A marathon is one of the most demanding challenges an athlete can face. With the right training and planning you will make good progress, increasing the distance of kilometres run in each session and reducing your running time. The marathon is a sport that has attracted the attention of many runners in recent years, to the point of organising prestigious events with a high level of participation all over the world, such as the New York Marathon, the London Marathon and the Barcelona Marathon, among many others. These events attract both elite runners and amateur athletes who want to better themselves and promote a healthy lifestyle. Completing a marathon is not within the reach of every athlete. Overcoming 42 kilometres is a significant achievement for many runners. The feeling of crossing the finish line after completing such a challenging distance is often a moment of celebration and personal satisfaction. Here are some tips to help you prepare for your first marathon.
How to Prepare for Your First Marathon?
1. Consult a health professional about your physical condition
First of all, it should be noted that a marathon is not something that anyone can complete. You need to have a certain level and be in top form to consider passing this demanding test. If you are a novice runner taking your first steps, the marathon is too ambitious a goal, at least for the time being. Keep training, adding kilometres to your legs and gaining experience until you feel more prepared. If, on the other hand, you have been training continuously for more than a year and you really want to reach this milestone, the first thing to do is to make sure you are in good health. See a doctor or health professional to ensure that you are ready to face such a tough and demanding challenge for your body. The professional will perform various tests, such as electrocardiograms to check your heart rhythm, your coronary status and the presence of arrhythmia. This is not an issue to be taken lightly due to the high demands of the test.
2. Set realistic goals
It is very important that before setting an overly ambitious goal you are aware of your level. Your starting point will determine how hard you train and what your goals are. In your first marathon the most common and realistic goal is to complete it. Once you finish it, you will be able to know what time you have needed to do the 42 kilometres and improve your personal time in the next competitions. Your lifestyle, work commitments and daily routine must be compatible with your chosen goal, ensuring that you have the time you need to dedicate to training and all that goes into preparing for a marathon. Setting short-term goals, such as progressively increasing your running distance, can help you stay focused on the process. As you progress in your training, evaluate your progress and adjust your goals as necessary. Adaptability is key to tackling any challenges you may encounter along the way. If you need guidance to set realistic goals, you can consult a coach who will guide you through all your steps.
3. Planning is key
Training planning is essential to effectively prepare for your first marathon. Once you have determined what your goal is, you can set up a training plan to achieve it. Select the days per week you will dedicate to training and the duration of each session. Initially you can start with three or four days of running and adjust according to your progress and ability to recover. Increase the distance of your runs gradually to avoid injury. The general rule of thumb is not to increase more than 10% of the total distance of the previous week. It is advisable to combine long runs to build endurance with speed sessions to improve strength and speed. Include rest days in your plan to allow for recovery. Rest is essential to avoid exhaustion and reduce the risk of injury. You can also add complementary activities, such as cycling or swimming, to strengthen different muscle groups and avoid mental exhaustion. Finally, record all your runs, times and feelings. Regular evaluation will help you understand your progress and make the necessary adjustments.
If you need help, it is advisable to consult a professional for a personalised training plan. Most coaches agree that with a training plan of between 10 and 16 weeks, depending on your goal and level, you will be able to complete your first marathon. Below, we show you a 16-week training plan to complete a marathon in under 4 hours for more experienced athletes. You can also use this plan as an example, adapting the time and distance of the run according to your goals.
4. Complement your sessions with strength training
Strength training is a fundamental part of marathon preparation. Doing one to two strength training sessions a week will help you strengthen your muscles, improve endurance and prevent any injuries. All muscles are important, but you should prioritise or apply greater frequency to key muscle groups for runners, such as the quads, hamstrings, glutes, calves and core. Compound exercises that work several muscle groups at once are the best option, such as squats or dead weights. Strength circuits, where a series of exercises are performed without rest in between, improve cardiovascular endurance and strength at the same time. Don’t neglect flexibility either. It includes dynamic stretching and flexibility exercises to maintain range of motion and reduce muscle stiffness.
5. Take care of your nutrition and hydration
Nutrition and hydration are two crucial aspects of any sports preparation programme. Design a nutritional plan that fits your needs and goals. The right ratio of carbohydrates, proteins and fats will allow you to successfully complete your workouts. It is recommended that you eat a high carbohydrate pre-workout meal, which will provide you with plenty of energy, and a balanced combination of protein and carbohydrate post-workout, which will aid muscle recovery and restore glycogen levels. Hydration is essential to maintain optimal performance. Make sure you drink enough water before, during and after exercise. The exact amount may vary depending on the intensity of the workout, the ambient temperature and your own level of perspiration.
Again, you may consider seeking the help of a nutritionist or sports dietitian to develop a personalised plan to suit your individual needs.
6. Rest and recovery
During training, the muscle fibres of our muscles can suffer small injuries that require some time to repair and strengthen. To do this, it is essential to respect the rest days established in your training plan. Adequate rest is essential for optimal performance. Athletes who respect rest days often experience improvements in strength, speed and endurance when they return to training. Overtraining can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion, increasing the risk of injury to muscles and joints that are constantly under stress during sport. It is advisable to use the rest days to visit a physiotherapist to get rid of all the tension in our muscles more efficiently.
7. Listen to your body
Listen to your body! I am sure you have heard this phrase more than once. But it is true, you must listen to your body, and most importantly, understand it. Watch for signs of fatigue, both physical and mental, as well as persistent muscle or joint pain. If you feel you need to adjust your training load because your body feels totally overwhelmed, do so. Add more rest days and be flexible with your schedule if you really need to. Sometimes it is better to stop and gather momentum to keep moving forward.
8. Keep a positive mindset
The mind is a very powerful tool that can play tricks on us, both in preparation and in the marathon. When pain and fatigue set in during the race, it may cross your mind to give up and abandon everything you are fighting for. Take time to visualise success in your mind. This positive visualisation boosts your confidence and helps you to overcome possible difficult moments during the race. Add deep breathing exercises, meditation or any method that helps you stay calm and control pre-competition anxiety. Be aware that negative messages will pop into your mind, but if you are sure you want to complete your first marathon you must be stronger and overcome them.
9. Get to know the race route
A great idea is to run in the same places where the marathon will take place, so you get used to the terrain, the slope and the altitude of the place. If you cannot do this, look for an alternative that has similar characteristics to the career you want to complete. During training it is advisable to try different energy and hydration supplements to test which products work best for your body.
10. Modify your routine in the week leading up to the marathon
In the final stretch of your preparation, it is advisable to reduce the training load considerably. The work is done and if you have followed the training plan properly you maximise your chances of completing your first marathon. Continue to train on the designated days, but with less intense training: less distance and more time. Rest and recovery become even more important, as do nutrition and hydration. Nerves will show up in the days leading up to the race, it’s not a bad thing, just learn to control them, just like your mind. The day before, avoid any physical activity, just light stretching and mobility exercises to keep your muscles flexible. Find moments of relaxation and disconnection that take your mind off everything related to the marathon: listen to music, watch a movie or read a book. On the day of the marathon, remember everything you’ve been through, see how you’ve progressed and keep your motivation levels as high as possible. Finally, and most importantly, enjoy the race.