A step-by-step guide to running your first marathon

Train to run a marathon with this extensive step-by-step guide.
By Deanne Gage
Masterfile Masterfile

Most of us have watched those lithe bodies triumphantly cross the finish line of a marathon and wondered, Could I do it? The answer is yes. Now's the time to lace up and hit the ground running with these professional tips.

How do I get started? The learning curve isn't steep: As any runner will tell you, it's more about getting out the door than anything else. And anyone can do it.

The first weeks of training are a trial run. So doling out cash for flashy gear at this point is a little premature. For now all you need is an old pair of sweats and proper running shoes. Experts suggest beginners start with 5k and 10k races, moving to a half marathon after a minimum of six months. Save the full marathon for next year.

Weeks 1 to 7 Try running (and walking) for 30 minutes three times a week. Don't run every day, since your body needs a chance to recover. If running in frigid temperatures seems daunting, opt for a treadmill and set the incline at two per cent.

Your running pace should be slow enough that you can swap Survivor gossip with a fellow runner comfortably. Make sure you take one-minute walk breaks for every 10 minutes of running, regardless of experience. Can't run non-stop for 10 minutes? Try five minutes, then walk for a minute, gradually increasing your running by one minute each week. Ramp up your distance, but by no more than 10 per cent per week. So if you run 10 kilometres one week, go up to 11 km the following week.

Week 8 You've made it to your second month of running and can proudly run a 5k or even 10k. You've decided you like this running thing and would like to train for a half marathon.


If that's the case, you should be able to do a minimum of 15 km a week (seven-km run on Sunday, four-km run on Tuesday and four-km run on Thursday.) Now is the time to indulge a bit, stocking up on new gear to keep you psyched.

Week 9 Keep building your running mileage. Creating a base slowly is very important. You need a 10-km base just to enroll in a marathon-training program.

Weeks 10 to 22 Build on your longest run (let's say that's seven km, for example) by going up two km every two weeks. Stay at seven km for two weeks for your long run and then run nine km for the next two weeks. By week 22, your long run will be 21 km, the distance of a half-marathon.

The marathon At the peak of marathon training (for those who just want to complete the race – not shatter world records), you'll work your way up to running upwards of 60 km a week. Training requires a minimum of three runs a week that consist of a tempo run (running a slightly faster pace to challenge yourself); a hill run (to strengthen your lower legs); and an endurance run, which is basically putting in the kilometres no matter how long it takes.Tempo runs generally range from six to 10 km, hill runs range from five to 12 km while endurance runs range from 10 to 32 km.

Basic needs
1. Proper running shoes Save your aerobic cross-trainers for Turbo Jam; your feet need support. Eighty percent of runners pronate (feet and ankles roll inward) to some degree. If your heel swings in or out when you run, buy lightweight running shoes that stabilize the heel, says Lynn Le, lady's footwear buyer for Athletes World. Expect to pay about $90 to $120 for a good pair. Choose based on comfort (not colour), keeping in mind that running shoes fit differently than regular dress shoes. While a snug fit in the heel is necessary, there should space at the tip to accommodate swelling. Shoes usually last for 800 kilometres. When you hit that point, take them to your running store for an assessment.


2. Synthetics Synthetic fabrics wick the sweat away from your body while keeping you dry. Cotton clothing, on the other hand, retains moisture, which creates chaffing and leaves you feeling sweaty. "It stops the breathability of the cotton and bacteria builds up in the material," says Simone Coucill, running wear manager at Sporting Life in Toronto. A good base layer is a good sports bra, shirt and leggings that fit snugly (think long underwear). Add a fleece top, then a thin, windproof nylon jacket.

3. A toque A toque or balaclava are essential for winter running; 40 percent of heat is lost through your head.

4. Dry feet
Moisture-wicking socks keep your feet warm and dry, and they'll prevent blisters. Finally, slipovers for your running shoes will give you extra traction on snowy and icy sidewalks. You don't want to end up in traction.

5. Cool gear Once you've committed to being a runner, you can get a little crazy. Splurging on an iPod, high-tech runners or a GPS tracking device that maps out your route can go a long way in making you feel motivated.

Nutrition What you eat before a run can mean the difference between a terrific trek and a sluggish jog. These tips will keep you on track.


1. Don't eat a big breakfast Chow down on a full-sized carbohydrate-rich meal, such as pasta, 12 hours before a long run. Have a light breakfast the morning of the race.

2. Pick complex carbs Think whole-grain products, such as oatmeal and whole-wheat pasta, instead of enriched products, such as white bread. Complex carbohydrates break down slower, sustaining you for longer and making you feel less ravenous. Rather than grabbing that blueberry muffin for breakfast, try a yogourt or whole-grain cereal with skim milk.

3. Don't neglect protein Protein helps to build and repair muscle tissue. Though women tend to eat lean meats such as poultry and fish, red meat can provide your body with much needed iron. Low iron can hamper a runners' endurance and performance, says Dr. Michael Clarfield of The Sports Medicine Specialist clinic in Toronto.

4. Stay well hydrated You need extra fluids to counteract the increased sweating that comes with running, Dr. Clarfield says. When you set out, carry a water bottle. Eating lots of fruit and vegetables and drinking juice also boosts hydration. Don't guzzle water right before a run. Instead, drink half a glass for every 15 to 20 minutes of exercise during the day.

5. Re-fuel during longer runs For runs that last longer than one hour, guzzle sports drinks to replace lost sodium and electrolytes. Eat an energy bar or gel to handle low sugar levels, they'll combat that "I don't have any energy" feeling. Both are easily digestable, so you'll feel better in no time.


Remember: If you're overweight, inactive or have heart problems, get clearance from your doctor before training for a marathon.


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