6 Steps for the First-Time Marathoner

Phase Three: Conspire

With your event locked in and a group to run with at least part of the time, you can now turn your attention to your marathon training schedule. Picking the right plan has less to do with the plan itself, and more to do with you. Always put yourself first when making your decision.

  • When are you available to run?
  • Is the plan hard copy only or available online?
  • Do you want/need cross training guidance?
  • Do you have local support to answer your questions or do you need support through your plan?
  • Is the plan simple to use or will you need additional devices to follow the training guidance?
  • Does the plan provide information / guidance for dealing with race day?
  • Is there a money-back guarantee?
  • Where are the testimonials / feedback?

Asking these types of questions will guide you to find a plan that fits not only when you run, but how you like to manage your running. It should adjust for your progress over time, giving you as much guidance and information about recovery as it does about the training.

Please note that I have not referred to any of the various free plans you can print from the web. I think most first-time marathoners need a little more guidance than just a table with distances listed for different runs. You can certainly gravitate to being 100% self-supported, but the first time it's important to have confidence in your training guidance.

Phase Four: Consistency

Whatever plan you do end up choosing, your number one goal is get follow it as closely as possible. The best training plans are "Easy To Do," in that there are no super-hard sessions or hard to comprehend guidance. The ultimate goal of any marathon plan is to get you ready to handle the rigors of 26.2 miles — and the best way to do that is to get you running as frequently as possible for as long as you can handle at that time.

The emerging popularity of minimal marathon training programs with high weekend mileage isn't that different from the hardcore old school plans with killer volume. They both ask you to place a large portion of your training time and energy into a single session during the week. There's nothing wrong with this over time, assuming you are fit and ready to handle an unevenly distributed training load, but it's not a great way to start your running at the outset.

Look for a long-term plan that's anywhere from four to six months in duration. This will give you plenty of time to build up your fitness without putting your running health at risk. You'll simply be more mentally and physically durable. The longer you run in preparation for the final eight weeks of your plan (where all the volume falls) the better you'll be able to handle the increased training load.

Phase Five: Doubt

It happens to all of us, from first-timers to veterans — at some point in our training the little voice(s) in the back of your mind get hold of a microphone and start to dominate the mental conversation. Maybe it was a bad run that triggered it or perhaps a setback like a cold or overuse injury. Whatever the cause, you are now questioning your ability to get ready for the big day.

I think dealing with this doubt is a critical step towards really being ready. It's great preparation for handling the demons that will come up at the end of your marathon in the form of the dreaded "wall." It's also a great opportunity to review your training and see if there are any pieces of the puzzle that need fixing or tweaking. This isn't a call to panic, rather I think of it as an early warning sign that you can use to your advantage.

Most importantly, know that no one is ever truly ready for race day. Talk to anyone at the starting line on race weekend and you'll hear plenty of amazing stories of overcoming obstacles like injury, scheduling, health, etc. It's just part of what we do as runners; do your best to stay focused and don't be afraid to ask for support from the networks you have built in the early phases of your training. Let them give now; you can pay it forward for the next "newbie" runner that comes along.

Phase Six: Conserve

Once you are in a running groove, you'll find that running is pretty effortless. You enjoy it, it's empowering, and it's transforming who you are. So if 40 miles a week is good?then 60 or 80 must be better, right? If a 20-miler is good, a 24-miler must be better, right? Wrong.

Remember our mantra of consistency above; getting aggressive with all or part of your training is a serious roll of the dice. The gamble might work for some, but they are generally in the minority, and it's simply not worth it this early in your running career.

Another way to think of this is "no highs, no lows" — the minute you find yourself on top of the world you need to be ready to handle a setback; and no matter how low things get you'll be able to bounce back. One great way to exert control over your running is to adopt a pretty conservative mindset, one where you take each workout as it comes, focusing not on results but rather on the progress of your overall running fitness.

Nowhere is this more important than in the last six weeks of your training, when you'll be tempted to run longer and harder than ever before. You'll be tempted to test your fitness during the running taper by adding extra miles or sessions?and you must resist the siren call off volume to calm your pre-race jitters. Instead, turn to your friends, training partners, event the local store for support and guidance. They might not be experts, but they have been where you are and certainly can help.


Marathon Nation is the home of Coach Patrick and his real-world, pace-based marathon training system. Download one of our free resources, find your personal marathon training schedule or join us online to share your training and racing with our growing community of runners. Find more quality articles and video analysis resources online at Marathon Nation: www.marathonnation.us

Training for a marathon? Download our free PDF guide that will walk you through the final, most critical parts of the pre-marathon experience. You can register to download it from Marathon Nation.

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