Found on About.com and written by Christine Luff
Once you’ve run your first race, or you’ve been running for a few months, people may start to ask if and when you’ll ever run a marathon. Completing a 26.2 mile race is no small feat and, as marathon runners can tell you, the training — not the race itself — can be the hardest part.
I think that any healthy individual who is willing to commit to the training can complete a marathon, but I don’t recommend that new runners jump right into the marathon distance. That’s an easy way to get injured and possibly end up hating running, rather than developing a life-long healthy habit. If you’ve never run before, it’s important to first feel very comfortable with running, get your body used to the physical and mental demands of running, slowly build up your mileage base, and run some shorter distance races.
So, how do you know if you’re ready to start training for a marathon? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. How long have you been running?
It’s best to be running for at least six months (one year is better) before you start training for a marathon. If you have that experience, your body will have already made some physical adaptations and you’ll be more physically and mentally prepared to handle the rigors of marathon training. Sure, many people jump right into marathon training and run a marathon several months after they first started running. But many people who attempt to do it that way get injured or burned out during the training.
2. How many miles have you been putting in?
A good marathon training base is 15- 20 miles per week for a few months before you start training for a marathon. Your body needs time to adapt to the pounding that it will be taking during the training. And make sure you’re not running on the treadmill for 100% of the time because your body makes different adaptations for road running. When building your base, try to run at least 1/3 (more is better) of your miles on pavement, as that’s likely what you’ll be running on during the marathon.
3. Did you talk to your doctor?
Even if your doctor cleared you to start running for exercise, it’s still important to discuss your marathon training plans with him or her. Your doctor may suggest additional tests or have specific exercise recommendations before clearing you to get started with marathon training.
4. Have you ever run a race?
Before you start thinking about running a marathon, it’s a good idea to try out a few smaller races, like a 5K or 10K. You’ll be able to figure out if you truly like training and racing before making a huge time, emotional, and possibly financial commitment. I always like to see runnerscomplete a half marathon before they do a marathon so they get a better sense of what’s involved with the training and race itself and to decide if they truly enjoy long distance running!
5. Do you have time to train?
Some people don’t realize that marathon training is very time-intensive. At times, it may feel like a part-time job (that you don’t get paid for). Beginners should plan to run or exercise at least 4-5 days a week and one of those days will involve hours of running (at the peak of your training). Think realistically about your work, family, and other responsibilities to determine if you would have the time to commit to the training. Some people may need to get family members on board before committing if they’re going to need help with childcare and/or household responsibilities.
6. Have you thought about possible training and race conditions?
If you already have a marathon in mind, have you thought about the possible race day conditions? For example, Honolulu is a great vacation destination, but running a marathon in the extreme heat is difficult. You also need to consider when and where you would be training. If you’d like to do a Spring marathon and you live in a climate with cold winters, you’ll be doing the bulk of your training in the cold weather. The same is true for those doing early Fall marathons who will have to do a lot of hot weather running. Think carefully about when and how you’ll train.
You should also find out as much as you can about any marathons that you might be interested in running. Talk to other runners about their recommendations for first marathons. Find out if races you’re interested in have time limits. Visit the marathon’s website and check out the comments and reviews at MarathonGuide.com to learn more about the marathon’s course and race day conditions.
7. Have you done your research?
Have you ever watched or volunteered at a marathon? Have you read some books on marathons? Have you talked to people who have completed a marathon? Have you looked at a beginner marathon training program to see what’s involved? Are you aware of some of the costs associated with running a marathon? All of those things are good ways to learn more about marathon training and running (without actually starting to train) so you know what to expect and can figure out if it’s something you want to do. If you think you’d like to train with a group, research different training programs in your area and see if there’s one you’d like.
8. Why do you want to complete a marathon?
Make sure you want to do a marathon for the right reasons. If someone dared you to do it or you’re trying to impress your boss, you’re probably not going to last very long through the training. You should have some internal goals, like improving your health or proving to yourself that you can commit to the training and complete the race.