Marathon Training - Essential Running Information

Thinking about running a marathon?

Completing a 26.2 mile race can be one of the most exhilarating times of your life......or it can be one of the most humbling and painful experiences you can live through. The good news is that with the proper preparation, training, and commitment you can exponetially increase your odds of having a great experience!

The material presented on this web page contains essential information that runners of all abilities can use to safely and successfully complete a marathon. Discussed here in a compact, organized, and straight-forward manner, you will find the following vital marathon training topics:

  1. Build a Base
  2. Use the Right Equipment
  3. Incorporate Cross Training and Rest
  4. Eat Right
  5. Commit and Train your Mind
  6. Implement a Training Schedule
  7. Run Long
  8. Taper
  9. Prepare to Race
  10. Race Smart
  11. Recover and Rejuvinate

Build a Base

The first thing you need to evaluate is your current conditioning. Are you currently running 20-25 miles per week? Can you complete a 10K run?

A solid mileage base of 20-25 miles per week and a long run of approximately 6 miles is a must before you consider training for a marathon.

Once you've built a mileage base, weekly mileage and an increasing long run can be added in small increments. (See 10% Rule)

Use the Right Equipment

As you move into your training and the weekly mileage and long runs increase, you need to decide up front what running equipment is right for you.

First, think about your shoes. Which type of shoes work best for you? Are your current pair comfortable? What is the mileage on the pair you are wearing? Will they make it through both the training and the marathon? See link below for information on how to choose running shoes.

Socks are another area to consider. Which type work best for you (i.e. thin, thick, two layers, etc.)? A good pair of socks are crucial for your feet during a marathon.

Next, consider your running apparel. Chafing is a major concern especially during long runs and the marathon. Also consider how much and what type of clothing you need to be comforable but not overheated (i.e. tights, long-sleeves, hat, gloves, etc.)

Beyond apparel, consider those items you might need to put on your body to reduce pain and inflammation during the marathon (analgesic creams for pain and vaseline/bodylube for chafing).

Incorporate Cross Training and Rest

Did you know that you can rest and work out at the same time by cross-training? Cross-training gives you a break from the the pounding of running while still receiving aerobic benefits. Great cross-training activities include cycling, swimming, cross-country skiing, strength training, and even some stretching.

Marathon training is a process where you break the body down so that it will rebuild itself stronger than before. In order for the rebuilding process to occur, you must give yourself the proper amount of rest. It is recommended that beginners schedule 2-3 nonconsecutive days for complete rest (no cross-training) while intermediate to advanced runners may want to incorporate some cross-training on two of the days that novices are resting.

Eat Right

Eating a proper diet is crucial for marathon training. Complex carbohydrates should make up at least 65% of your normal dietary intake during most of your training. In the final few days before the marathon, increase the amount of complex carbohydrates you are consuming. This is called Carboloading. It works by adding additional glycogen to your body which is the fuel your muscles will burn while running. Additionally, glycogen means more running miles without "hitting the wall".

In addition, if your diet is somewhat unbalanced and/or you feel you need some sports nutrition insurance, daily multi-vitamins with minerals are the answer.

I highly recommend: Xtend-Life Total Balance Vitamins (Men/Women).

Commit and Train your Mind

In marathon training, commitment is the most important thing. Without it, you will not succeed. With commitment and sensible, consistent training, your odds of success skyrocket! The majority of runners (including first-timers) do complete the distance.

Believe you can do it. A major part of marathon running is preparing yourself mentally. Commit to the training and visualize yourself crossing the finish line while you are doing your training runs. Imagine the joy and sense of accomplishment you will feel as the finisher's medal is placed around your neck.

Implement a Training Schedule

Before implementing a training schedule, it is imperative that you have built up a mileage base. Do NOT skip this step. Also, familiarize yourself with the remaining marathon training information as well as the training and injury prevention pages before beginning.

A training schedule is crucial for providing a series of steps you will take to prepare you to run a marathon. Running a marathon can be intimidating but "inch by inch it's a cinch." Follow the links below for a sample beginner schedule and an advanced schedule. Either of these schedules are modifiable and do provide a good starting point for implementing a training schedule that will take you to the finish line!

Beginner Schedule

Advanced Schedule

Interested in taking your marathon training to the next level or just needing someone with a proven track record to give you a step-by-step plan to complete your 1st marathon?

