The million-dollar question: how to train for a marathon. Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment, and it also happens to be a huge undertaking. You don’t just wake up one day and decide to run 26.2 miles. Well you could try to do that, but it probably wouldn’t go so well. According to the experts at REI, “most marathon training plans range from 12 to 20 weeks. Beginning marathoners should aim to build their weekly mileage up to 50 miles over the four months leading up to race day.” That’s a lot of running and training, but here’s the crazy part: as intense and overwhelming as running a marathon may seem, you can do it. And not just any marathon—you can run the Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon is universally recognized to be on of the hardest courses and most challenging races in the world. The racecourse features tough terrain and intense hills, especially at the end with the famous Heartbreak Hill (eek, it even sounds scary). As Runner’s World reports, according to 4-time Boston Marathon race champion Bill Rodgers, “Boston is a course you need to do many times before you get the hang of it.” So how can you prepare for this arguably diabolical race? It’s going to take time, dedication and a lot of hard work, but these 10 tips on how to train for a marathon.
1. Plan Ahead
Marathon training is a time-intensive activity; some training runs may only be a few miles long, but some runs will be long (very long) and will eat up a few hours of your day. Plan your upcoming training months accordingly to free up time where you need it and to make sure you don’t take on too much that could interfere with your ability to properly prepare your body.
Read Related: Run Right: 8 Ways to Amp Your Proper Running Form
2. Start Slow and Build Your Base
As with any marathon, before you can expect to conquer a full course you need to build your base. According to running coach Thad McLaurin, it’s crucial that you develop and maintain base training so that your body is properly prepared for the more intense work that will come. “The problem is without a proper base and proper progression of increased intensity over the period of the “real” training plan, these runners increase their chances of injury exponentially, not to mention the head games that can occur this early in the game.” Nothing is worse than being sidelined by an injury because you jumped into training too fast and attempted to run 20 miles with zero preparation; be smart and ease into your training plan.
3. Pay Attention to Your Form
As the Daily Burn reports, running right makes a big difference in your ability to run for a long period of time and really crush a marathon course, especially the Boston course. As you begin your training take time to place focus on your form; you should run with your shoulders down and back, your body tall and lengthened, your core strong and your arms should be loose and relaxed.
4. Be Patient and Listen to Your Body
If you need a rest day, take a rest day. You can make up for lost mileage at another time, but if you push your body too hard, too fast and too soon, you’ll risk getting hurt and you’ll start to dread your marathon training instead of feeling motivated to work harder.
5. Practice on the Course, if Possible
While most of us don’t live in or near Boston, if you do, make an effort to practice running on the actual course. You can look up the race map and read about the different landmarks that are featured at each major mile marker. Practice running those blocks and those hills so that you know what to expect and you can train yourself mentally and physically before race day. If you cannot make it to Boston, read about the various elevations and course conditions, and then try to find similar running environments in your own backyard.
6. Don’t Forget to Stretch and Work on Core Strength
One of the most common ways to get a running injury is to not stretch properly. Stretching helps your muscles recover and helps reduce inflammation so you can perform at your optimal level. Beyond that, if your muscles are sore you might start to compensate by using poor form and putting more stress on your joints and tendons. As any runner who has ever experienced IT band issues or patellofemoral pain syndrome (aka runner’s knee) knows, running injuries suck and they are hard to bounce back from. Stretch, stretch and stretch some more. And while we’re at it, it’s important to also work on your core, because a strong body can deliver strong results during a race.
7. Run in all Weather Conditions
Boston marathon weather can be unpredictable and varied throughout the course. Some parts may be sunny and some windy, it could be chilly and raining or it could hot and humid. Be prepared for everything and practice running outside in all conditions.
8. Find the Right Gear
What you wear makes a big difference, and not only when it comes to looking like a badass. You need to find sneakers that suit you and give you proper support and cushioning. You need clothes that help prevent chaffing and allow your skin to breathe as you sweat. You might want to wear a belt or watch or sweatband. Whatever gear you choose, select it ahead of time and practice running long distances in that gear to make sure it feels right and it works for you.
9. Use Music that Motivates
Music is a huge motivator, especially when you think you cannot run any more and your body is about to give up. Running a marathon is as much of a mental challenge as it is physical, and music can help on both fronts. Think about the songs that pump you up and inspire you and make a playlist featuring all of your favorite tunes that make you want to work harder and run faster.
Last but not least, you have to taper as the last phase of your training. The point of tapering is to allow your body to rest so that it can perform at it’s maximum potential on the actual day of the race. If you do too much too close to the race you could burn out and risk injury on race day. So to prevent that, you reduce your mileage and the intensity of your workouts as you near the last few weeks of your training. According to Pete Pfitzinger, co-author of Advanced Marathoning and a two-time Olympic marathoner as well as an exercise physiologist, “you should run 80% of your normal training volume three weeks out from the race, 60% two weeks out, and one-third the week before.”