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5 Steps to Running Your First Marathon

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Watching thousands of runners complete a marathon—and seeing your friends and colleagues brag about their 42.195km conquests on social media—can be completely inspiring. It’s easy to understand if you catch the bug yourself. But where do you start? The multi-kilometer distance can seem daunting to anyone, but as your friends and colleagues can attest: It’s completely doable. Here’s how to cross that starting line in five easy steps.

1) Think Long Term

Now is the time to start if you want to run a marathon next spring, or even a year from now. “So many people sign up and think they can do it tomorrow, or this month,” says Jeff Gaudette, former elite athlete and owner/head coach of Runner’s Connect. “They think they can just gut through it—but with a marathon, that can get ugly.” In other words, you’ll have a nicer experience (and avoid injuries) if you take the time to prep.

2) Build Strength

Gaudette suggests focusing on strengthening key areas, to form a solid foundation for your training. “Start with a core- and hip-strengthening protocol to make sure your structural system is ready to handle an increase in running,” Gaudette says. These involve simple stretching and body-weight exercises like walking lunges and planks, at least twice per week for six weeks. It’s also a good idea to add some short, all-out bursts to your runs, to improve your stride. You’ll learn how to pace yourself for the long haul.

3) Take it Slow

“Keep your runs easy,” Gaudette says. “You’re going to get much better value training for the marathon by running slow—staying in your fat-burning or low-end cardio zones—than if you get into your peak zone.” You’ll be able to have more energy for more mileage.

Aim to run three times to five times per week, for about 30 minutes each session, or three to five kilometers per run. On one day per week—go long, up to double your normal daily distance. Most importantly, Gaudette says, “Keep your pace slow—for all of your runs. You want to establish an aerobic base, and give your body the best chance to adapt to an increase in mileage.”

4) Bump Up Mileage…Gradually

As you get comfortable running three to five times per week, start to gradually increase your kilometers. Gaudette suggests increasing your overall weekly distance by 10%, adding a bit to each run. That means, if your week adds up to 16km, bump your overall mileage goal to 18km for the next week. Working slowly like this will help your body adapt, so you can prevent injuries and also feel more comfortable during your runs.

5) Slip in Some Speed

Once you get to 32km per week, make sure at least one day includes up-tempo running, to practice running slightly harder than your regular pace. It will help you learn to push yourself when needed, and can make a long run feel easier. Gaudette recommends starting with three to five kilometers at an up-tempo pace once a week, with an easy kilometer before and after to warm-up and cool down. Increase your distance on up-tempo days by one kilometer, every other week, until you reach an 12-kilometer-up-tempo run. At this point, you should be ready for a marathon.