With more than a half million finishers every year, the marathon is one of the fastest growing race distances in the United States. Although more and more runners are attempting their first marathons, there are also those who aren't sure if they're ready yet.
Truthfully, marathons are very difficult—if they weren't, they wouldn't be so awesome to finish. While most runners can finish one at some point in their running careers, it still takes proper training and the right fitness level before runners should even start marathon-specific preparation.
How Lack of Preparation Can Make the Marathon Miserable
The marathon's sheer distance forces you to recognize one of the body's limitations: the inability to store enough fuel (sugar) to carry you longer than about 20 miles. When you reach that point, your pace slows and you don't feel as good.
Just look at the poor running form of marathoners at the very end of the race. The fatigue and low fuel levels cause their form to fall apart. When you run with poor form and low fuel stores, you risk getting hurt and prolonging your recovery after the race.
Instead of being one of those runners and having a miserable first experience, learn how you can prepare properly.
Marathon Training Requires Commitment
Training for a marathon is almost as hard as the race itself. The following breakdown of marathon training will help you decide if you're truly ready to tackle this distance.
First, there's the amount of time you need to commit to marathon training. Dedicate at least four months to "official" (or distance-specific) training before your goal event. Any shorter and you'll have to increase your mileage, long runs and workouts too quickly and risk an overuse injury.
Since the long runs that you need to complete for the marathon are, well, long, you'll also need to start your marathon-specific training already able to run at least 10 miles. Any shorter and you won't be able to progress to the necessary 18- to 20-mile long runs you'll need to complete during training. If your long runs don't get up that high, you'll bonk hard around the 20-mile mark and have a very uncomfortable and unpleasant first marathon experience.
Next, ensure you're ready to train from an injury perspective. Healthy, consistent running is a must when you prepare for 26.2 miles. Make sure you have completed at least 2 to 3 months of injury-free running before you commit to marathon prep. The training is hard enough so you want to start on a positive note with as much momentum as possible.
Finally, make sure that your overall weekly mileage is at least 20 miles at the start of your marathon training. If that amount of running in one week sounds intimidating, you're simply not ready yet. After all, you'll be running a lot longer in one single run on race day.
By following these simple principles, you'll know when you're ready to train for the marathon. More importantly, the training itself will be much more manageable (and enjoyable). You'll also feel better, have more energy, and have a more pleasant first marathon experience.race.