How to Train for Your First Marathon

Expectations for Your First Marathon

Take note of your time when you finish the race, but make sure you enjoy it above all.
Take note of your time when you finish the race, but make sure you enjoy it above all.

Whether you're an elite athlete focused on winning your age category or a beginning runner simply hoping to stagger across the finish line, you can expect one thing from your first marathon: your personal best. Here are some other things to expect:

  • Impact on Your Day-to-Day Life.At the outset of training, expect to run for at least 30 minutes a day, 3 to 4 times per week (your easy run days) and at least 1 hour, 1 time per week (your long slow distance days). For the next 18 to 24 weeks, as training progresses, so will your daily time committments. What may seem like no big deal at the outset of training will likely take up much of your free time by race day.
  • Training Expectations. Because training will slowly but surely take over much of your free time, expect to become interested (friends may say "obsessed") with running. You'll pore over magazines and websites, learning about proper nutrition and fluids, workouts to improve your speed and performance and how to deal with problems like black toenail and, for guys, the dreaded nipple chafing. For the most part, an escalating interest in all-things-running will help keep you focused and motivated. However, resist the urge to over-train. Rest days are important for preventing burnout and injury.
  • Race Day Expectations. By the time race day arrives, you've done all you can do; the rest is mostly out of your control. Expect crowds. Expect a thrum of nervous excitement particular to athletic competitions. Expect to see a variety of runners -- from weedy, nervous, obsessed types to jolly, chatting jokesters. Arrive early; there will be long lines at the port-o-potties and delays finding a place to park. Be prepared by bringing a reasonable stock of fluids and snacks for glitches with the course (such as hydradration and nutrition stations that run dry before you arrive). Look forward to an enormous aura of excitement; your first marathon is a special experience. Drink it in.

Now that you know what to expect, let's talk about the meat-and-potatos of how to get you there: the marathon training schedule.