How to Train for Your First Marathon

The hardest part is over. You’ve cast your fear of chafing aside (along with any doughnuts), sacrificed a Friday night out on the town and parted with that reluctantly-saved money for a place in a marathon.

You’re such a brave soul, a hero if we ever knew one, and you’ve finally got the chance to tick something off your bucket list.

… But then comes the realisation that this is going to be difficult. Very difficult. You’ve never been much of a runner, and it’s not something you’ve ever really enjoyed either (alongside any other form of exercise). You start to panic, have a quick google (‘how to avoid death by marathon’) and stumble across the Trespass Expert Advice blog. They’ve always had your back, and now you need them more than ever.

And indeed, we’ve got your back once more. Along with a simple but comprehensive guide to preparing for your very first marathon. So breathe in, breath out. And read on.

How do I prepare for my first marathon?

f you’re already a runner, you might think you can turn up without much preparation. But it’s important not to underestimate the challenge of a marathon, as this could result in serious injury and, well, public humiliation (read: having your sweaty face plastered across newspapers along with a just-as-unflattering headline). Start with a healthy respect for the distance, and be ready and willing to prepare for it accordingly.

This means willing to devote yourself to a training plan for at least 16 weeks – and that’s only if you already have a solid few months of running behind you. If not, it’s worth entering yourself into shorter distance events first, such as a 5k or a 10k, to build yourself up to the ruler of feats (and destroyer of feets). Running these shorter events will also give you an insight of what it’s like to take part in a race, how to deal with pre-race nerves (including using portaloos) and what works best for you with fuelling and hydrating on the move. Hydration is particularly crucial to your performance, and you should read why here.

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How long does it take to train for a marathon for a beginner?

One thing to note here is: a marathon is a commitment that should take priority (much like marriage, but marginally less headache-inducing). Ensure that your diary is clear enough to take part in one – you don’t want to be heading off on safari for two weeks when you should be embarking on some of your longest runs… but if you can do both then, props to you.

You need to start with a reputable plan from a trusted source. We recommend the Run/Walk Training Plan from Virgin, as it is ideal for complete beginners and provides a 6-week schedule to get you on your feet (pardon the pun), before starting on their 17-Week Marathon Training Plan. If you’re already a runner, and have been for several months, you can skip straight to this latter plan.

If you prefer to make your own training schedule, we recommend planning for at least 16 weeks (dependent on experience), running between 12 and 40 miles per week on a hard-easy rotation basis. The 10% rule is a good guideline to follow, which means not increasing your mileage or running time by more than 10% each week.

Our first tip here is – don’t get too attached to your plan. If you fall ill, you’re overly fatigued or you’ve got a family commitment (we get it, marriage…), it’s okay to stop. Rest and recovery (and a bit of fun) is important. Just don’t stop for too long though, else you’ll break the habit and lose motivation.

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How do I pace my first marathon?

To pace your marathon and create a good idea of how long it’ll take you to finish (many running veterans often label this as their ‘goal’), it’s best to use a Pace Calculator. Work out your average running time per mile (or kilometre, if you’re old fashioned) and use this to determine a guideline for how long it’ll take to complete 26.2 of them (or 42.2km for the fogeys).

The majority of your longer runs should be done so at an easy pace. It is often said that you should be comfortable chatting whilst running particularly long distances, maintaining a steady rhythm.

This aside, it’s commonly suggested to practise a mixed diet of runs, including long steady ones, short sprints, hill runs and even other workouts – including cross-training and strength work – to improve muscle endurance and stamina (the most important attribute to a successful marathon… and coincidentally, marriage).

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Any last words?

Don’t be so dramatic – you’re going to be fine. But here are some final tips in order to be even finer.

A great way to monitor your improvement, recovery from injury, recording what gives you the most fatigue, keeping track of energy levels and even what causes issues to flare up, is by keeping a training journal. It’s a good idea to record lifestyle patterns such as sleep, health and nutrition in here as well, as often the reasons for lacking in progression are beyond the running itself.

Don’t be scared to go to the doctor for any injury or health-related questions you may have. You are putting your body under a lot of pressure (more so than that time you did the ‘vodka challenge’ at uni), and it’s important to address any weaknesses and find solutions for them, such as a support band or strap.

Don’t be frugal with gear. You probably forked out a lump sum just to enter, so there’s no point on skimping now. 26.2 miles is a long way – and yes, you are going to need those nipple stickers (you’ll thank us later). Get a run-tracking app – or even splash out on a sports watch if you fancy – a decent pair of headphones, a handy running belt for water and snack storage, and most importantly, good quality running trainers.

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Good luck! We know you’ll smash it (as do you). Let us know how you get on by sharing your success to social media and using the hashtag #GoFurther

Having a total meltdown and need to go back to basics?
Check out our How to Start Running Guide.

Written by: Natalie Green