Marathons are daunting, which is why you might be asking, “how long do I need to train for a marathon?” Read on to find out how much you need to train.
Marathons are rewarding but daunting, so the main question people have is, “how long do I need to train for a marathon?” The answer largely depends on your current physical condition and limitations, but for the average person, from the couch to the starting line takes between 14 and 20 weeks.
During this time, there’s a lot one has to do to prepare, but the most important thing is to resist trying to take shortcuts.
Understand Your Current Physical Condition
If you exercise regularly, your time frame for running a marathon will trend toward the lower end of the spectrum. If you currently engage in zero exercise and have a fairly sedentary lifestyle, it’s important to gradually build up your endurance, leg strength, and pain tolerance.
It’s essential to find ways to work with your body rather than try to force it into a program or strategy not designed for you. For instance, if you have a pre-existing injury or physical limitation, this could impact how you prepare.
Also, if you are prone to specific injuries like shin splints or ankle sprains, this could impact how often and intensely you train. In some cases, building supportive muscles that can take pressure off injury-prone areas can be more beneficial.
Let’s Talk About Pain
Unfortunately, there’s no getting around pain, and so many new runners buy all kinds of creams, pills, drinks, and gadgets to avoid feeling the pain and fatigue that goes hand in hand with strenuous exercise.
The painful feeling people feel in their body, especially their lungs and legs, is due to a build-up of lactic acid, which happens wherever your body engages in physical activity and needs more oxygen than your lungs can deliver. While you will have to develop the discipline to push through a certain amount of discomfort, you should learn the difference between common pain associated with exercise and sharper, more focused pain caused by conditions such as cramps and possible injuries.
Developing cramps is normal. However, despite what some may think, it’s never a good idea to completely ignore the pain of a cramped muscle. Cramps can cause muscle injury if ignored, so it’s better to slow your pace, stop, rest, and stretch a few minutes, or even call it quits for the day rather than keep running.
One thing you can do to help reduce cramping while running is to ensure you are drinking enough water and stretching correctly before you start. A good stretch and some simple warm-up exercises can do wonders to get your muscles ready for challenging exercise.
Building Up The Right Way
If you’re just starting out, one way to build up leg endurance is through squat exercises. The good thing about squats is you can practice different levels, which helps improve your core strength, balance, and leg muscles — all very important when running a marathon.
One trick for those who have difficulty performing regular squats is to use a chair. Simply practice sitting down and getting up out of the chair without using your hands. It’s a lighter version of performing a proper squat.
While building endurance and the mental toughness it takes to finish a marathon is essential, learning how to use proper running form that includes foot strike, cadence, and posture is also crucial. Not only can good form help you remain energized, but it can also help prevent injuries. For example, you want to avoid slumping your shoulders and running with your head tilted down.
You should build yourself up with short runs three days a week, then longer runs. Between runs, you should rest, remain hydrated, eat a balanced diet, and stretch.
During rest days, you can also work on isolation exercises for your core to help you improve endurance during your runs. However, if your core muscles feel too sore, give them a rest as well and focus on stretching.
For beginners, using a combination of walking at a slow tempo and running is essential, so you don’t overwhelm your body. As you feel stronger, you’ll find yourself running more and walking much less until you only run.
Consider Starting Small
Another mistake many people make when training to run a marathon is not participating in smaller races. Not only do shorter races allow you to get the feel of marathon running, but they also provide significant “small victories” to help you stay motivated and continue building your body up for a full marathon.
Also, keep in mind that a marathon is about 26.2 miles. Building up by running 5K races, then 10K, and so on, is an excellent way to prepare your body for the grueling pace of a marathon. These smaller races can allow you to gauge your fitness level accurately.
One thing to remember when preparing to run a marathon, it’s all about the journey. While it’s essential to hold yourself accountable and push your limits, it’s also important to be forgiving on days when you’re struggling. Some training sessions will feel more difficult than others, but if you stick with it, you’ll come out stronger.
You might also be interested in our explainer on can you walk a marathon without training.