Once considered a supreme test of endurance, the marathon has in recent years become increasingly popular, attracting entrants from around the world.

Have you ever found yourself watching the Comrades Marathon, which is an ultra-marathon, or an Olympic Marathon and said, “One day …”?

Or do you sit in the camp that says, “That’s crazy! I’ll never do that!” or “I’ll never be able to do that!”?

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Me, Run a Marathon?

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Chinese proverb

On average, across the globe, participation in marathons has increased at about 50% between 2008 and 2018, the largest increase being noted amongst women. Whether to lose weight, get fit, make new friends or to inspire others, more and more people are stepping up and out to participate in this endurance event.

Some simply do it, because it was on their bucket list.

Whatever your reason - and you don’t have to be a health freak - once you’ve made up your mind to ‘do this thing’, you must get a plan and stick to the plan.

If you have never participated in a road race of any length, realise that you are going to have to prepare your body and mind to cover 42 195 kilometres. To do so, you will also have to tweak your lifestyle with several adjustments and garner support of friends and family. To run a marathon, and complete it, you are going to have to commit to a focussed training programme which may impact on family time and social interaction.

The finishing of your first marathon is an amazing feat; don’t forget the preparation that got you there.

An amazing period of growth awaits you, as you push your body past limits you never thought possible for you. This breaking out of your comfort zone will, in no uncertain terms, be a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement.

Some take the journey to another level: they enter a marathon in a foreign city, e.g. New York or Paris, and schedule their trip around the date of the race. This should make the days leading up to race day even more unforgettable.

So, whatever your reason – wanting to get started, maximising your marathon preparation or looking for pointers for an imminent marathon – read on.

Welcome to the world of the marathon runner!

Training Programmes

If you’re a novice, it goes without saying that you would actually not know how to prepare for a marathon – physically and mentally. Fortunately, there is a massive amount of information available on the Internet. For example, the Nedbank Running Club provides advice for runners at all levels to attempt distances ranging from 10 to 42.2 kilometres. The guidance and advice offered on sites like these will aid your marathon preparation immeasurably.

Why not train with your friends and family?
They say a road shared is a road halved.⎮Source: Pixabay - skeeze

Runners, at all ability levels, are advised to set aside around 20 weeks to prepare for a marathon.

A beginner (novice) can expect their training plan to look something like this:

  • Month 1: Start out with a combination of running and walking. Increasing running stamina and decreasing the amount of time spent walking, until you can run without pause.
  • Month 2: Increase distances and vary running speeds. This will help to run at a particular pace and improve your cruising technique.
  • Month 3: Targeting the completion of a half-marathon as a training run.
  • Month 4: Work towards running kilometres, before tapering as you head to race day.

If you have consistently been able to run non-stop for at least 30 minutes, your training programme will differ somewhat from that of a complete beginner.

An intermediate training programme might look like this:

  • Month 1: Improving distance and stamina; also adding cross-training sessions and stretching to prevent injury and rolling to counter inflammation.
  • Month 2: Running at various speeds, interval training and Fartlek; increasing mileage
  • Month 3: Carry on increasing mileage and run a 21.1k (half marathon) as a training run
  • Month 4: Your last LSD (long-slow-distance) run and tapering towards marathon day.

There are, of course, numerous plans available which are customised to the goals and abilities of runners at all levels. For example, if you are a runner who has previously completed a marathon and want to run a better time, you will find a programme that augment your marathon preparation perfectly.

How to prepare for a marathon?

Have a training plan.

A training plan is, however, just a plan. You must, importantly, listen to your body. If you start experiencing niggles, you must step things down - the programme, that you’re following, may be a little too intense for you. Find a less demanding one or pro-rate how much you do in terms of either distance, speed or time. It is crucial to avoid injuring yourself through over-exertion!

A personal trainer may also be an indispensable aide!

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Where Do I Begin?

Starting from scratch? In fact, for all runners, it is important to identify the correct shoes for yourself. An experienced runner may look at the wear-patterns on their current and past shoes to show where they tend to wear off their shoes. The rate at which they have to replace shoes will also indicate whether their bio-mechanics are contributing to faster wear-and-tear on their shoes and body.

A visit to a podiatrist or bio-kineticist is a great place to start. Not only will your feet be assessed, but also your running action, which will indicate whether you’re leaning to one side, dragging your feet or dropping your head when running. These are but a few of the issues which one of these professionals can help you identify. Start here and you could potentially obviate many little and, maybe, even major issues, somewhere down the line.

