Say you've never been a runner, but you get a sudden urge to take on a marathon or even just a 5K race. How do you begin? You can start with these tips.
Get the Okay
Make an appointment with your health-care provider before you begin training. Training for a marathon is a major physical undertaking, and it isn't appropriate for everyone. Discuss your plans to train with your health-care provider, and make sure he or she feels that you are healthy enough to take on this challenge.
Choose a Training Schedule
Find a training schedule that fits your needs and commit to it. Look for a schedule that is appropriate for your current level of fitness (not for your ideal level of fitness). Also, choose one that asks for a time commitment that is realistic for you. You can prepare for a marathon by running between four and six days per week. (To see how Team NOVA did it, check out our Training Calendar.)
Buy the Right Shoe
Consult a professional at a running store to help you find the right shoe for you. Running shoes are the most important piece of equipment you need for marathon training. The right pair can keep you running injury-free. Once you have found the right pair of shoes, be sure to keep track of how many miles you run in them. You should get new shoes about every 500 miles. (You likely will need at least two pairs of shoes to train for and complete a marathon.)
Shop for Synthetics
Throw away all of your cotton running clothes. When you sweat, cotton holds on to the moisture, which can make you cold and uncomfortable during a run. Synthetic materials (e.g., polypropylene) help to pull the moisture away from your body, which will help keep you dry—and much more comfortable—while you run.
Make a firm commitment to be consistent. Schedule your weekly runs as if they are important appointments. While life may get in the way of running every now and then, it is crucial that you stick to your training program at least 80 percent of the time. Committing to a consistent routine throughout your training will help protect you from getting injured. It is key to running success.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Listen to your body; it knows best. While a training schedule may suggest an ideal workout for the day, only your body knows for sure. If your legs feel exhausted on a day your schedule tells you to run hard, don't be afraid to go easy or even take the day off. Pushing through your body's warning signs (exhaustion, pain, etc.) can lead to injury. Learn to recognize your body's signals and pay attention to them!
Eat Like a Champ
Eat a balanced diet throughout your training. Your diet should emphasize whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, protein-rich foods, and healthy fats. Don't try to cut back on calories while you train for a marathon (you need calories to keep you strong for your running). Instead, choose healthy foods and snacks to fuel your body.
Practice sipping water or a sports drink about every 20 minutes during your long runs. (If your run lasts an hour or less, there is no need to drink on the run.) A combination of water and sports drink is best. Consider wearing a water bottle belt during your long runs or asking a family member or friend to give you fluids along the way. (Note: Drinking too much water can cause a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, so check with a health-care provider to ensure you are getting the proper level of hydration.)
Consume Calories on the Run
If you exercise for more than 60 minutes (which you will do many times during your training), you should consume 100 to 300 calories every hour. Experiment with sports drinks, gels, and energy bars to find something that works for you.
Save Time for R&R
Make time in your schedule for extra rest and more sleep. Marathon training can be exhausting, and you need to be sure to give your body the rest it needs to keep up with the demands of training. Plan on getting an extra 30 to 60 minutes of sleep per day while you are training.
(A Bonus) Have Fun!
Enjoy your marathon experience. There will be a lot of ups and downs through the training process, but don't lose sight of your ultimate goal: to have fun!
For more information on training for long-distance running, including the potential risks, see "Ask the Expert" with Miriam Nelson of Tufts University.
NOVA's coaching team includes elite marathoner Uta Pippig (center), Tufts veteran coach Don Megerle, and nutrition scientist and author Miriam Nelson.
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