I recommend Marius Bakken's 100 Day Modern Marathon Training Plan.

Marathon Training Plan

Run Long

The long run is the most important component of your marathon training. It will make up about 80% of your entire training program. Novices should begin with a long run of approximately 6 to 7 miles while intermediate/advanced runners typically start with a long run of 10 miles. Be sure to increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent per week (10% Rule). Schedule your long runs on the day of the week when you have the most free time - Saturdays or Sundays for most people.


Tapering occurs late in your marathon training and allows your body to recover and refuel. Al Dimiccio, Mercedes Marathon Training Director, says "too many runners want to train right up to the marathon, but you need to let you body recover after all the hard training." Dimiccio recommends a 50% reduction in distance during the last two weeks of training with very little running in the final two or three days. Tapering allows damaged muscle fibers to heal and promotes maximum glycogen storage. The additional glycogen storage means additional miles on race day.

Prepare to Race

Listed below are some tips on things to do in your last 24 hours before the marathon to get you to the starting line ready to run:

  • Take a water bottle filled with sports drink/water with you the day before the marathon. Drink from it regularly to ensure you are properly hydrated.
  • Be sure to eat three carbohydrate-filled meals the day before the race. Don't stuff yourself. Carbo snacking throughout the day is encouraged.
  • Keep foot travel to a minimum the day before the race. It's okay to visit the race expo or check out a new city but DO NOT stay on your feet for hours at a time.
  • Get plenty of rest the night before the race. It may be hard to sleep but make sure you are well rested.
  • Lay out everything you will need for the race the night before. Visualize race morning and everything leading up to the race.
  • On race morning, get up early enough to have a small but sufficient breakfast, make plenty of bathroom stops, and leave for the race with time to spare.

Race Smart

During the race:

  • Get to the starting line a few minutes early. You do not want to be late and in a last minute panic.
  • Start warming up 10-15 minutes before the race begins. Do just enough to feel loose and relaxed. Hold back from the yelling and exuberance at the start of the race. You want to save that energy for run itself.
  • At the beginning of the race, start out slower than what you hope to average. Once the initial pack has broken up, speed up to your chosen pace.
  • Check your watch at all the mile markers. As soon as you notice you are running too fast, immediately slow down to your chosen pace. If you have to speed up, do so by no more than 10 seconds above your normal pace.
  • Do not pass up any fluid stations. Experts recommend you drink 6-8 ounces of water or sports drink every 15-20 minutes. Begin drinking water in the early miles and then switch to sports drinks after about 60 minutes of running.
  • If you ate sports bars, gels, or chews during your long training runs, feel free to do so in the marathon as well. Be sure to chase it down with water or a sports drink. These products provide a quick source of carbohydrates and energy.

Recover and Rejuvinate

As soon as the race is over:

  • Get something to drink.
  • Eat anything that your body craves. Carbohydrates replenish depleted energy stores. Fruits, vegetables and salty foods replace essential minerals. Protein enhances muscle repair.
  • Determine if you need any medical attention (aches, pains, blisters, etc.)
  • Gently stretch within 20 minutes of completing the race
  • Keep walking. Do not lie down. Sudden stopping or lying down will cause a drop in blood pressure and perhaps fainting, leg cramps, and/or nausea.
  • Get a post-race massage (if available).
  • Avoid long soaks in hot water which may cause swelling and exacerbate muscle soreness. In the early stages of recovery you are better off to cool your legs by soaking them in cold water which will reduce inflammation.
  • Get some kind of exercise later in the day: either walking, biking swimming, or even dancing.
  • During the first week of recovery, it is best to avoid running altogether. Walk a few miles each day to loosen your body and promote healing.
  • Return to exercise when your body tells you it's okay.

The marathon training points listed above are purposely short and to the point. They are not intended to be all encompassing but to give you a starting point to run a safe and successful marathon.

Top Recommended Marathon Coaching Program

If you are looking for some additional help in preparing for and running a marathon whether it be a first time event, aiming for a personal best, or possibly to qualify for Boston:

My Top Recommendation is: The 100 Day Modern Marathon Training Plan

Marathon Training Plan

Additional Marathon Training Articles/Resources:

Walk Breaks...Springboard to a new PR?
Additional Marathon Tips
Marathon Packing List/Tips