Our Six Step Guide To Your First Marathon

Feeling convinced to enter your first marathon, but not sure where to begin? We asked running coach Brendan McBirnie and nutritionist Andrea du Plessis, experts in the Fedhealth’s Dream Chasers campaign ahead of the Sanlam Cape Town Marathon in September, to help with our list of six things you should think about when starting your marathon training:

1. Follow A Plan

Like all big goals, achieving them starts with a plan. “Make sure your running plan is both structured and progressive, where you build your mileage gradually,” says Brendan. There are lots of plans that you can download online, or you can enlist the help of a personal coach to customise a plan that suits your running ability and experience.

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2. Be Flexible

Unless you’re an elite athlete, training for a marathon involves fitting it into a busy life that may include work, children, hobbies and socialising. Especially as the weeks of training turn into months, Brendan advises that you plan your training around sessions, rather than particular days. “You won’t always be able to train on the same day of the week, so rather plan to do a total of three sessions per week and achieve your weekly goal mileage that way,” he says.

3. Keep Your Training Mileage Low, But Frequent

Particularly if you’re just starting to build up your distance to be marathon fit, low mileage over a longer time period will help you improve more quickly and avoid injury. “If you’re only just first starting out, rather run or walk a 2km session and then build up from there, rather than jumping straight into a 10km training session several times a week,” says Brendan. This obviously requires a longer training period, so try and plan to enter a marathon that gives you enough months to prepare.

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4. Include Long, Slow Distances

When training for a marathon, you need to get your body used to hours spent on the road – but distance running is also known for decreasing muscle strength. To give you power as well as endurance, include some speed or hill sessions in your running programme that will increase your lung capacity and build your muscle strength, in addition to the stamina you’re building from your long runs. Cross training with sports like cycling and swimming can also help you build overall strength, so you can avoid overuse injuries from using the same running muscles day in and day out.

5. Remember To Rest

While you definitely do need to do the correct training load in order to complete a marathon distance, remember that rest is as important – as that’s when the body repairs muscle tissues and replenishes the energy you need for those long hours on the road. “The longer and harder the run, the more time you will need to recover,” says Brendan. As a rule, try to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep per night, and on days that you’re sleep deprived, reduce your running intensity.


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