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The 5 Requirements of Training for Your First Marathon

BY Hal Higdon

Before submitting that entry form, consider whether you have the five basic requirements to successfully train for your first marathon.

You started to run last year to get in shape, maybe to lose a few pounds, or because your best bud or girlfriend talked you into it. And now, even though you haven’t run a step since Thanksgiving with several turkey dinners under your belt, or maybe overlapping that belt, you want to start running again, maybe even (drum roll here)…

Run a marathon!

It’s easy to make a resolution with champagne bubbles in your eyes on January 1, but will you be able to fulfill your bargain with the devil next spring or fall, depending on which race of 26 miles 385 yards you place in your Bucket List? Before submitting that entry form, consider whether you have the five basic requirements to successfully train for your first marathon.

1. Evaluate your fitness.

Yes, your friends are planning a First Marathon, and you want to join them. Or there is a cause for which you want to raise money, charity running being one of the major motivators for marathon runners? But stop! First, is this a realistic goal? If you are overweight and want to use a marathon to lose pounds, maybe you should lose those pounds before embarking on a marathon training program. Young and fit because you play soccer or ride a bike to work? No problem. If over 35 with a family history of heart disease and a compunction for watching ESPN with beer and popcorn by your side, you might want to consult a doctor and get a physical exam before punching the “Go” button.

2. Pick an interim goal.

If starting from a low level of fitness, that goal might be to run a single mile without stopping—or even to walk that mile. Most cities have 5-K races where the entry fees are less than $25 vs. the $250 you might pay for a major marathon. Test your ability first in a 5-K, or even a half marathon, an increasingly popular race distance for runners, especially for new runners. According to Running USA, approximately four times as many runners ran half marathons last year than full marathons: 2 million vs. a half million. Half marathons make great interim goals for those planning to eventually run full marathons.

3. Determine if you have the time.

What else in your busy life is liable to conflict with your marathon plans? Most marathon training programs prescribe long runs that may take you three or four or more hours to complete on weekends. That plus midweek runs that may require your getting up at 5:00 am to run before going to work. Studying for a law exam? Taking care of several young kids? Just moved into a new house or fixing up an old one? Is this a good year for running a first marathon, or is that a Bucket List item that can be postponed until your work and family schedule provides you with more recreational time?

4. Select a good training program.

This is a self-serving statement, since I offer 18-week training programs for the marathon through TrainingPeaks, also 12-week programs for the half marathon, plus other distances. Advertisement aside, you do not want to enter into this important commitment flying blind. Utilize the experiences of those who have gone before you. Running is perhaps the simplest sport. You simply put one foot in front of the other and move. You don’t have to kick a ball; you don’t have to swing a racket. But it takes planning to build your body up to a level where you can run 26.2 miles. Let a good coach do the planning for you.

5. Build a support team.

Yes, running is a one-person sport, but you’ll achieve greater success if the people around you—your family and friends—know what you’re doing. You very definitely need the support of your spouse, particularly if there are child-caring issues that need resolution. Determine a schedule for the two of you. If you steal four hours from family activities on a weekend, give back four hours or more at another time. Sit down with your support team before Week 1 of training to make sure each of you knows what to expect.

Do all that and your First Marathon dream can be a reality. All you need to do now is start to run.

The Complete Marathon Training Guide

Complete Marathon Training Guide

Training Guide

This guide is designed to be used as you train for a marathon, with in-depth information on every part of the process. Each chapter is packed with tips, workouts, and insights from expert running coaches, to give you all the tools you need to succeed.

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About Hal Higdon

Hal Higdon is a Contributing Editor for ‘Runner’s World‘ and author of 34 books, including the best-selling ‘Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide’. He ran eight times in the Olympic Trials and won four world masters championships. Higdon estimates that over a quarter of a million runners have finished marathons using his training programs, and he also offers additional interactive programs at all distances through TrainingPeaks. Hal uses TrainingPeaks to power his interactive marathon and half marathon training plans — check out more of Hal Higdon’s training plans on his website.

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