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Advanced Calisthenics: The Planche

Marathon Running: Going The Distance!

Everything You Need To Know To Prepare For Your First Race!

Posted by GT_turbo - July 15th, 2014

Looking to run your first marathon but don't know where to start? Look no further as this article will help you lay out a plan for a relaxed cruise to finish line! Keep in mind that although the emphasis in this article will be on running marathons for a beginner recreational athlete, it will also apply for shorter distances such half-marathons or 10ks. These basic principles will also apply to cycling as well.

At very first I want to clarify what a marathon is. A marathon is a run which covers a distance of 42.195 km or 26.22 miles. Nothing more. nothing less. Its origin is the Greek legend of Pheidippides, who ran that distance from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce their victory over the Persians. As soon he reported the news, he collapsed and died. So, when you say you are going to run in a marathon, be honest and respectful to history and all other competitors.

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You Want To Run A Marathon, But What Is Your Goal?

Before you start with running, you should define what your goal is.

  1. Are you just running for your soul and escape from daily routine?
  2. Run further than you ever have before?
  3. To be able to say you completed a marathon?
  4. To finish a marathon without walking?
  5. Are you going for the fastest time possible?

Whatever you goal is, your training will always start the same as this has more to do with mental preparation than anything. Regardless of the finish time, a marathon runner will find themselves suffering through at least half an hour of mental wars. So your approach to your mental preparation is just as important as your physical trainings.

Whether you're a couch potato or a serious strength athlete with basically no endurance training in your background, you should know few important things before starting with your training if you want to ensure your journey is pain and injury free. Your body has to adapt for prolonged activities and because running involved a multitude of repetitive strikes to the ground as you run, you need to start slowly and gradually so your body can adapt to this new stress on the body. Also, because most of us are forced to run mostly on asphalt and concrete, make sure you get good pair of running shoes which are appropriate for your weight and goals. Don't risk your knees and other injuries because of worn shoes and when you’re running shoes cover distance of about 800 km (500 miles) it's time for a new pair.

How Your Body Adapts To Endurance Activities

Your body will always adapts to new loads and try to become more efficient and when you begin to train with longer runs, your body needs to adapt in several ways:

  1. Energy System
  2. Cardiovascular System
  3. Muscle Adaptation
  4. Skeleton Adaptation

Most adaptations go hand-in-hand. Let's take a closer look on each of them.

For endurance activities your body will aim to use fats as its primary fuel source. But before your "engine" really shifts to fats as fuel, glycogen is used. The transition to start to use more fat for fuel doesn't happen until about 20 - 60 minutes after you start training depending on your fitness level. As you continue to train more and harder, your body will adapt and be able to shift to fats for fuel much faster. Your body can only store around 2.000 kcal in the form of glycogen and that's for sure not enough for whole marathon. This is why most people can handle a half marathon without too much focus on training, but usually burn out completely on a full marathon if not properly prepared.

The main condition needed for burning fats as fuel is oxygen. Oxygen is delivered to the muscles by hemoglobine in the blood. The more oxygen that's provided, the more fats that can be burned which leads to more energy that's released and the faster you can go. To deliver more oxygen to the muscles your body will adapt by producing more red blood cells, which carry hemoglobin, and as your heart becomes stronger it will be able pump more blood to the capillaries around your muscles.

In endurance activities mostly Type I muscle fibers are activated. If you train for such activities Type IIa muscle fibers will also be activated to help, but will need to adapt to handle such loads to become fatigue resistance and learn how to burn fats for fuel. This adaptation is relates to energy and cardiovascular adaptation.

In contrast to the adaptations already described above, which all happen relatively fast, your skeleton adaptation will require much more time. Running isn't a very "kind" activity for overweight persons, whether that extra weight is fat or muscle, and as you continue with your training your body will start to get rid of this excessive weight. So if you're a strength athlete and want to maintain your muscles, you need to pay A LOT more attention to your diet. Also, as already mentioned earlier running is repetitive striking activity. This will causes major stress on your skeleton and if you start too fast or with too much volume your chances of having injuries like shin splints will be much higher. This is a very common injury among experienced athletes as well. Therefore it is really important not to overload your body with intensity and volume; start gradually. There are no shortcuts here.

If you decide to cycle instead of run, you're safe from skeleton injuries but you have to pay more attention to your body position on the bike. Proper riding form is crucial for a comfortable and pain free ride. Bad riding form can lead to serious back and knee problems. So when buying a bike, be sure to go over how to adjust your bike properly before leaving the store.

How Should I Train For A Marathon?

To be able to run a marathon with ease, you will have to build up a lot mileage in your legs. This doesn't mean you need to cover great distances all at once, but it means it will take time to accumulate it all. The greater your mileage is, the more efficient your body will be for distance running and the longer it will take for you to get fatigued and tired. If starting from ground zero, you should train for at least one year to be properly prepared on your first marathon. That way you can build a really solid foundation and the most importantly you can train slowly enough to avoid any injuries due to overtraining.

Even if it sounds like you have to run a lot and don't have much time, you can cover 50 - 60 km (30 – 40 miles) per week in 8 hours or less on average. That is a little over an hour a day. That's not too much, right? As you get stronger, you might even be able to cover 80 km (50 miles), but this is really high number for a recreational runner and doesn't bring a huge advantage. Of course, professional athletes cover up to 120 km (75 miles) per week or more, but for your first marathon this is just overload.

When you start training for endurance events, the first thing to do is to build your base. Your base is a segment in your training schedule where your mileage and/or time is high, but intensity is very low. This is where you train your energy and cardiovascular system. Keep in mind the better the job you do here, the more efficient you will become and the stronger your foundation will be for more intense training later. Base training can last from 3 - 6 months depending on your goals and fitness level. It is always done in start of every session by all athletes, even professionals. So don't underestimate this phase and do it as best as you can. A good rule of thumb is it's better to have one month more of training then one month less.

