Marathon participation in the United States is booming.
According to the most recent data from Running USA, participation in marathons grew nearly three percent from 2011 to 2013, which resulted in a record 541,000 marathon finishers in 2013. For comparison: In 2001, just 288,000 runners finished a marathon.
Given these continually growing numbers, it's obvious that running the vaunted 26.2-mile distance is quickly becoming the de facto goal for many beginning runners.
But, should finishing a marathon be your goal? How much running experience should you have? How many miles per week should you be ready to handle before you start training?
Running a marathon can be done if you don't have the requisite training background, but it might not be the best goal for you, and it could stunt your long-term development.
How You Know You're Ready for Marathon Training
The first step is finding enough time to train. Beginners need at least four months of marathon-specific training to prepare properly for the marathon.
A beginner is someone who has been running consistently for less than two years, or who averages less than 20 to 25 miles per week. There's nothing wrong with being a beginner or running low mileage. But, if your goal is to run a marathon, you need the requisite training background first.
If the race you want to run is less than four months away, you might struggle to get in the necessary training and long runs. Squeezing in marathon training with just 12 or 14 weeks left before the race hardly ever works for beginners. They either get injured from trying to build long runs too quickly, or they have a miserable race experience.
Suggested Running Level to Start Marathon Training
You need at least four months of marathon-specific training. The next step: build your mileage so you're ready to train during this 16-week block. So, what should your mileage and long run numbers look like before you begin your marathon-specific block of training?