Before you begin training for a marathon, put together a plan to guide you along the way. Athletic training benefits you more if you focus on quality, rather than just quantity. Running many miles as your sole training strategy won’t get you the maximum physical benefit or properly prepared. Follow three key steps before you begin training to make sure you do your best in your upcoming race.
The first step in preparing for a marathon is to learn the course. This will dictate what type of fitness you need, what training you should do and what gear you may need. If the course is hilly, you’ll want to add lower-body strength training to your workouts. You’ll want to run up and downhill, rather than on level ground. Learn the surface of the course and look for projected weather conditions so you can train in the same conditions. Learn how often the course offers water, bathrooms or other support so you can time your training breaks or drinks to match the course you’ll run.
Once you know the course, assess your fitness. Run hills similar to the course you’ll be running to see how you perform. If you need to improve your legs, add exercises to your training that build your calves, hamstrings, quads, and hip flexors. Raise the resistance levels on an exercise bike or the incline on a treadmill to work these muscles more specifically. Track your heart rate so you can use this information to help pace yourself during your marathon. Heart rate may be a better pace-setting tool than minutes per mile.
Once you know the details of the course, how it will affect your run, and where your current fitness is, create a long-term plan that moves you from general strength and cardio to more race-like training. In the beginning, you’ll be working on building cardiovascular strength, muscular power, and endurance using shorter, more intense workouts. As you get closer to your marathon, your workouts should more closely match the actual marathon, with longer, lower-intensity workouts. If it's likely that you'll be running the marathon in sweats or rain gear because of the weather, plan on training in this type of clothing.