A Beginner's Guide to Marathons
So, you think you'd like to run a marathon? If you look at many people’s bucket lists or ultimate fitness goals, running a marathon is often near the top of the list. That’s because it's a significant challenge and a successful completion is an achievement to be celebrated. It takes an incredible amount of personal strength and willpower to complete the race, but the sense of accomplishment of running those 26.2 miles makes it well worth it. Plus, it's a great way to get fit, raise money or awareness for a charity, step out of your comfort zone, make friends, and gain confidence. If you’re new to competitive running, however, it can be difficult to know where to start. This brief guide should make the hurdle of beginning that journey a little easier.
Set Meaningful Goals
There’s little point starting out if you don’t know where you want to go. That’s why setting goals is important. First-time marathoners may be confused as to how to set time goals for finishing. After all, if you’ve never run a marathon before, it can be difficult to predict what your time will be. So what’s a “good” finish time? The answer is, its relative. If you’re an elite runner, a good time will be a lot different than if you’re simply an enthusiast participant who is running for the first or second time. A good rule of thumb for amateur runners is the Boston qualifying times. For men 18-34, a qualifying time is 3 hours and 5 minutes or faster, while women in that same age group must finish in 3 hours and 35 minutes or less. Here is the full list of qualifying times:
18-34 3hrs 05min 00sec 3hrs 35min 00sec
35-39 3hrs 10min 00sec 3hrs 40min 00sec
40-44 3hrs 15min 00sec 3hrs 45min 00sec
45-49 3hrs 25min 00sec 3hrs 55min 00sec
50-54 3hrs 30min 00sec 4hrs 00min 00sec
55-59 3hrs 40min 00sec 4hrs 10min 00sec
60-64 3hrs 55min 00sec 4hrs 25min 00sec
65-69 4hrs 10min 00sec 4hrs 40min 00sec
70-74 4hrs 25min 00sec 4hrs 55min 00sec
75-79 4hrs 40min 00sec 5hrs 10min 00sec
80+ 4hrs 55min 00sec 5hrs 25min 00sec
It’s better to set time goals after you’ve run your first race. What you can do, however, is pick the race you want to run. That’s the fun part!
Pick a Fun Marathon to Run
There are hundreds of marathons that take place around the globe each year. Many runners travel great distances to reach them, effectively turning their healthy hobby into a type of vacation. With so many to choose from, how do you know which is best for you? Check out the list below of good options for beginners.
Scenic — One of the best parts about running is what you get to see along the way. For an unforgettable run, try the San Francisco Marathon, which crosses the majestic Golden Gate Bridge, or the Newport Marathon which offers all the best sights of the “City by the Sea.” There's the Tacoma City race (voted one of Runner’s World top 10 small town events) and the Walt Disney World contest, perhaps the most magical race on Earth.
Quick — Want the flattest and fastest course to victory? Try the New Jersey Marathon, Fargo Marathon (Fargo, North Dakota), the Los Angeles Marathon, or the California International Marathon in Sacramento.
Popular — Who doesn’t want to be cheered on by thousands of enthusiastic fans? If you don’t mind running in big crowds, try out the Chicago Marathon, one of the six biggest marathons in the world, the St. Jude Rock n’ Roll Marathon in Nashville, which ends with a fantastic concert and festival, or Virginia Beach’s Shamrock Marathon (yes, it’s on St. Patrick’s Day). For the real big-city feel, try the world-famous Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, a run that kicks off with a full fighter jet air show, the Philadelphia Marathon, which is half urban, half rural, or the New York City Marathon, which offers all the high-rise dazzle one would expect from New York.
Create a Marathon Training Program
Running a marathon is an event you must practice for. There’s no “fake it ’til you make it” possible here. You’re either fit enough to run a marathon or you're not. If you’re interested in actually completing a marathon, you need to begin running every week. You’ll have to gradually increase your running distance and shorten your running times each week. A good rule of thumb to aim for is at least 20 weeks of training time. This gives you some wiggle room to work around illness, vacations, or other unforeseen events.
Ultimately, your training program will depend on your age, experience, dedication, and life schedule. The best way to go about crafting one is to first conduct research online. You’ll find hundreds of training programs and tips out there. Pick what seems easiest to you and best for your daily life. You should also consider finding a local runner’s group or ask a fitness trainer what sort of regimen is ideal for you.
Contact Tim Adams for a free consultation or a referral to a good personal trainer or fitness coach if you need help preparing to run your first marathon. Stop by the store. Look around and say hello. We’re here to help. And remember, you can always find Tim's best-selling book, Fitness Equipment – A Shopper's Guide, on Amazon and other online book sellers as well as in our store.