When you are building your mileage, you should follow some basics guidelines:

  • Run 3 - 5 times a week.
  • It's enough to have one long run once a week. When long run is longer than 30 km (19 miles), it is enough to have long run every two weeks.
  • Increase your long run every time by 2 - 3 km (1 - 2 miles)
  • All other runs should not be longer than 2/3 distance of long run.
  • Increase your weekly mileage by no more than 20% each week.
  • Every fourth week cut your mileage by half. This is your recovery week so take it seriously!

It's ok to run the entire marathon distance once before the race, but there is no need to make longer runs during your training. Your long training run only needs to be around 35 km (22 miles). In fact, because of the slower tempo, your average time on your long runs will be the same or even longer than on race day during the full 42km. Also you need to understand that every additional km brings more stress and every run longer than 20 km (12 miles) brings a noticeable destruction to your body and you will need more time for recovery. At first you might not notice this stress on your body and you will feel like you can add more mileage and volume to your training. But don't be impatient because if you do too much too soon it can lead to overtraining. This is very nasty thing to handle and can last up to half a year or more to clean it up. Also, when you're in your base phase, don't pay too much attention to the tempo or speed of others. You have your own routine to follow and it has a purpose.

I decided to not talk about training with a heart rate monitor in this article with good reason. Even though they're a great tool and almost indispensable for endurance trainings, I would like that you first learn to listen to your body and don't become a prisoner of numbers. When you run your long run, make sure you're going slow enough so that you can breathe through your nose and/or chat without any problems. If your breath is too short, you're running too fast. For your other runs throughout the week, go at whatever pace suits you best. If you're feeling lazy, go slower. If you're full of energy, push yourself hard. Don't complicate and enjoy.

If you already have a heart rate monitor, use it for reference only to measure your time and distance. If you don't have one but want to buy one, get it after about 6 months of continuous training or after first 30 km (20 miles) run, as a reward.

After you have become comfortable at running on flat terrain for at least 60 minutes, you can begin to include some hilly terrain in your training. Running up hills will help to increase your strength and improve your efficiency. Running downhill (not to steep!) will help with your efficiency and improve your technique.

Lastly, once you build a solid base you will be able to run a marathon distance with ease and be able to enjoy it. If your goal is to run a marathon in a specific amount of time, you'll have to progress in your next training phase which is building up your racing speed.

Tips & Tricks Before The Big Race!

As a newbie to marathon running you will be faced with several minor issues which at first glance might not look like much, but can actually have the potential to ruin your run.

Before attending your first marathon, find out who is official provider for drinks and foods on the course. If you're not sensitive to what you ingest, there are no problems. But if you have difficulties with consumption of certain foods and drinks during workouts, experiment with them during your training. There are tons of different energy bars, gels and drinks out there and you don't want to be stuck with diarrhea on race day.

Run in all types of weather as marathons will not be delayed due to a few rain drops or if it is too hot or cold. Of course, don't be too fanatic and in stormy or icy conditions you should train in your local gym.

Switch some your long runs for hiking or mountaineering if you can. It's a great replacement for an activity that involves a lot of volume training at low intensity.

If you have access to nature (speaking mostly for those in megacities), leave your MP3 at home, wake up your senses and enjoy in freedom. Listen to your body.

Target your marathon race in spring or autumn. Those times are best regarding weather conditions, especially for temperature.

If you're going to attend a popular marathon that is usually very crowded, try to go on at least one race with more runners for practice. Even if you're not interested in running a 5k or 10k, the crowd at start and behavior rules are completely the same. If you have a hard time with crowds you can easily become frustrated. It’s best you experience that feeling before your D-day so you can be 100% prepared!

I wish you the best on your upcoming journey and that your first marathon be an enjoyable experience to share and remember!

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Hello Gregor! I remember we were chatting in 1 forum before about running and here you are now writing a really great article about marathon running! I am so proud of you man!!


I enjoy reading this as I can really relate to everything you have written in here. Running has been a part of me since I started running last year and I experienced almost everything you have mentioned above or even worst as it involved some bloody mess during my 1st full marathon! Over-trained? At 1 point yeah as my body weight dropped significantly and it is not so pleasing at all!!


You are exactly right that this is not all about physical challenges - running a marathon will challenge your mind more!! If you have a weak mindset then you will just say, okay this is enough, I'll stop! Which is for me will never be an option during a race! I will not waste my training efforts!!


I have recently formed a running group which I call Team ASAR-RUN (AdventureSome Amateur Runners - Real Ultra Nation). I would say that running with a group of crazy people will divert your attention to their craziness which results to more fun rather than just plain training! We run literally everywhere including city trail and uphill downhill. The longest distance we conquered so far is 30 miles (mostly uphill) but we took it easy and completed it in 10 hours as we are making sure that everybody is still okay after every 5 kilometers. 2 of our members are fat (they finished half) so we needed to wait for them which gave us some time for light stretching and hydration/snacks.


1 of our members used to invite me almost everyday and most of the time we ends up completing a half mary without even noticing it. LOL But that guy was skinny and even became skinnier after a couple of weeks of doing that kind of trip with me so we advised him to switch his training from LSD to Speed Training and focus on his DIET for him to recover fast!!


Anyway, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about marathon! I really like everything including the history!! I will definitely share this to Team ASAR-RUN and to some of my friends who also wish to run a full marathon.


I am looking forward for more of your articles! Great job! #HTH