How to Train for a Marathon

I am preparing to run a half marathon next weekend, my ninth in the past 4 years along with 2 full marathons.  I guess that makes me somewhat of an expert on the topic so I though I would share some of my vast knowledge with those who might be looking to follow in my footsteps, becoming part of a growing movement of people of all ages, sizes and shapes who lace on a pair of shoes and stagger around a 13.1 or 26.2 mile course, just so they can eat a Cinnabon without feelings of guilt.

Now the most obvious training tip I can give to you is to just get out and run.  And then run some more.  And after that run even more.  I generally run about 800 miles a year.  That’s the equivalent of running from the Pacific Ocean all the way across Washington to the Idaho border and then back plus another 80 miles or so.  Of course you can’t jump off the couch and instantly be able to run all the way across Washington.  I would recommend starting with a mile or so for the first few days and then gradually increase your mileage to longer and longer runs.  I currently run about 4 times a week with three days in the 3-5 miles range and the fourth day being longer, generally something approaching the distance of the race I am preparing for.

Set yourself some goals.  While I am not obsessively goal driven, I do find that if I have a goal in mind for my running it helps keep me focused.  There are two things I use for goals.  The most obvious is in preparing for a race.  Signing up for a marathon commits me to either prepare for it so I don’t look bad, or lose the registration fee.  So far that has worked well for me.  The other is to track my own progress, both in miles and in time.  I have several routes of various lengths and I time each one and log it after the run.  I am constantly trying to improve on my best time.  Your goals may be different.  You may choose to log calories expended that can be offset by a Cinnabon or a piece of chocolate, pounds lost, admiring (or sympathetic) looks from other runners or drivers, etc.

Almost as important as running is having the right equipment.  Some folks will tell you that all you need is a pair of running shoes and you’re ready to go.  Well don’t believe them.  Shoes are indeed an important ingredient, but there is much more needed than that.  If you’re wanting to make a good impression on the folks who see you race by them you need to be dressed in real running clothes.  You will need to get a hold of lots of light weight clothes that will wick the sweat away from your body, keep you cool in the heat, warm in the cold and dry in the rain, be colorful enough to serve as a target for motorists and advertise your past races or favorite running product.  The required ensemble for a runner includes shoes, lots of synthetic socks, shorts, tights, sleeveless, short sleeve and long sleeve shirts, a wind shirt, a rain coat, a warm coat, gloves, ear protection and a hat.  Obviously you won’t wear all of that at the same time but having it all allows you to run in style regardless of the weather.

There are a few other pieces of equipment that will greatly aid your running.  Among these is a watch.  Now your run of the mill Timex will tell you how long you have been running, so long as you are able to remember your start time and do the math to calculate how long you have been out.  Finding a watch with a stop watch function will simplify that process though and allow you to concentrate on not falling into a hole rather than doing higher math as you run (which, by the way, is rather hard to do when you are gasping for air).  I would recommend though that you get a runners watch.  Many of these come with a strap you wrap around your chest so that the watch can tell you how fast your heart is beating.  You can’t imagine what a thrill it is to realize that your heart is racing away at 180 beats per minute.  I would advise turning off the high threshold alarm though.  It can be unsettling to your running partner if they think you are getting ready to have a heart attack.  The ultimate in runners watches have a GPS built into them.  Now you can tell, not only how long you have run and how hard your heart is working, but you can also tell how fast you are running and how far you have come.  Additionally, assuming you eventually find your way back home, you can upload the watch data into your computer and see a map of where you went, how fast each mile was and what your heart was doing the whole time.  Good stuff and highly recommended.

The last piece of gear I would recommend in a headlamp, a little flashlight that straps to your head so you can see where you are going in the dark.  Night time running takes a bit to get used to, but I have found that I prefer it, at least early in the morning.  For one, there is much less traffic out, meaning fewer cars to dodge. And it is also harder for other people to see you stagger down the road and wonder if they need to be calling an ambulance.

Finally, if you live in western Washington like I do, you need to be prepared to run in all kinds of weather, except for extreme heat.  Warm, cool, cold, wet, dry, windy and frozen.  I personally don’t run when it is frozen but do in everything else.  The combination of cold, wet and windy is the worst.  And there are, in my opinion, only two ways to handle it; be crazy or bundle up and force yourself out the door regardless.  I’ll leave it up to your imagination as to which gets me out the door at 5:30 in the morning when it is hovering around freezing, raining and the wind is blowing at 20 MPH.

Once you have run a few hundred miles and have all the right gear, go sign up for a half marathon and enjoy the company of several thousand other colorful crazies rambling down the streets of your local city.  Do it enough times and you can write your own guide to marathon preparation.

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