New to the Marathon: What You Need to Know

Laura Barreca PT, DPT

Fall marathon season is upon us and many training cycles are in full swing! Are you training for Berlin, Chicago, New York or the Philly Marathon? Is this your first marathon ever? Well, look no further, we have all the first timer tips for you right here and a little bit of experience to back it up!

Last year, I decided to run my first marathon.

I have been running since I was little, but this was a bit different – this distance was wayyyy out of my comfort zone. I had the urge to sign up for this ridiculous race after volunteering in the medical tent at New York the year before with my PT class and watching how incredible the experience was. So, with a lot of nerves & excitement late last spring/early summer, it was time to start gearing up for a training cycle. So many things to decide: how long to make the training cycle, what to do within said training cycle, how many miles to run for the longest long run? There was a lot of figuring out to do and that is all SO normal for marathon training for beginners.

To start, let’s answer question one: how long should a training cycle be?

It differs for everyone, but training cycles can span lengths from 12 weeks all the way up to 20 weeks. A more experienced runner or a runner who already has a base built (a bunch of easy mileage over a period of time) can use a 12 week plan. A newbie who is just getting into running or marathon training for the first time, should utilize a longer length plan, like 20 weeks. This is to give time to build those long runs and endurance.  I went with a 20 week plan but, quick tip #1 is to make sure you give yourself an adequate rest period prior to the start of your cycle. I had been running continuously for too long and definitely could have used a break at some point before the start of marathon training. Make sure you are fresh and excited to start!  

Next, question number two: what to do within the training cycle?

This is a tough question and there really is no right answer! You can look for an individualized training plan written by a coach for more specificity to you, utilize an online training plan such as Hal Higdon or any other online template, or write your own if you have any training knowledge. I chose to write my own, but I always recommend seeking a professional to help with this. A professional will hold you accountable and give you proper advice while also writing a plan that is specific to you, looks to accomplish your individualized goals, and keeps you injury free. Another important piece here is checking in with your physician/a cardiologist to get the go ahead on training at such a high level.   

Next, question number three: how long does the long run have to be?

Personally, I did a 22 miler but again, there is no right answer here! Getting up to 20 miles is typical of most training plans so that you have the endurance piece built to get you there on race day. Depending on the person, you may seek out a 22 miler for the confidence boost of knowing “I can do this” on race day or you may feel confident with getting close to 20 by finishing off with an 18-19 miler. This really is so dependent on what your goals are and what you need mentally to get you through the full 26.2. 

Fueling and hydration is another brand new piece for a beginner marathoner – take a look at my New to the Half Marathon and Hydration/Nutrition blogs for more information on this. It takes time to perfect a system for you and I am personally still working on figuring out what is the best system for me.

Training for this race was rewarding, exhausting, and fulfilling all at the same time.

Sharing tons of miles in different places with so many friends made for a great summer. Coming to a peak on a hot and humid race day – I was still able to go out and have an amazing day with 26 miles of family, friends & what seemed like all of New York City out there cheering. So much to celebrate and the marathon has sucked me in a bit with next up: October 2023 in Chicago! It really is all about the journey so enjoy every bit of it– let us know what your race goals are and plans for training, we will cheer you on along the way.

By Laura Barreca PT, DPT

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