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How to Train for a Marathon

So you want to run a marathon?

The fall marathon season is coming to a close with record numbers crossing the finish lines in Chicago and New York City this year. That means many people will catch the marathon bug with dreams of one day conquering 26.2 miles.

Running a marathon is one of the most mentally and physically demanding events out there, but it is an achievement that is possible with hard-work and dedication. Training for a marathon is a great way to get in shape, but running one while inadequately prepared can be extremely damaging physically and mentally. This guide was developed to serve as a starting point for those thinking about one day running a marathon, with two very important bits of advice.


Stockholmmarathon 2009-start3 by Prolineserver

Training for a Marathon

Before beginning training, you need to be honest about two things: your level as a runner, and your goal for running the marathon.

Know your level

  1. Beginner
    Hey, we all start somewhere. You want to start living a more healthy and active lifestyle.
  2. Intermediate
    You’ve been dedicated to training for a while, are a former athlete, or have an athletic background.
  3. Advanced
    You currently dedicate a lot of time to training, are currently competing in a sport, or run often. If you think you belong in this group, you probably do.

Know your goal

  1. Run to finish
    You don’t care what the clock says, but you really want to scratch the marathon off your bucket list.
  2. Run to run
    There is little doubt that you will finish the race, but you want to try to run the entire time, with minimal walking breaks.
  3. Run to race
    Finishing is no longer a question. Finishing without walking is no longer a question. You are out there with a time goal in mind or maybe even dreams of qualifying for the Boston Marathon (BQ).

Your level and your goal will determine how much focus you should place on running, cross training (cardiovascular exercise that is not running), and strength training. They will determine how long you should dedicate to training to be well prepared to tackle the marathon.

Marathon Training for Active Runners

For example, those in group three have probably been running fairly often for a long time. They will have a very strong base of strength and cardiovascular endurance to work with, so they would be better served focusing on running more, while minimizing (not eliminating!) the time dedicated to strength training and cross training. In this group, 4-6 months would probably be enough time to prepare for the marathon.

Marathon Training for Beginners

The closer you are to ‘Beginner,’ the longer you should plan on dedicating to training. In this case, I would recommend it as a 3 year goal, not a 6 month goal. Training for a short period of time significantly reduces your odds of getting across that finish line in one piece. Building a base of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal strength (with a balance of strength training, running, and cross training) will not only be a great start to working toward being healthier and feeling better, but set a solid foundation to build upon while training for the marathon.

If you want to try and tackle this race, that’s great - but make sure you have enough time to dedicate to the distance. What you do for a couple of years leading up to the race is arguably as important as what you a couple of months before the race. Set the race as a long-term goal, not a short term ‘bucket-list’ event… and good luck!

Post by Cory Hofmann, M.S.

Senior Research Manager
Cybex Research Institute

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