1. Buy comfortable running shoes
Begin your marathon quest on the right foot – literally – by purchasing a pair of running shoes that don’t pinch, chafe or cause blisters.
“The most important thing is that your shoes are comfortable,” says Ashley Fox, coordinator of the University of Calgary’s marathon training program, and literacy coordinator at the Be Fit For Life Centre.
Break in your shoes during training to ensure that you won’t have any foot problems on race day.
2. Increase your mileage slowly
Resist the urge to fast track your training. Doing too much too soon can cause injury and a loss of motivation. “With our first timers we recommend between six and eight months of pre-race preparation,” says Fox.
Increasing your running distance gradually is easier on your body. It will also allow you to set achievable goals, keeping you keen to progress to the next level. “We use a 10 percent rule for increasing overall mileage per week,” says Fox.
For example, if you’re prepping for a 5K, add 500 meters to your distance each week.
3. Wear a heart rate monitor during training
Choose a watch that features a heart rate monitor. For marathon running, your heart rate should land between 65 to 75 percent of your maximum heart rate (%HRM).
“The percent of your maximum heart rate will let you know what is going on in your body while running. To calculate it, use the formula 220 minus your age, or have a trainer test you,” says Fox. “If you’re wearing a monitor you can meet those targets and get the most out of your training.”
As you become fitter, your heart rate zone might change, so wear a heart rate monitor regularly.
4. Take rest days
Training for your marathon every single day can lead to injuries. Aim to workout three or four times per week, and schedule time off in between to recover.
“We have a four-day a week training schedule,” says Fox. “Some weeks that’s four runs, others it’s three with one cross training session. We’ve found that this schedule allows for better physiological adaptations than running every day.”
5. Cross-train for better fitness
To improve your marathon running, incorporate lifting weights, swimming, cycling and yoga into your training.
“Cross-training makes runners faster and stronger” even if they take time away from running,” says Fox. “Runners often underestimate the power that strength training offers because they’re always trying to fit in the next run, but strength, endurance and core fitness are huge factors in training, and it also reduces injury.”
6. Let others keep you accountable
When you’re training on your own, it can be hard to find the motivation to leave your warm bed for a chilly morning run.
“Having a running group to meet up with will make you show up and do the runs,” says Fox. Joining a group of runners is a great way to hold yourself accountable to your training during the months leading up to your marathon.
And don’t forget friends, family and co-workers – lean on them for encouragement and support while you prepare for this physical challenge.
7. Speak to veteran marathoners
Bend the ear of successful marathon finishers for invaluable advice. “They’ll calm newcomers’ fears, and tell stories of what it’s like to cross the finish line,” says Fox. When you hear the wonderful stories of what to expect, you’ll feel even more energized and focused on meeting your marathon goal.
8. Check out the course beforehand
Veteran runners study the marathon course in advance. “Marathons have done a great job at providing elevation charts and course maps,” says Fox. “You can see what it’s going to be like so you can train appropriately, and aren’t surprised on race day.”
9. Avoid drastic changes on marathon day
Adopting a new meal plan, sleeping schedule, running shoe or warm-up technique on the day of your first marathon is a recipe for disaster. Follow your routine from training on the day of the race. “Train like you’re going to race. Eat what you’re going to eat before the race,” advises Fox. Even the slightest change in your routine can affect your performance and comfort.
10. Don’t start too fast on race day
A mistake new marathoners commonly make is getting carried away with the excitement on the day.
“The hype of the race often makes people sprint,” says Fox. “If you take off flying, three miles in you’ll be tired with 23 more miles to go. Start off slow. Pick up your speed as you get going.”
Once you’re on the move, be aware of how your body feels so you can create your own rhythm. Take the time to decide what to do next – pick up the pace, or stay where you are.
“Don’t get caught up with everyone around you,” says Fox. “Listen to what’s going on with your own body.”