What to Do Before You Start Marathon Training

Follow these nine running coach-approved tips now, finish that marathon strong later.

what to do before you start marathon training

Thomas Hengge

Signing up for your first marathon can be intimidating and a little nerve-racking—but it’s also super exciting. You’re going to run a marathon! You might be tempted to jump right into training, ramping up your mileage and watching motivational videos about all the energy of race day. But before you get too far, hit pause and make sure you’re prepped for training success.

Training to run a marathon will revolutionise your life, but it will also test you in brand-new ways,” says Susie Crossland-Dwyer, an avid marathoner and ultramarathoner, coach, and founder of studio s in Cincinnati. “A lot goes into a healthy, successful training season and what you do leading up to it.”

Here are nine tips that coaches want every marathon newbie to know about how what you do now can make or break your season. Read up to set out on your training with all the intel you need—and get to that start line with tons of confidence come race day.

1. Make Sure You Have an Adequate Base

You’re about to set out on four-plus months of intense weekly mileage. That’s really tough on your body. To sidestep an overuse injury, having a steady foundation is crucial. A recent review of research on runners’ injuries published in the Journal of Sport and Health Science found that the injury incident rate among runners is 40.2 percent and overuse from ramping up mileage or intensity too quickly causes 70 percent of the injuries.

“As you begin your marathon season, start with base building and don’t just jump right into doing all the kilometres and all the speed workouts,” advises Crossland-Dwyer, who recommends spending at least three months gradually working up to 32 to 40 kilometres per week before starting an official marathon training program.

2. Start Resistance Workouts

Strength training, specifically your core and hips, is the most effective way to prevent injuries,” says Jeff Gaudette, owner and head coach at RunnersConnect. “As you ramp up your mileage for the marathon, this will be essential to you staying healthy through the training segment.”

Studies have found that strength training can also boost your performance by improving your running economy and VO2 max. You don’t need a certain base of strength before setting out on your training plan, he says, but don’t hesitate to include two to three weight workouts each week.

Along with weight training, “try plyometrics to get your body used to absorbing impact, single-leg exercises to prevent muscle imbalances, and mobility drills to keep your range of motion and joints healthy,” advises Meg Takacs, NASM-CPT, a run coach and founder of the Movement & Miles app.

3. Figure Out a Fueling Plan

Carb loading before race day is what most novice runners are familiar with when starting on their marathon-training journey, but it’s only one aspect of your diet that’s important.

“Nutrition is key for successful training and a successful race—from carbs to water, electrolytes, and salt capsules,” says Takacs. “The goal is to stay ahead of any deficits before they happen because once you’re in a hydration or nutritional deficit, it’s almost impossible to come back.”

Buy water bottles to carry with you on long runs (sip water or a sports drink every 10 to 15 minutes), plus gels or gummies to nibble on every 30 minutes to stay fueled and strong through your long runs ahead.

4. Be Realistic About Training Time

We’re not talking about the race itself—though, yes, you’re going to be on your feet for a long time for that, too. But it’s important to know the kind of time commitment you’re going to be looking at for the next 16 or so weeks leading up to race day.

You’ll be devoting a couple hours, at least, likely every Saturday or Sunday morning to a long run, plus your other weekly runs. But also, says Crossland-Dwyer, “Training for a marathon isn’t all about running. In fact, a big portion of your weekly training hours should be spent preparing, with prehab exercises and prerun activations, doing strength-training, and recovering with mobility work, adequate rest and refuelling, and extras like compression and cold therapy.”

5. Consider a Local Marathon

Yes, destination races are popular, and if you’re pretty sure this whole marathon thing is going to be a one-and-done experience for you, you might as well pick an epic course. But don’t ignore races in your backyard. “It’s so fun to see your city streets opened up for you,” says Erin Beck, director of training and experience at STRIDE Fitness, who’s run 17 marathons. “Seeing your city from a different vantage point than usual can keep your mind off of the treachery of 42.2 kilometres.”

6. Get Your Gear—and Backup Gear

Yes, you have several months until race day. But don’t wait to find your favourite clothing and shoes. “Purchase the gear you’ll need now, including shoes for training, the shoes you’ll race in, your potential race kit, and options for different weather conditions,” advises Gaudette. “That way, you can test everything out during a few training runs to ensure it’s comfortable.”

Don’t forget about accessories: Having the right details for you, from the fuel belt that bounces the least on your hips to the socks that help you sidestep blisters, will make training all the more comfortable.

If you’re not sure where to start, check out a local running store or online forums for recs from knowledgeable contributors.

7. Buy an Anti-Chafing Stick

Joking about bloody nipples is a trope for a reason. Rubbed-raw skin there—or your inner thighs or armpit or your upper arm where it shifts against your shirt or sports bra—is inevitable at some point (or several) during marathon training. Blisters from ill-fitting shoes or the wrong socks could be in your near future too. “Unfortunately, the only way to really know what clothing will contribute to this to test it out, which is why it’s good to have everything you might wear early,” says Gaudette.

In the meantime, buy an anti-chafing stick or cream now and lube up before every long run ahead to protect your skin and slash the chances that you’ll be in a lot of pain later.

8. Look to Others for Inspiration

All the anticipation of gearing up for your race will likely be mixed with nervousness, too. Remind yourself that you can do this because so many people like you have done the same. “Before I ever thought about running, I met a ‘normal’ girl who had run 42.2 kilometres and didn’t look like the idea of marathoner I had in my head, and I realised you don’t have to be Eliud Kipchoge to run a race—and you don’t have to know who that is to run a race, either!” says Beck. “The only thing you have to be in order to be a marathoner is bold enough to try one.”

9. Find Your Training Plan

Every successful marathoner has a training plan to follow. So before you dive into marathon training, you’ll want to find a 16- to 20-week plan that fits your fitness level and your goals. Do you just want to finish? Are you looking to break three, four, or five hours? Can you meet the weekly mileage in week one of the plan? Think about these questions and find the plan that works to guide you to the start and finish line feeling strong.

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