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Beginner’s Marathon Training Schedule, Tips for Full or Half Marathons

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If you’re a beginner at marathons, you’ll want to check out WebMD’s tips from experts on how and when to train and meet your goals.

Planning to run your first marathon or half marathon? Knowing the secrets of training can help you run your first race.

First, clear the idea with your doctor at a physical exam. Then, do this:

1. Tell People

This makes you accountable. Tell everyone who will listen, says Joe Donovan, a Milwaukee runner who wrote the Essential Guide to Training for Your First Marathon.

“Only when you tell other people is it real,” he says. “Certainly, some people will think you are nuts.”

“I don’t think you need to run every single day. Figure out what works for your life.” — runner Cathy Fieseler, MD

Some did, he recalls, when Donovan announced his decision to run his first marathon while he was a graduate student, working for a U.S. senator. “At first there was disbelief,” he says of the people he told. Next? “There was this kind of ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”

It became a topic of conversation and support among his fiancée (now his wife) and co-workers, which helped him stick to his training.

2. Set a Specific Goal

It’s not as simple as saying your goal is to finish 13.1 miles (a half marathon) or 26.2 (a full marathon), says Cathy Fieseler, MD, a veteran marathoner and ultra-distance runner.

Ask yourself why you are running the race, she says. “Do you have a time goal? Are you trying to qualify for [the Boston marathon]? Are you doing it in memory of someone? Because you are turning 40?”

Figuring that out, she says, will guide your training plan. For instance, if you’re running in memory of someone, you may not care about how long it takes you, but if you want to finish within four hours, you might need a different plan.

3. Make a Plan

You need a nuts-and-bolts training plan. You can get that online, from a running coach if you happen to be in a running club, or from running publications.

If you’re easily running 3 or 4 miles at a shot now, plan to train for about three months before a half marathon and about five months before a full marathon, says Todd Galati, an American Council on Exercise spokesman.

Your plan should be realistic. “I don’t think you need to run every single day,” Fieseler says. “Figure out what works for your life.”

4. Don’t Overdo It

Don’t add miles too quickly, Galati says. The established rule is not to boost your miles by more than 10% per week.

Doing speed work can improve your times. For instance, run faster than usual for an interval of time, then drop back to your slower pace, and repeat. But don’t increase mileage, do speed work, and tackle hills all at once, he says. That’s too much.

Speed work can make you faster, ”but it also ups the risk of injury,” Fiessler says, especially as you age. Be aware of the tradeoff, she says.

5. Be Accepting

No one sticks to the training plan perfectly, Galati points out. “There’s stress at work, sick kids.”

“Accept bad runs during training,” he says. “As the average-to-good runs become more frequent, the bad runs become easier to tolerate.”

Injuries can happen, too. But if you have a reasonable plan for running, nutrition, and rest, you’re more likely to stay injury-free.

6. Monitor Your Heart Rate

Enthusiasm is good, but there’s a downside: overtraining.

“Check your resting heart rate every morning,” Galati says. “If you see a big jump, you probably are overtraining.”

If your morning heart rate is normally 60, for instance, and goes up to 61 or 62, no big deal, he says. But if it goes from 60 to 72, back off and recover, he says.

7. Mimic Race Day

During training, “replicate the race experience,” Donovan says. That is, get used to the conditions you’ll face on race day.

Check out the race course ahead of time. Is it hilly? Will the race team be serving a sports drink or water?

Never wear new shoes, socks, or shorts on race day. Wear something you know is comfortable because you’ve trained in it.

8. Run With Attitude

Positive thinking from the start is crucial, says Fieseler. Tune out any negative talk you’re likely to hear on the course — and you may hear grumbling, moaning, maybe even swearing.

Replace all of that with positive visualization. Suppose you know, from checking out the course, that mile 5 begins to get hilly. Visualize yourself from the start building energy and not struggling at all once the hill arrives.

Think positive thoughts, Fieseler says, such as “I’m defeating this hill; it isn’t defeating me.”

February 16, 2014 |

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