The thought of running a marathon has crossed many of our minds at some point. Whether you have 10ks under your belt or are a newcomer to marathon training, it takes a concerted effort to train for a marathon. Many experts believe that timing is the best gift you can give yourself when marathon training. Giving yourself time and a set schedule means you don’t have to rush your training, it prevents injury and better prepares you for race day and an all-around better experience.

Training takes anywhere from 24 to 26 weeks for your first marathon — especially if you already have at least a year of running experience, cover 20 to 24 miles a week and go on long runs of up to 6 to 8 miles. While most first-time trainees can properly acquire the stamina in 18 to 22 weeks, they typically aren’t ready to start training until their long runs are into the double digits.

However, runners shouldn’t be discouraged! All you need is training to prepare yourself for a marathon. Here are five tips every new runner needs to know to make their training journey successful. 

  1. Plan for Delays in Training

It’s important that new runners give themselves 25 weeks to train, no matter how stable the training plan seems. This is because, realistically, life gets in the way, ranging from illness to needing to take a week off. It’s practical to take some time out of training to rest, or even heal some muscles. Generous training schedules allow runners to surmount the challenges and still catch up to where they need to be on marathon day.

  1. Build Up your Momentum

When training for a marathon, it’s best to pace yourself. No one has clearly identified how fast you should increase your pace when it comes to running, but the general consensus says not to increase your mileage by more than 10 percent per week. However, some people can only handle a 5 percent increase per week or 10 percent every two weeks. It’s ok to go at your own pace. Runners can start with 10 percent mileage increases and tweak as needed, but don’t be afraid to reduce mileage. During training, your body will take a while to respond because it involves cellular changes as you build heart muscle, skeletal muscle, bone, aerobic enzymes and other tissues, cells and chemicals. As long as you respect your limits during training, you will have an easier time.

  1. Strength Train Regularly

While practicing running is obviously a big part of becoming a runner, anyone pursuing a marathon will also need to undergo strength training. Every marathon runner should incorporate two to three days of strength training into their routine per week. Exercises including squats, lunges, planks and clamshell exercises strengthen runners’ muscles to be successful and remain injury-free. Performing these exercises after short runs or on days where you don’t run can prevent overtraining and burnout. 

  1. Keep a Slow and Steady Pace

People who are new to running marathons don’t realize that most training should be at a slower pace. While some training sessions will be set at a targeted race pace —  or even faster during interval training —  many long runs should be slower and will often be longer than regular marathon times. Marathons are more than 99 percent aerobic. So if trainees push themselves to the maximum while training, it will result in sacrificing aerobic fitness by also training the anaerobic system. Stick to slow pacing while training so that you can strengthen your aerobic capacity. To identify your ideal running and training pace, assessing it in a pace calculator or enlisting a certified running coach will help.

  1. Marathon Day Could be the First Time You Run 26+ Miles

Many people want to prove they can run marathon distances before the big day.  However, it’s not uncommon for runners to run their first 26.2 miles on race day. Most people are successful despite not getting to the 26.2-mile distance during training. First-time marathon runners work up to 18 to 20 miles during long runs. After a few 40+ mile weeks of long-running 18 to 20 miles, marathoners practice tapering, running far fewer miles to allow the body an opportunity to rest and recover. It also helps to build up glycogen (carbs housed in the muscles and liver.) This acts as the body’s primary energy resource during a marathon. Combined with tapering, proper nutrition and adrenaline serve as wonderful stamina boosters for the body.