Ask an expert: How to train for your first marathon

Ask Coach Jenny

Q: How do I start training for a marathon if I’ve never done running before? – Jordana

A: Hi Jordana (pretty name btw). There are a lot of ways to train up for a marathon, but most only focus on the physical aspects. When going from the couch to the marathon, your body and mind need time to adapt to the demands along the way. For this reason, I recommend to go the route of slow progression to the marathon distance.

The best way to eat the elephant is one bite at a time. It is quite overwhelming to get up off the couch and think, “Okay, today is the first day of my marathon training.” It’s such a huge goal – it can overwhelm rather than inspire, not to mention it can quickly lead to burn out from jumping into too much too soon.

Rather than thinking marathon, think 5K. Find a run-walk program that guides you to get up and running a 5K in the next three months. I have a few free plans here [link:] that can get you started (Zero to Running is a solid strategy to get going). This is the time to be more conservative as your body will make the most gains early in your running program.

As you complete the program, graduate to a 10K and focus on training for the next two months to build to that distance. Again, the more gradual your climb in distance early on, the less risk you’ll experience burn out and injury. Plus, with time, your mental strength develops right along side your body and detours the negative emotions that can sneak up and bite you when you jump into too much distance. Every race becomes a mini goal and gives you a sense of accomplishment on your journey to the marathon.

After you cross the line of your 10K, set your sites on training up for a half marathon. With your 10K base of training investing a solid 12-14 weeks will give you enough time to adapt, run longer and stronger. Upon finishing the half, you’ve earned your wings to train up for the marathon. At this point, if all feels well, you can continue your training from the half marathon right up to the full distance in 10-12 weeks. This gives you time to recover post half, build your distance to the mileage necessary to run the marathon distance and include a taper as well.

Other ingredients that will help in your new running journey include flexibility (foam rolling, massage and stretching), strength training and cross-training with lower impact activities (i.e. Zumba, cycling, swimming or elliptical).

Finally, be mindful of your body along the way and stay in tune with aches and pains. It’s your body’s way of communicating with you that you’re likely resting too little or pushing too hard. In most cases, a day or two of easy cross-training or rest will do the trick and heal the minor little aches.

Your goal to run a marathon is quite ambitious, so just make sure to give yourself time to complete your goal in stages. Good luck on your marathon quest.  One race at a time!

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