How to Run Your First Marathon: Beginner’s 2024 Guide

by Thomas Wrona March 29, 2024 5 min read

How to Run Your First Marathon: Beginner’s 2024 Guide

Running at 5-10+ miles per hour for hours on end is no easy feat.

Or . . . is it?

Marathon running may seem daunting, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The truth is that running a marathon is an attainable goal almost regardless of your running experience — just as long as you train right.

This 2024 marathon training plan is designed to give you your best running form yet. Keep reading to learn how to ace your first marathon in under 20 weeks of training.

  • How long does it take to prepare for a marathon?
  • Marathon training plans 101
  • Step 1: set your vision
  • Step 2: stick with endurance at first
  • Step 3: intervals
  • Step 4: specificity
  • Step 5: tapering
  • Step 6: nutrition & hydration

How long does it take to prepare for a marathon?

That depends on your current running form!

Most marathon runners aren’t made overnight. If you’re brand new to running, it can take up to 20 weeks on a dedicated training schedule to be ready for your first-time marathon.

If you’re already an established endurance runner, on the other hand, you might only need a few weeks of peaking and tapering to really be ready for your next marathon.

The best marathon training plans are periodized, meaning that their workouts become more and more marathon-like over time. The best plans also feature a pre-race ‘taper’ period where you take things a little easier so you arrive at race day feeling fresh!

Our marathon plan takes a multidimensional approach by featuring different types of training runs. By multidimensional, we just mean that you’ll be running at a variety of different intensities. Our plan features:

  • Recovery runs
  • Endurance runs
  • Hill workouts
  • Intervals

And just in case you’re someone who really likes to plan things out, you can always schedule a half-marathon prior to race day.

Marathon & half-marathon training plans 101

Whatever you do . . . don’t google ‘marathon training plans!’ The info you find might quickly get overwhelming.

We’re here to help you keep things simple. The info you’re about to read works for both marathon and half-marathon training. Check out the steps below to learn how.

Step 1: set your vision

Before you even start training for your next marathon, take a step back and think about your goals. Do you have a time goal in mind? Are you just trying to have fun and make it to the finish line? Or maybe you want to be faster than last time and improve your overall health.

Whatever your goal, be sure to make it clear. Bonus points if you write down your goal and put it somewhere you can see it!

Step 2: stick with endurance at first

As cliche as it sounds, running your first marathon is a marathon, not a sprint. Your first few weeks of running should be done at a steady, comfortable pace.

Even if you’re brand new to running, you should be able to find this intensity “sweet spot” just by listening to your body. If you’re having to breathe through your mouth, you’re working too hard. The vast majority of your initial running should be done at a pace where you can just barely breathe through your nose. (If you need to, you’re absolutely allowed to walk.)

This type of endurance training may seem too easy, too slow, or both — but it’s not. Research shows that “zone 2” endurance training build up your work capacity, mitochondrial density, and race-pace metabolism. [1]

Cross-training can also present a valuable form of endurance training. Good options include biking and strength training (and don’t forget about core strength).

Pro tip: continue focusing on steady endurance training until you can keep it up for 75% of your projected marathon time. If you want to run a sub-four-hour marathon, for example, be sure to hit at least a couple of three-hour endurance tempo runs.

Step 3: intervals!

Once you’ve mastered steady-state endurance running, it’s time to add some intervals into the mix. Think of intervals as the icing on the proverbial cake; they’d be a terrible training foundation, but they’re an excellent supplement.

While endurance training gently ‘pulls’ your overall fitness level progressively higher, interval training force-hacks you to higher top-end speed.

As a future marathon runner, you’ll want to focus on intervals that push up your lactate threshold. This type of interval hits the very same energy system you’ll be relying on during the most intense parts of your first race.

For those who are unfamiliar, your lactate threshold usually occurs at a pace you could hold for 30 minutes (maybe 60 minutes if your life depended on it). Lactate threshold can also be measured with heart rate; it’s usually around 90% of your max heart rate. [2]

Improving your lactate threshold with intervals often looks something like this:

  • A 1-hour run with 4 x 5-minute intervals at the upper end of your lactate threshold
  • A 2-hour run with 2 x 10-minute intervals at the lower end of your lactate threshold
  • A fartlek-style run with 30 minutes of progressively faster running towards the end (don’t forget to cool down, though)

Once you’ve gotten a feel for interval training, you can progress on to ‘fartlek’ style runs. The name may sound silly, but the concept is time-tested — Swedish coach Gösta Holmér introduced fartlek training as a way to intuitively combine speed and endurance within just one session.

Step 4: specificity

Remember the concept of periodization we mentioned earlier? As you draw closer to race day, it’s time to get a little more specific. The final third of your training program should replicate race day in several key ways.

If the marathon you’ve signed up for is pancake flat, include some speed work. If it’s hilly, be sure to expose yourself to some hills, particularly near the end of long training sessions.

Step 5: tapering

Once you can comfortably run at a steady pace for a long time . . . once you’ve trained your body to recover between intervals . . . once you’ve done some specialized training . . . it’s time to taper! Tapering should occur in the month before your race date. (If you’re pressed for time it can begin as little as 2 weeks before marathon day.)

Tapering involves adding in more rest days, more easy runs, and fewer endurance runs. The final week before your race can actually pick back up a little more, especially if you’re feeling fresh. Be sure to get in plenty of time at an easy pace, though!

Step 6: nutrition & hydration

Regardless of what stage of training you find yourself at, nutrition and hydration are critically important. Hydration keeps your body in the electrical state it needs to function, while nutrition keeps your body energized and well-fueled.

Good hydration is simple: just sip on an electrolyte solution throughout your workouts. (TriFuel makes staying hydrated even simpler.)

Optimal nutrition can be a bit more complex. You’ll want to feed your body a steady stream of carbohydrates throughout your marathon — energy gels are a great choice — but not necessarily throughout all your training sessions. Many athletes feel that consuming fewer carbs on training runs (particularly endurance runs) shifts their metabolism towards fat-burning, allowing for higher energy levels throughout a full marathon.


Author: Thomas Wrona

Date: 3/28/2024

Sources

  1. Adaptations to Endurance and Strength Training. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 8(6).
    https://doi.org/10.1101/cshperspect.a029769
  2. Anaerobic Threshold: Its Concept and Role in Endurance Sport. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences: MJMS, 11(1), 24-36.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438148/

Bio

As a former pro cyclist and current writer + wellness coach, Thomas has been immersed in the endurance sports world for most of his life. He holds records as the youngest-ever winner of the Junior Tour of Ireland and a member of the US’s fastest-ever team pursuit. He’s written for global CBD companies, pioneering fitness companies, and high-performance investment funds. He doesn’t just write about these topics — he’s lived them!

Take the next step in your training regimen: Try any BRL Sports supplement risk-free! If our natural nutritional products aren’t the best you’ve ever used, simply return your purchase for a 100% refund — no questions asked!



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