Congratulations on deciding to run a marathon. If you prepare properly both physically and mentally, it could possibly be one of the coolest things you will ever do in your life!
The marathon is 26.2 miles. That is longer than you can imagine. Get in your car and drive 26 miles. I bet you’ll be tired. Running a marathon is more than twice as difficult as running a half marathon. Although it’s different for everyone, when you approach mile 18 or so, your body generally starts to seriously protest. And at that point, you still have eight miles to go, which most likely is longer than your average run right now. Do not take the marathon lightly or you will get into trouble.
There are three reasons that I will mention right here that I think are cause for not running a marathon right now.
- You have never run a half marathon.
- You have been running less than a year.
- You have an injury or a medical condition that would preclude this.
If you fall in any of the above categories, please do yourself a favor and hold off for now.
I have completed numerous marathons. I try to do one a year at this point but my goal is to always be “marathon ready” these days. I am very slow, generally keeping towards the back of the pack. My goal when I run a marathon is to finish “comfortably” and be ready for the next one.
I often get asked how to prepare for a marathon. I hope the advice that follows helps you in your preparation. I will keep things as simple as possible here. Here are some of the most common questions I am asked.
Q: I’ve just started running and I would like to enter a marathon. Do you think this is a good idea?
A: Actually I do not think it is a good idea for a beginner to run a marathon. In my opinion, you should have at least a year of running under your belt before even thinking about a marathon. There are too many new things that a beginning runner will face; things such as figuring out proper nutrition, hydration, dealing with chafing and pain, what clothing works best, finding the best shoes, and much more. The marathon is a long, grueling run. If any of the above are not tweaked during shorter runs, the marathon will become a nightmare. My goal is to make sure you actually have fun running a marathon.
Q: OK, so I have been running for a couple of years now. Am I ready for the marathon?
A: Well, I don’t know. Do you think you are? What is the longest distance you have ever covered? If you have never run a half marathon, why don’t you try that first? A half marathon is 13.1 miles – a long run by almost anyone’s standards. Enter a half marathon, train for that and see how you feel. If you complete it with no problems then I think you are on your way to the full marathon.
Q: Some of my friends are registered for a marathon six months from now and even though the longest distance I have ever run is eight miles, I would like to join them. Would this be OK?
A: Again, I am going to stick to my previous answer and say no, you’d be better off running a half. Many marathons these days have an accompanying half marathon so you should check to see if the one your friends entered has that choice available. But either way, I would not enter the full right now. There is plenty of time for you to do this. Marathons are not going away. They are more popular than ever now. Get the proper base before taking the plunge.
Q: I have been running off and on for seven years now. I have my site set on the Chicago Marathon, which is eight months away. I ran a half marathon a couple of years ago and finished slow but comfortably. My average run these days is 3-4 miles. Will I be OK?
A: Yes, you are ready to take the next step to the marathon! Even though your runs are fairly short, you are a seasoned runner who has completed a half. Eight months of training is a very adequate amount of time. Assuming you are in good health, go ahead and enter Chicago!
Q: I am about 30 pounds overweight and I would love to train for and run a marathon to help me lose weight. Is this a good idea?
A: It is a great idea as long as you have been running for at least a year and have completed a half marathon comfortably. If not, please go ahead and work on those. Running any distance is a great way to lose weight when combined with a good eating program. Running a marathon will not guarantee weight loss. Again, it would be so much better for you to work on the basics first.
Q: I am 42 years old and have occasional chest pain upon exertion. Would running a marathon be safe for me?
A: There is no way I can tell. Please see a sports medicine physician for evaluation. I have been going to The Cooper Clinic in Dallas, TX for about ten years now for my physicals. The reason is that all of the physicians there understand exercise physiology and how it relates to my body and my health. I am willing to travel for the best care. Wherever you go, make sure your doc understands and believes strongly in exercise. In my opinion, a doc that is a runner himself or herself would be ideal. Also, please note that I have no association at all with The Cooper Clinic except for the fact that I am a patient there.
Q: I am training now and when I get seven or eight miles into my run, my feet really hurt. Suggestions?
