Here’s What It’s Really Like to Train For Your First Marathon

Registering to run 26.2 miles is easy enough—it’s the training that tires out so many. Only a select few people actually have the stamina to train for months toward completing such a massive goal: Running a full marathon. But what is it like to actually train for one of these runs? We spoke with two marathon runners about the ups and downs of training for—and running—that first marathon.

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Don’t expect it to be easy

This should go without saying, but some people believe that as long as they give themselves the proper time to train, it will be a no-hassle experience. While it’s definitely possible to complete a full marathon on your first try, it won’t come easily. The training is tough, and it’s a long process (most marathon training plans run anywhere from 12 to 20 weeks).

You should also talk to your doctor before taking on a full marathon. If you’ve been a runner for a long time, you’re likely in good shape to train, but it’s important to get a physical or at least speak with your doctor to voice any concerns prior to committing to a training plan.

Your body gives better advice than anyone

“I realized early on to listen to my body over other people’s advice,” says Jamie Klassen, who trained for her first marathon this past summer. “Feel free to test what people recommend, or what worked for them, but ultimately decide for yourself what you need to do.”

It’s important to hear what your body tells you. Pushing yourself to finish that last mile is a great way to build stamina, but be sure not to work yourself to the point of injury. Some people prefer to eat before they run, while others can wake up and run on an empty stomach. Do what works best for your body (although you should generally have some fuel in your body before you run).

But always stay hydrated; even if you think you can handle a long run without some water, don’t try it. Water is one inarguable aspect of training.

You will feel every emotion at some point

Yes, you will be elated when you cross that finish line. But you might be angry or frustrated at some point during training. Maybe you couldn’t complete that last mile the way you wanted, or your pace wasn’t where you thought it would be. “It’s okay to cry on a long run out of pure exhaustion, frustration, and pride for finishing it,” Klassen says. “Feel what you need to feel, but don’t dwell in it.” Running is a physical exercise, but it can have mental and emotional effects. Let out those emotions, but pick yourself up and move on from them. Only dwell on the emotion when it’s positive.

There will be bad days

“The process is supposed to be a journey, and it is amazing, but it is also tough—really tough,” says Klassen. Training for a marathon requires running extensive distances every week; you will likely run 35 or more miles total during any given week of training. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Christina Rylka, someone who balanced motherhood and marathon training at the same time, says her family is what kept her going. “I’m inspired by my girls and my husband—they are my biggest cheerleaders.”

There will be days when emotions get the best of you, or you don’t hit the milestone you had hoped. It’s all a part of the training process, though, and training is as much mental as it is physical.

Taking shortcuts will only hurt you in the long run

If you’re going to take on a race of any kind, it’s important to properly train. “Do the long runs; be consistent,” Rylka says. If you skip certain runs or don’t reach that necessary mileage, it could come back to haunt you on race day. Plus, if you try to train too quickly and up your mileage before you’re ready, it may result in injury. If you’re a beginner training for your first marathon, choose a long training plan that allows you to properly adapt to the distance. You should be able to run at least 25 miles per week before you even start training.

“Tell everyone what you’re doing,” says Rylka. “Not only does it make you accountable, but it’s inspiring on race day when everyone who saw the training is cheering for you.”

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