A Beginner’s Guide to Marathons

Planning to go the full 26.2?

Running USA estimates that a record 541,000 people finished marathons in the United States in 2013, a significant increase from the 353,000 who finished the 26.2-mile trek in 2000. With the right training, you, too, can join this growing trend. But where do you start?

Marathon Training Shouldn’t Be a Sprint

If you already run 15 to 20 miles a week, you should start training approximately four months before the marathon. Most marathon training schedules include one long run and a few shorter runs each week. Mike Macko, P.T., D.P.T., O.C.S., M.T.C., physical therapy manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine, says to be wary of schedules that push you too hard, too fast.

“Safe programs won’t increase the long run or total mileage more than about 10 to 15 percent from one week to the next,” Macko says. “Make sure your program has you increasing distance for three to four weeks, then decreasing slightly every fourth or fifth week.”

Trust Your Taper

Macko has run six marathons himself, including the Dallas Marathon, in which he set a personal best time of three hours and 17 minutes. He says first-time marathoners should focus on finishing strong, not worrying about time. A common mistake among beginners is overdoing it before the marathon.

“Rest days are important because you’re training your body to do something it has never done before,” Macko says. “Your bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments will adapt to the stress you put on them, but it takes time.”

Macko’s most important advice is to “trust your taper.”

“Do your longest run three to four weeks before the marathon, then taper down,” Macko says. “There’s nothing you can do the last few weeks that is going to increase your readiness.”

How to Choose Your Shoes

Serious runners should never pick a running shoe based solely on the shoe’s appearance. Instead, you should get professionally fitted for running shoes and select the shoe that’s right for your foot and body type. The brand you choose shouldn’t matter as much as the shoe’s design.

Cushioned shoes are for runners with high-arched, rigid feet. Stabilizing shoes are for runners whose arches collapse while running. Runners with severely pronated feet may benefit most from motion-controlling shoes.

If you weigh 150 pounds, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends replacing your shoes after 500 miles. Since many marathon training programs exceed this mileage, you may want to buy two pairs of the same shoe and switch to the second pair several weeks before your race.

For more information about Texas Health Sports Medicine or to find a sports medicine physician, visit TexasHealth.org/SportsMedicine.

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