Very importantly, a bio-kineticist or podiatrist, can guide you in terms of what would be the correct shoe for you to choose, given your running gait and foot-strike. All in all, a visit to one of these pro’s will get you started on the right foot (or shoe) and save you stacks of cash, if you consider starting out with the wrong shoes and the injuries that that could lead to.

The Golden Rule

Another good place to start, when physically and mentally preparing for a marathon, is to run with other experienced runners. Join a club, if you can. Club’s normally have coaches, a host of experienced runners and, of course, running groups for all levels of runners. There will be a beginner’s group for you, if you need it. These folks will help you increase the distances you run gradually. They will be guided by what runner’s call the Golden Rule.

The Golden Rule: Any increase, whether distance or time, must never be more than 10% week on week.

For example, if you are currently running a distance of one kilometre, your next run (a week later) should only be 100 metres longer. You should not immediately jump to 2 km. Remember you gradually have to acclimatise your mind and body to increasing demands which they have not faced before. You must consider that you can’t increase in this fashion: 1 to 2km; 2 to 4km, 4 to 8 km, etc. You can, however, progress with far greater ease from 1 to 1,1km; then 1,1 to 1,2 or 1,3km and 1,3 to 1,4 or 1,5km. The idea is to improve and to avoid doing too much too soon! You can, of course, tweak by how much you increase as your fitness levels, flexibility and levels of recovery allow.

‘Slow and steady’ must remain your catch phrase!

Pace Yourself

This voyage of discovery is going to be epic! Guaranteed!

It’s getting you to the start line that’s important and life-changing; getting to the finish-line is a bonus!

Eliud Kipchoge is one of many Kenyan runners to break marathon world records
Kenya's marathon runners have put their country on the map in the sporting world. ⎮Source: Pixabay - ianwakefield1967

On of the first things, that may surprise you, is the fact that your group will go out running very slowly! The idea, they will tell you, is that you want to cover a long distance and you have to condition your body and mind to that fact. You are not Eliud Kipchoge (marathon time 2:01:39), so, don’t think that you have to (or can) run the entire distance at speed. This is one of the crucial things to bear in mind when mentally preparing for a marathon.

A good starting point would be to ascertain, from your new-found running buddies, which would be a good race to start with. The running calendar for your city, which is available online, will give you a list of possible ‘firsts’. The experience of your club coach and running mates will help you identify which one you should choose. They will be to advise on the difference between a ‘hilly’ or ‘flat’ course and how each will impact on the body and which they would recommend for you as a maiden run.

In the major cities, like Cape Town, you would be able to choose from popular races such as the Cape Town-, Peninsula- or Winelands Marathon, among others.

Each has its own allure!

Of course, if the idea appeals to you, you could combine running a marathon overseas. You would then be able to take in the sights while doing your first marathon run at a leasurely pace!

Make a vacation of your race: sign up to an international marathon!
Run a marathon abroad and take in the sights of a new city.⎮Source: Pixabay - derwiki

Before we get to what pace to run at, let’s consider how far out you need to start preparing for that first marathon. The list above, which stipulates 20 weeks, should serve as a guide, considering that, given your level of fitness, you may require more time. Some experts believe that you should have run, consistently, for at least a full year before attempting a marathon.

There is absolutely no question that the longer period of time you have to prepare for your first marathon, the better.

This will ensure that you will not rush your preparation at all. So, plan that first race by counting back 20 weeks from the date of the Cape Town Marathon, for instance. Then follow a programme which is designed for you: beginner, intermediate or advanced!

Once you know your capabilities, work out the pace at which you should be running. Remember, it is tough to run at one pace consistently over 42.2 kilometres. This is where reverse splits come in. Plan to run the initial part of the race slower than the latter parts.

Also, adopt a run-walk strategy. Run to the first or second refreshment table, collect some water or a piece of orange and walk for about 30 seconds. Do this consistently throughout the race and your body will thank you for it!

So now, you have a plan, stick to the plan. Do not be sucked in by the surge at the start of the race. Ensure that you run your race, not someone else’s. Stick to the plan! Many early ‘surgers’ face burn-out in the latter part of the race and, to your credit, you’ll be passing them with a lot ‘left in the tank’.

It’s now time to get out there: buy the right shoes, lace up and go on … become a legend – at least, to those who know you!

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.