How to train for a marathon

Running a marathon is the ultimate goal for many amateur runners just starting their journey – it is the achievement after which you can truly call yourself a ‘runner’. Completing a full-length (42km) marathon is a challenging task that requires a strict training schedule, diet and recovery plan.

It takes complete commitment and preparation for months leading up to the race, no matter your level of fitness or running ability. If you follow these steps, you should be able to finish your first marathon (or even half-marathon) without any major problems. Here are guidelines for training for a marathon.

Plan your marathon training schedule

The first step to any marathon preparation is to create a solid training plan that suits your lifestyle. This includes planning your runs, gym sessions, meals and recovery days. Your training schedule should also include a timeline of goals – remember that you won’t be able to run for an hour without stopping on your first attempt. Aim to start training about five months before the marathon.

Include one long run per week on your schedule – this should be between 16 and 18km. Slowly increase the length of this long run every week until you are running 35km by the fourth month of your plan. These long runs are a vital part of training as they prepare your muscles and skeleton for the big day. Remember to pace yourself on these long runs; don’t aim to finish them in a certain time, rather slow down and complete the entire run without stopping.

Your schedule should also include short and medium runs. Short runs can be about 4 or 5km and should be run at a faster pace to improve your cardiovascular function. Medium runs can be between 11 and 13km and also run at a faster pace. You can even do these on a treadmill at the gym, which will help you to set and control your pace for the duration of the run. Aim to complete two short runs and one medium run per week.

A gym routine is also an important component of the training schedule. Too much running can actually hinder your performance in the marathon, so include low-impact gym sessions that improve your upper body strength. Start with one day of upper body exercise per week, then increase this to two or three days. You should aim to alternate running days and gym days.

Recovery is just as important as training

You need days to rest – your body and muscles will become fatigued if you do not incorporate recovery days into your schedule. Daily training can put increased strain on your muscles, skeleton and joints. Aim to include two days of recovery per week and use these days to completely relax and heal.

On training days, you should ice down your knees, shins and calves after each run. If you have any muscle stiffness or tenderness, place an ice pack on the affected area for 10 minutes to reduce swelling and improve the recovery time. Then, take a warm shower about half an hour after using the ice pack.

Another important aspect of recovery is stretching. You should do stretches every day, even on recovery days. This will improve your flexibility and decrease your chances of injuring yourself. Avoid stretching before runs; rather do some static stretches after your training. Remember to stretch your entire body, not just your legs. Your arms, neck and back need to be worked too.

Nutrition and diet are vital for marathon training

When training for a marathon, the majority of your food intake should consist of carbohydrates – around 65% of the food you eat should include potatoes, beans, wheat bread and pasta. Carbohydrates are a major source of energy and sugars which give your body the calories that it needs to train. Keep an eye on your body weight and ensure that you are eating enough to maintain your weight throughout the training programme.

Around 15% of your diet should be protein. These foods help to build muscle and repair damaged tissues after training. Foods such as eggs, fish, peanut butter, beans, dairy and lean beef are the best sources of protein for your diet. Consider buying a protein supplement, such as protein bars or powdered milkshakes, to help you meet your daily requirements.

Running a marathon can put a lot of strain on your skeleton. It is important that you consume enough calcium to protect your bones from impact wear and tear. Calcium-rich foods include broccoli, yoghurt, milk, cottage cheese and salmon. Aim to eat around 2000mg of calcium per day, even if you need to take calcium supplements to help you meet this target.

Finally, water is your best friend. While training, you need to stay hydrated. Aim to drink 8 glasses of water per day, or two litres. While you’re doing your long runs and the actual marathon, try to drink 250ml every 20 minutes. Listen to your body – if you feel thirsty then sip some water; if you feel fine, there’s no need to overdo it. Drinking too much water can cause your blood to thin and cells to swell

These are the basic steps that you need to follow for your marathon training schedule. By following these guidelines, you should be ready to run a 42km race within five or six months. Remember that recovery is just as important as the actual training, and both of these should be complemented by a healthy diet and hydration. 


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Written by Joshua Oates


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