So You Want to Run Your First Marathon- Where Do You Start?

So you just decided that you want to run your first marathon! Congratulations!  That’s great news!

Running a marathon is a test of your endurance like you’ll never see anywhere else.  It’s a full 26.2 mile journey through the best and worst of yourself in just one morning.

So where do you start?

Is it as simple as signing up and then toeing the line?

Easy answer, no.  It’s not that simple but it can be a very rewarding experience if you take care of a few things first.

What do you need to think about before you jump into a marathon?

1. Are you healthy enough to run a marathon? This is easily taken care of by having a physical from your Doctor.  You want to make sure that you don’t have any pre-existing conditions that will possibly interfere with the training and then running the full marathon distance.  After all, the goal is to finish, to finish healthy and, of course, to have some fun along the way.

2. Are you willing to commit the time and effort into training for a marathon? If you are reasonably conditioned, you can train for a marathon over the course of 16-20 weeks, or 4-5 months.  But if you’re starting from scratch, I would highly recommend building up a base of running and aerobic conditioning for a year prior to you official marathon training.  This would give you anywhere from 16-18 months of preparation and training for your target race.

3. Are you willing to shift your lifestyle around to fit into your new physical goal? Training for a marathon takes a lot of time and energy.  Most of us already have a lot of things going on between our families, our career, our friends and our hobbies.  By adding in a marathon, you might need to rearrange how you spend your time.  I am in no way suggesting you become a hermit and only leave your home to run, but there is a higher demand for sleep during marathon training.  If you are not willing to look and see where you are going to move your time around, then training and completing a marathon will become more difficult.

4. Are you looking just to finish or do you want to have a time goal in mind? I come from the “if I’m going to do it, it should be fun” school of thinking so if I would give you any suggestions, it would be to aim to finish strong, healthy and with a smile on your face.  The marathon itself is grueling and if you are entering into a complete unknown, then aiming to finish is a solid and respectable goal.  However, if you have a finish time in mind, then be prepared to train a little harder and a little more intensely than you might have previously thought.

5. What is your training personality? Are you a planner and would benefit from a solid running plan, joining a running team or even running for a charity?  Are you more of a free form, zen runner and are just going to run on your own, adding distance as you get closer to the race?  Are you someone who will benefit from running races once a month or more as you lead up to your race?  Or are you someone who just needs to do one beforehand and then are all set for marathon race day?  Decide what you need to do and what kind of support you need.  If you’re not sure, then test out some local running races or running groups.  Where do you fit or not fit?

6. Are you looking to run a local race or are you looking to travel? Local races are usually a balance between saving money on traveling and allowing yourself to not be at work right before the race itself.  Traveling usually involves a higher price tag, a mini-vacation and potentially different weather conditions.  What is more important to you?  To be close to home?  Or to try someplace new and different?

These are just a few things to consider when deciding on your first marathon.  There are a few things that I highly suggest for anyone, regardless of their skill level or goals.

1. Choose a goal race and then stick to it.  Plan around that race and allow yourself enough time to build up to the race.

2. Run at least 1, if not more, half marathon distance running races in the months prior to your goal race.  Make sure you even like long distances!  Also, you could use the practice figuring out what foods and drinks work for you on a race day.

3. Get support.  It doesn’t matter who it is but knowing that there are people behind you, supporting you as you train is so important and will become more important as you get closer to the race.

4. At least 6 months before your goal race, if not more, have your feet analyzed by a professional runners shop.  Most stores offer this service for free and will gladly give you at least three different shoe suggestions that will fit your foot size, shape, arches and running stride.  They will try to sell you right then and there on shoes, so be forewarned.  This service is invaluable because if your feet hurt before the training, how do you think they’ll feel while your running your marathon?

5. Talk to people you know who have already ran at least one marathon.  Pick their brain. Look at their pictures, videos and really let yourself get excited by seeing what is in store for you.

No matter how you go about it, running your very first marathon is an amazing experience.  The trick is to find a way to do the training and the race where you will be healthy, happy and have the time of your life- all while doing something physically active!

Good luck.

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