8 Baby Steps to the Marathon for Beginners

3: Think Time, Not Distance 

While miles are sexy, and 26.2 miles is intimidating, don't fall into the trap of tracking your miles until you are well into your program. Instead, track the total time you spend exercising, even if your workouts are a mix of run/walk intervals. Tracking time means you can push for incremental change each week (adding another five minutes is doable, as compared to adding another mile, for example). It will also aid you in budgeting time for the actual workouts. 

More: 4 Speed Workouts for Beginners

4: Building Run Weeks by 10 Percent or Less

As you get more consistent and your running fitness improves, avoid the temptation to jump too far in any one week. We're all invincible until we get hurt, and you are only a few consecutive excessive workouts away from having an issue. If you are tracking time in minutes, try to avoid increasing any given run by more than 15 percent in one week—a proper increase in this case would be going from a 30-minute run to a 34:30 run. If you are tracking distance, try to avoid increasing any given run by 10 precent—that means moving from a 5-mile run to a 5.5-mile run. 

More: The 10 Percent Rule: How to Make It Work for You

5: Recover Whenever You Feel Less Than 100 Percent 

Don't wait for your plan to tell you when to rest; listen to your body. You might not know what it "feels like" to be a runner, but you certainly are an expert at discerning when you feel good or not. If you feel tired, sore, or run down, take a day (or two) off. If you can't sleep at night or think you are coming down with a cold, take time off. Your top priority in getting to the marathon should be to get there as healthy and as fit as you can be. Most runners to do the opposite: They are super-fit but nowhere near healthy, and they pay the price on race day. 

More: How to Stay Healthy Before and After Your Race

6: Nutrition Practice

Every single run is a chance to practice your running nutrition. As a runner, you will need to drink sports drinks and take in digestible calories when working out. Don't wait until you start running "long" to get this right. Use all of your runs to start this process. 

Your best bet is to head out to the local running store and pick up a variety of things to see what you do or don't like. You'll also need to figure out the right frequency of eating and drinking to make sure you are properly fueled so you can avoid workouts where you run out of energy. Trial and error is the only way you'll find out what does the trick for you, so get to it. 

More: 4 Steps to Perfect Marathon Fueling

7: Race Simulation 

As your marathon gets closer, you'll want to run an actual race-simulation workout to test both your nutrition and pacing plan. You probably know what you want to run, but actually being able to do it for extended periods of time is another thing entirely.

More: 2 Workouts to Make Marathon Race Pace Feel Easier 

Do the math on your goal pace, and then pick a nice flat course near your house. Run the first 6 miles slightly slower than your goal pace (approximately 10 seconds per mile slower), and then run the next 12 miles slightly faster (approximately 5 seconds per mile faster). Mentally record how you feel at every 3-mile point so you can compare your actual performance (splits and time) with how you felt. How was your nutrition? Your shoes? Your other gear? What "broke down" first? Learn more about marathon race simulation workouts

More: 5 Tips for Marathon Training and Simulation

8: Pre-Race Recon

If you are lucky, you'll have the chance to explore your race before the big day. All the more reason to pick a more local event. You can do your simulation run on the course, or perhaps one of your other long runs. You don't have to do every run here, but knowledge of the course and landmarks can help immensely on race day. 

If running on the course isn't possible, then make sure to drive the course before the big day. You'll want to be the one behind the wheel, so you can feel the elevation changes. Note key miles to sync them with your race plan; you might even want to jog two or three miles on the course as part of your final preparations.

More: 3 Goal-Setting Tips for First-Time Marathoners

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