How to train for your first marathon

If you think you're ready to run 26.2 miles, but are worried about taking too much time away from your family, read this article to get started. These six training tips will help you start your running adventure without any extra guilt.

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  • I moved to Michigan in 2004 and started running with a group of women in my neighborhood. When I realized how much I enjoyed running, I wanted to try and run a marathon. I was worried about time away from my family, but my husband was supportive, and in 2008 I completed my first marathon. Since then I’ve run another marathon, several half marathons, relays and various other races. Like many people, I caught the running bug! If you’re thinking about tackling 26.2 miles but have a busy family life, you’ll need to have a plan to succeed. Here are six things you need to train for, and finish, your first marathon.

  • Running base

  • A basic fitness level is necessary to complete a marathon training program successfully. If you are ready to train and have been running consistently, you will be much more likely to finish injury-free. Different coaches and running experts recommend different fitness levels. I would suggest a running base of 15 to 20 miles per week for about six months, with a long run of at least six miles. If you don’t have this fitness level, consider training for a half marathon (13.1 miles) instead. This base fitness level also shows your family you are dedicated to making running a part of your life.

  • Training plan

  • There are many resources to help you train for a marathon. I read two different books about marathon running in preparation, then chose an online training plan I downloaded and followed. Three websites that offer free plans for various running levels are halhigdon.com, coolrunning.com, and jeffgalloway.com. If you want more guidance, you can pay a fee at sites like runnersworld.com and marathontrainingacademy.com to get daily tips and more detailed plans for your ability level. Make sure your plan to train comes at a good time for your family and their schedule, but don't put yourself last. It's good for family members to support you and your goals too.

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  • Support system

  • Training for a marathon takes a lot of time. The training phase lasts 16 to 20 weeks, and each week you must run at least four times. As your mileage builds, so does your time away from home. Skipping runs will make you less prepared for your race, so enlisting the support of your family, particularly your spouse or partner, is important. My husband knew that every Saturday for 16 weeks I’d be out running. Although I had some flexibility, I couldn’t skip a long run. His willingness to entertain the kids while I ran made my finish possible. Seeing the kids waving signs at the finish made me realize how much my marathon became a family affair.

  • Motivation

  • Having a reason to run a marathon will help keep you running when the weeks are long and your muscles are sore. Do you want to show your children you can do hard things? Are you trying to lose weight or get healthier? Perhaps you’re running to raise money for a charity that is important to you, or to remember someone close to you who passed away. Whatever the reason, keep your motivation in the front of your mind. It will inspire you at several points during your training and race.

  • Endurance

  • It’s exciting to run new distances each week. I remember the first time I ran 10 miles, then 12, then all the way up to 20. It’s also grueling to push your body weekly. Good eating and sleeping habits will help you stay healthy during your training. At times you might need to tell yourself “just keep running.” Read up on fueling during running, and make sure to take water and food on your longer training runs. Ask your family for extra support during the last few tough weeks of training, and look for opportunities to teach your children the value of continuing even when things are hard.

  • Expectation

  • In your first marathon training experience, set realistic goals. If you are fairly new to running, choose a goal that is attainable, like “I won’t walk for the first half of the race.” You can expect to feel some aches and pains as you train. Watch out for overuse injuries. If you have to rest for a few days, do so. Some injuries will sideline you for months if you don’t take care of them early. Many first-time marathoners simply have the goal to finish. Others choose a time goal like “finish under five hours.” You can expect that your family will think you're pretty amazing for completing a training program and finishing your race.

  • Finishing a marathon is exhilarating. Preparing to run 26.2 miles is no small feat. Don't worry about missing out on family life while training. Your example of health and fitness will inspire your family and strengthen you as a parent and partner. Be assured of a successful finish by training for success.

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Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.

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