After what happened during the Boston Marathon in 2013, one of my good friend’s was inspired to take up running and racing. But she didn’t want to race just any distance – she wanted to run a marathon.
I was so excited for her until she told me the race she wanted to do was a mere three months away. I thought a marathon was a “someday” goal. Basically, she wanted to go from couch to 26.2 in three months.
Could she – or any other non-runners – complete a marathon after 12 weeks or so of running? Possibly. But no doctor, running coach, or runner would advise it.
Building a solid base
Most running experts say you should have at least one full year of consistent running under your belt before training for your first marathon.
Running is very taxing on the body. During our first year or so as runners, our bodies make several physical changes to get used to the demands of running mile after mile. It’s best to just go with the flow and listen to your body that first year or so. Stressing your body with grueling workouts before having a solid base can set you up for injury – you may not even make it to the start line of that marathon.
Plus, as any runner knows, running is mentally trying as well. Knocking out all of the miles a training plan calls for, waking up early to squeeze in workouts, and running 10, 15, or 20-milers on the weekend and recovering from them isn’t easy. It’s best to be familiar with the mental challenges of running, too, before you register for a marathon. Otherwise, you’ll risk burnout.
You’ve been running for a year – now what?
However, that’s not to say anyone who has been running for more than a year is ready to jump into a marathon training program. If you’re a weekend warrior or you run a handful of miles a couple of times per week, it’s best to do some marathon pre-training first.
Look at several marathon training plans and you’ll see that the first training week typically calls for 15-20 miles total. So, it’s best to be logging 15- 20 mile weeks for a few months before training for a marathon. That way, your body will be ready to take it up a notch.
Also, look to see how long your first long run is on the training plan. Depending on the program you follow, it can be anywhere from 6- 12 miles. Make sure you’re able to run that distance without problems before you jump into marathon training.
Finally, if you have even the slightest injury – say your knee hurts a little after some runs but the pain goes away after ice therapy – now is not the time to train for a marathon. Upping your running intensity and mileage will only aggravate an injury. If you want a successful first marathon training experience, you’ll have better luck when your body is feeling 100 percent.
How long were you a runner before you trained for your first marathon? It was six years for me!
Written by Jen Matz.