support your body. Avoid cotton as it absorbs moisture (including sweat! Not fun!) and wear lightweight clothing. In cold weather, add hats, gloves, and jackets as needed, but keep things as lightweight as possible! This way, you’ll avoid being weighed down as you run, and you’ll feel quicker on your feet. Remember: You’ll also heat up as you’re running, so you won’t need to wear as much as you normally would!
Equipment to Boost Performance
One great thing about running is that you don’t necessarily need fancy gear to do it. That being said, having good equipment can definitely give you a boost. . Here’s some equipment I’ve incorporated into my training plan that helped make my runs that much better:
- Foam roller: This helps keep your muscles loose so that you can avoid injury. (Plus, they’re super fun to use!)
- Watch/fitness tracker: A watch/fitness tracker monitors your pace, heart rate, and time. This can be especially beneficial if you are looking to improve your pace or endurance.
- Headphones: By wearing headphones, you can stay motivated with some music. “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor gives me a boost without fail when I need it! Safety Tip: Be cautious about wearing headphones when running on a road, around cars, or anywhere else that is dangerous. Always be aware of your surroundings!
- Sunglasses: Don’t get deterred off your path by the sun!
- Headlamp, bright vest, neon clothing: These items will light you up on your run, which is especially important if you are running at night.
- SPF: When you are out on long runs, sun burns can become the enemy. Be sure to wear sunscreen while you are running to protect your skin!
The Cost of Running Gear
Running equipment can be costly. Fitness trackers and shoes in particular often include expensive technologies and materials. A good pair of shoes can cost $100-200! However, if you are planning on running for a while, consider this an investment towards your health and goals. Running equipment can often be used in everyday life, like clothes, shoes, trackers, so you can get the most out of your purchases. If you run competitively, investing in good gear will also help you perform better at races.
Investing isn’t necessarily essential, though. If you are looking for more affordable equipment options, check your local stores for athletic wear and look out for sales. You can also find second hand running shoes that are in good condition on online platforms like Ebay, Mercari, Poshmark, and FB Marketplace. For trackers and headphones, Amazon often has cheaper options compared to brand-named running-focused outlets, or you can even just use your phone! Lots of apps available, like Strava, will track your pace and mileage for you!
Train for a Marathon with the Support of Your Community
While running may be an individual sport, having a community of support can give you an extra boost of confidence. As you train, you’ll have both good and bad days, but no matter what, your community will be there to support you. When you get knocked down or feel like giving up, they’ll help you get back on track and hold you accountable for your training. Your community of support can come in all shapes and sizes, and you may find them where you never would have expected!
Find a Running Group
One way to stay motivated during a run is by running with others! When you’re running with others and you feel like slowing down or giving up (we’ve all been there!), they can be the support you need to get through one more mile. They will also understand what you are going through with your training and can offer tips and advice to help you reach your goals.
Consider looking for running groups in your area or joining a running community online. Not only will you find some amazing teammates, but you can also make lifelong friendships! Here are some of my favorite platforms to connect with other runners on:
Your cheerleaders don’t have to be runners. They can be your family and friends, and you can find them at work or school. While these cheerleaders may not be runners, they can still provide emotional support and help you maintain the headspace you need for success. They’ll send you some positive energy and be by your side when you cross the finish line (sometimes quite literally!)
Find Your Role Models
Your community should also be made up of good role models. Who are your running inspirations? What about their story motivates you to succeed? When you have someone to look up to, you can base your training off of theirs.
One marathoner who inspires me is Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. At Wellesley College, where I went to school, celebrating the Boston Marathon is a major tradition. Every year, students gather to form a “Scream Tunnel” along the marathon route to cheer on runners as they pass by. I remember cheering in the tunnel my first year and being so taken aback by the community the Boston Marathon fostered. Since then, I knew that some day I wanted to be one of those runners, and Kathrine Switzer was one of the original women who made such a dream possible!
Train for a Marathon by Mastering Your Mindset
The last part of your training plan should be about your mindset. As you get started running, you’ll notice how impactful your mindset is. Running long distances can be stressful. Your mindset can be the difference between finishing a run and having to stop halfway through, so it is important that you implement habits into your routine to master it!
Benefits of Meditation
Meditation is a great way to help you stay calm and keep going during your runs. This practice has been linked to lessen stress and increase focus, and research shows that it reduces depressive symptoms and improves mood. It’s also relatively easy to do! The only thing you need is some quiet time with yourself, and running is a great chance for that. As you run, focus on the beauty of your surroundings and your time outside. You’ll forget about the physical exertion of your run and just begin to enjoy your time!
Closely tied to mediation is positive self-talk. To help yourself stay motivated during your runs, cheer yourself on. Remember: you’re your #1 cheerleader! In my own training experience, I’ve found mantras to be helpful ways to implement positive self talk. Saying things like “You can do it!” and “You’ve got this!” will help keep your spirits high, and if you feel like giving up, sayings like “Just get through this next mile” and “Make it to this next location” can keep you going.
Focus on Your Goals
Finally, remember those goals we talked about in the beginning? When you are out on your runs, focus on them. Focus on your passions and what is driving you to accomplish your dream. This determination, this purpose, will propel you to success and lead you to crossing the finish line.
Get Out and Get Running!
Now that you know how to train for a marathon, it’s time to turn your dreams into actions! I hope these training tips will help you build your plan and develop the right mindset as you work towards your dreams. Running a marathon is no easy feat; it requires a lot of hard work, but I know you can do it!
If you want more advice about accomplishing your goals, be sure to check out my book, Dream Big!: How to Reach for Your Stars. In it, I break down even more ways to fulfill your dreams, explain why setting goals and developing habits are so important, and more!