Quick step-by-step training guide to get you ready for your first marathon

I applaud anyone who has the goal of running a marathon.

It’s a fantastic thing to do whether you just love running, are taking up a personal challenge or raising funds for a charity. There are many reasons why people run and that makes it such a special sport.

For some, running and training comes naturally, but for others, they have to work bloody hard for it. In fact, there’s no shortcuts out there for anyone.

Here is a very basic, quick, step-by-step guide to some of the ingredients you need if you’re about to train for and run a marathon.

1) Check your physical condition

Running 26.2 miles is far from a doddle, you need to respect the distance and if you’re not a fitness-goer, regular runner or aren’t in good physical condition, seek some medical advice and take great care in your preparation before embarking on your experience. You don’t want to get injured before you even start the process.

2) Motivation

This is needed in the bucket load, as well as plenty of drive, persistence and perseverance. With these elements, you’ll go a long way.

3) Build a running programme and commit to it

Start small and slow and then build. Create a training programme to work through over several months or seek expert advice.

Traditionally, a marathon should consist of a block of training between 12 and 20 weeks. For more advanced runners, they will need a shorter window to get into condition whereas for newbies, you need a structured and progressive programme to make sure you are marathon ready.

Ideally, running three times each week is perfect for new runners but it’s important to stay at that level for a consistent period before progressing and getting closer to four to five times, factoring in adequate rest and recovery.

4) Mileage

Don’t expect to be able to go for a 20 mile run within the first week of training and come away feeling good. It is vital you build your mileage volume slowly but surely and aim for steady improvements and respect the process you are building up to. Too much too soon can often lead to injury.

Remember, keep your runs easy paced until you build strength in your legs and become more comfortable.

There is next to no benefit in taking off too swiftly and quickly.

dawn dusk forest grass

Gradually build up your mileage.

5) Run in a group or get a training partner

Running with others and even having a training partner who has the same goal and is competing in the same race is great for motivation. You can feed off each other’s energy and it can really help during those days when you don’t feel like running.

6) Take part in smaller events

There is nothing quite like the buzz of a race and replicating race conditions. Building up to the marathon with 5kms and 10kms, and later a half-marathon, is a great way to get you ready physically and mentally for a first marathon.

7) Your marathon training should include the following…

and be split up into the segments below, on top of keeping your overall mileage ticking over.

Speed work: If you are targeting a specific time, you want to factor in a mixture of fast-paced tempo and interval runs, helping your body get used to running at a quicker pace and at a higher heart rate. As part of this process, you should see improvements in your cardio capacity (effectively your running engine and ability to go faster).

The long run: The most significant run in any training programme, the long run should be completed once a week later in your training schedule and around once every 10 days from the start (maximum 8-10 miles).

You should build up slowly, for example, running 12 miles one week and 14 the next, before hitting the 20-mile mark (maximum 22-23 for more experienced runners). After that, normally two weeks before your race, it’s time to taper and scale back.

On race day, with both endorphins and adrenaline with you, you will push through to the finish line over the final 6.2 miles as a result of all your hard work up to that point.

8. Rest and recovery

This is so, so important.

Days off from running, adequate sleep, general rest, foam rolling, stretching and mental recuperation should all form important ingredients of the marathon training recipe.

9. Tapering

Leading up to race day, novice runners need to gradually scale back their overall mileage and volume. It’s vital to keep moving, exercising and eating well to keep you as fresh as possible for the startline.

10. Nutrition and Hydration

This goes without saying, eating well and making sure you are hydrated during and after your runs will make a huge difference when it comes to performance!

What runners need to know about drinking coffee

Drink coffee and run on!

There is nothing like a morning coffee to get you going – it brightens your day and puts you in the right frame of mind to go about your business.

But when it comes down to the topic of running and coffee, and the effect caffeine has, there are differing opinions and statistics showing both the positive and negative relationships between the two.

Personally, I have only found that coffee, in moderation and consumed at the right times, has helped give me a kick before I go out for a run and improved my endurance levels overall.

Coffee is part of my running routine and a habit now.

Timing is important

A caffeine boost can put a pep in your step, but from experience, only drink coffee an hour or so before your run or general exercise – giving your drink the chance to have that desired effect.

Positive impact

We all lead busy lives nowadays and coffee can keep us active, especially when you’re on the move! The same logic applies to running. I will often drink a cup of coffee before I run and reap the benefits, such as increased alertness and willingness to run bigger and for longer.

Indeed, that extra mental stimulation makes you more aware and focused when you’re out running, which is incredibly important if you’re crossing roads or treading miles late in the winter dark!

happy coffee
There’s nothing like a good brew.

Don’t drink too much coffee

Resist the urge to over indulge and drink more than two cups a day (my recommendation) – otherwise it can have the opposite effect and you’ll feel drowsy.

Post-run, try to avoid coffee

…unless you are drinking a brand that combines carbohydrates and caffeine to help replenish your glycogen stores. Instead, go for a protein shake.

Does coffee dehydrate you? 

It’s a bit of a myth that coffee can have that impact before exercise. From my experience, I’ve never actually found it to be the case but you do want to try and hydrate with water at the same time.

Black or white coffee?

It just boils down to personal preference but having your coffee black will certainly prove that bit more stimulating, while soy milk is a healthier alternative than dairy.