When looking around for first timer marathon running tips, it’s hard to have a lot of the (apparently) basic questions answered. Running a marathon for the first time is intimidating enough, let alone reading about how to skim 20 minutes off your 3rd or 4th marathon time….
I want to know the ABCs of marathon running if I was starting from scratch, training myself and following a diet I understand.
Here are all of the questions you want answers to before your first marathon
Before the marathon
How far out do I need to start training?
As a general rule, training for a marathon or half marathon should start between 12-15 weeks out. Depending on your fitness level, the length of the marathon or your time goals (if any), this can be increased to up to 20 weeks out.
The key to marathon training is working your way up to the single long run (i.e. the length of the marathon). A marathon is 26 miles…that’s 42kms, a distance that would take just over 11 hours to walk. Over your training period, your speed increases from around 4kms/hr to around 15kms/hour, and then after a short taper, will increase even more.
Tapering is when you reduce the volume of your training in the final few weeks leading up to your marathon. It begins after completing your longest run – between 22-25 miles.
Nike has a perfect training program for beginners or those who don’t have access to trainers o5 professional advice
Should I be doing strength training/any other style of training as well?
If you’re were doing a few sessions of strength training a week before your marathon training, keep it up as long as it isn’t strenuous on your energy levels and you aren’t going for the ‘max-rep, personal best style‘ of training. Switching to a lower weight, higher rep workout format to encourage muscle endurance and lean muscle development would be beneficial to your training.
Otherwise, no it’s not necessary. Attending a stretching class every week is also extremely helpful.
What type of diet should be I following?
If you’re following a marathon training program, you’re going to be hungry…really hungry. One thing that all marathon runners have in common is that they eat A LOT, which is understandable seeing as though you can burn anywhere between 2500-3000 calories in your day. In order to maintain your weight and to grow muscle, you have to be in calorie excess during this time.
Throughout the day:
- Make sure you’re getting your calories in, even if it’s a struggle
- Throughout the day ensure your carbohydrate levels are approx 4/1 in relation to your protein. Complex carbs provide valuable glycogen which is pure muscle sustenance for long runs.
- Include a casein shake in your nightly routine – it’s a slow releasing protein that reduces muscle breakdown while you sleep, helping you recover faster and run further.
- You don’t have to stick to a particular diet, or be strict about your intake levels really – but do ensure your healthiest meals surround your runs so all of those good nutrients are going to good use
What track should I be training on?
Avoid any surprises and make sure you’re very familiar with the marathon track. Make a point to use it as your training track at least once per week.
Don’t make the all too common mistake and purchase a new pair of running shoes a week out from the big day. Make sure you’ve worn your shoes in at least 2 weeks or 40-50kms before taking them to the starting line
How do I keep motivated throughout the entire 12-15 weeks?
Running a marathon is anything but a small feat. Making sure your mind is prepared for this journey as well as your body is equally important. The best motivator is to remember why you started and acknowledging how far you’ve come. The small incremental improvements in your running time, fitness level and strength should be appreciated in every occurrence.
During the marathon
Am I running too fast/too slow?
You haven’t come all this way for the approval of the runner next to you or the one behind you. Your training has provided you with the skills to run the entire race safely, and within your own time frame, so tick to the pace you’ve trained at.
How much water should I drink during the race?
It’s worth noting that although dehydration is a dangerous and potentially fatal condition, it’s actually over-hydration that’s the most common in runners, especially after/during a marathon. Hyponatremia is caused when overhydration while exercising dilutes the sodium level in your body, possibly resulting in brain swelling that could lead to seizures and other life-threatening complications.
Take small sips at 30-minute intervals or when you’re thirsty, that’s all
What type of refueling should I do during the race?
You might think that eating whilst running would be one of the worst ideas, but it’s actually extremely important. When you’re working out for more than 75 minutes at a time, you need to give your body some fuel. Runners usually consume between 30 to 60 grams of carbs every hour after the first 75 mins. You can get this through refueling gels or drinks.
After the marathon
Should I stretch, sit, walk etc?
Congratulations!! You’ve made it this far – now it’s recovery time. Resist the temptation to fall to the ground in self-appreciation and accomplishment – keep your legs moving, even just standing up for at least 10 minutes after crossing the finish line. This will stop your legs from cramping up, and help bring your blood pressure down at a steady pace.
What should I eat/drink?
Overhydration occurs most often in the 15-30 minutes after runners have completed the race. Because there is so little fluid or sugar in your body, anything you consume will be forced quickly to the bloodstream, putting your heart, brain and vital organs at risk of hyponatremia. Take it slow with small sips of water and bites of easily digestible food i.e. bread crackers or banana pieces
What are the steps I should take when I get home/ within the first few hours post race?
Take an ice bath or an ice-bath equivalent – If you don’t have access to an ice bath, make sure you ice your knees and quads and for a few hours after your run. If you can have an ice-bath, it is incredible for recovery, inflammation and circulation – but whatever you do DON’T SOAK IN A HOT BATH!
How long will I be sore for?
If you’re still feeling extremely achy over a week after your run, it might be best to see a sports massage therapist to work out tough muscle knots or stiff areas on the body.