3 Goal-Setting Tips for First-Time Marathoners

For most first-time marathoners, pulling the registration trigger is a monumental moment. Surpassed, almost instantly, by the sudden realization that you actually have to do the race. Over time, this dread is replaced by you trying to come to terms with what it means to train to complete 26.2 miles.

But it doesn't have to be a constant uphill battle. Structured properly, training for and racing a marathon can be a relativley simple and fun experience. Here are three tips to help you keep your marathon journey simple and effective.

Step One: Be Consistent 

The secret to getting ready for a marathon is not contained in one magical workout that you are going to find in next installment of your favorite running magazine. It also can't be found in the distance of any one individual "long run" despite the fact that an informal survey of 10 runners will give you 10 different recommendations for a distance.

The secret to getting ready for race day is simple: Run well and run often. 

  • Whatever plan you choose, keep it simple.
  • Build it into your regular weekly and daily schedule so that you don't have to jump through too many hoops to make it work.
  • Keep it fun by involving your friends or finding a local running group.
  • Find intermediary races between now and the big day to keep you focused and on point.
  • Schedule a variety of runs, some easy and some hard—mostly short, but once a week go long.
  • Alternate long run weeks with intermediate distance long runs, such as 16 miles, then 12 miles, then 18 miles, then 12 miles, etc.
  • Take frequent days off to ensure you get enough rest, especially after long- and hard-run days. 

More: 3 Steps to Long-Run Recovery

Step Two: Manage Your Recovery 

While most new runners get excited about the running and the racing, the savvy runner will tell you that the time when you are not running is equally important. While the work and subsequent fatigue of training create the opportunity for functional adaptations (aka improvements), the only way those gains can take root is when you recover.

More: Speed Up Your Recovery

But, contrary to conventional wisdom, recovery is more than just drinking the right ratio of carbs to protein after a hard workout (4:1, in case you were wondering). It's about creating the conditions for constant growth and absorption of work.

Here are some simple yet very effective ways to make sure you are recovering properly.

  • Consistent sleep makes a huge difference in your ability to recover. Most people need eight hours a night, but the average is closer to six. Do your best to get seven and we'll call it even. 
  • A consistent wake time also helps. If you can't get the same amount of sleep, work on a regular rising ritual so your body gets acclimated to the morning (especially if you are moving to morning workouts). This will also help you do a better job of getting to bed at a reasonable hour. 
  • Don't just run, cross-train, too. The pounding of the open road can take a toll; avoid this situation by mixing in alternate days of aerobic activity such as cycling, swimming, roller blading and even just walking. It all adds up. 

More: How Beginning Runners Can Improve Endurance Without Injury

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