A: Make sure you have shoes that fit properly. That is key! Go to a running store that has experienced runners as salespeople that can evaluate your gait. There are so many types of shoes out there these days that are made for different types of feet, bodies, running styles, etc. that I bet there is a good pair waiting for you.
And please understand that just because a pair of shoes is expensive does not mean they are the right type for you. Many years ago when I was a beginner runner I went out and bought a real expensive pair of shoes. They really killed my feet and I had to give them away. Turned out that a cheaper pair worked perfectly for me.
If you do all of the above and you cannot find a pair of shoes that work for you, please seek out a good sports medicine podiatrist. You may need orthotics or some other type of corrective device.
Q: I am a diabetic. Can I run a marathon?
A: I am not supposed to be giving actual medical advice here so my first response will be to please check with your doctor. But having said that, I believe that a running program that includes proper training as well as nutrition is a positive thing for diabetics as opposed to a negative. I actually know people that have seen marked improvements and reversal in their diabetes through good exercise programs.
Q: My goal is to run a spring marathon next year. Good idea?
A: Well it’s hard to say, as I am not sure where you live. I have found spring marathons difficult due to the fact that most of the training needs to take place over the winter. If you are living in a warm climate, this should not be a problem. But if you are in Minnesota, it could be a challenge.
Q: What is your feeling about training on a treadmill as opposed to running outside?
A: There is nothing like running outdoors because it simulates the surface that you will actually be running on for 26.2 miles. Don’t get me wrong, treadmills are great and many people swear by them. I have used them successfully in the past. These days I do not own one.
My feeling is that if you ONLY train on a treadmill and then go out to run the marathon, it is going to feel very different to you and you may have some problems.
Q: How many times a week do I need to run to be able to complete a marathon?
A: Great question. Ask many coaches and you will get many answers on this one. My personal opinion has changed over the years. I believe you can comfortably complete a marathon by running three times per week, and I am not talking about three high mileage runs.
I have found that I just need one long run every two weeks and shorter runs in between to complete the marathon. Please remember that I am not an elite or competitive runner. I will never come close to qualifying for Boston. I run to finish comfortably and am generally much closer to the back of the back as opposed to the front. But I have been running for over 35 years now injury and burnout free. And there is a lot to be said for that!
Q: How long should my longest run be to be adequately trained for a marathon?
A: My answer is 26.2 miles or longer. Because if you complete this distance in your training, we know you should be able to run the marathon. But having said that, there are many successful marathoners that do not believe they need to complete the 26.2 mile distance in their training. I would personally try to get as close to the full distance in training as possible though!
Q: Is it OK to walk part of the marathon and still say I finished?
A: Absolutely! You are a finisher whether you cross the line in 2:15 or 7:15. As a matter of fact, I will say that crossing the line, no matter what your time is, makes you a winner!
I take walk breaks during the marathon and it’s the best thing I have ever done to get me through. Jeff Galloway, an ex-Olympian marathoner swears by them and has actually proven that your time can improve by inserting walk breaks. To know more, I would suggest buying one of Jeff’s books on marathoning. Perhaps one of the best investments you can make!
Q: This all sounds great. I think I am ready. What should I do now?
A: I am glad you are ready and have decided to run a marathon. First of all, I would suggest researching which marathon you would like to enter and run. I happen to love Chicago because it is a great flat course through an incredible city. The energy of the people in every neighborhood helps to carry you across the finish line!
The Baltimore Marathon (in my hometown) is another great fall marathon. Same with the Marine Corps Marathon, in Washington, DC. But I suggest that you take a look at all available marathons and then decide which one you will enter. I believe running a fall marathon is ideal because that will allow you to train all through the spring and summer.
Next, simply decide what your goal is and plan your training accordingly. If your goal is simply “to finish,” your training will be very different from an elite athlete that is competing to win! My personal goal in the marathon is to finish comfortably. As I said, I combine walking and running to take me across the finish line.
If you are curious, look for a future article where I will give you more tips as well as outline my very own training schedule for Chicago in October.
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