Saturday, August 28, 2010

Marathon Virgin?

It's late August, and that means fall marathon season. For many of you, this will be your first time taking on the 26.2 distance. You probably have lots of questions about how to make it to the big day in the best shape possible. I've designed a list of FAQs for first-timers--read on to find the answers you're seeking:

  • Do I need to run the full 26 miles before the race? In a word, NO! The full marathon distance takes a lot out of you, especially if you've never run it before. Taking on that distance in training would require too much recovery time, resulting in poor training sessions afterward. For a first timer, I'd recommend not going beyond 20 miles as your longest training run.
  • How often should I drink/eat on my long training runs? This is a very individual issue. I'd recommend trying different combinations of drinks/gels, etc. to figure out what works best for you. As a rule, though, I'd suggest hydrating a couple of times each hour and trying to take in calories, like a gel, about every 45 minutes to an hour.
  • How often should I increase my mileage? Hopefully you've given yourself enough time to safely build up your mileage leading up to the marathon. Each week you'll likely be adding on miles. That said, the general rule of thumb is to add on no more than 10 percent of volume each week. So if you ran 30 miles last week, you can add three more this week.
  • Should I incorporate speed work into my schedule? This is a tricky one and depends on your level of fitness coming into the marathon plan. If you had a good base starting your plan, I'd recommend spending one day a week concentrating on speed. For the marathon, the best approach would be to run at your goal marathon pace for a certain period of time. For instance, try starting with three one-mile repeats at goal pace and increase the amount of time you spend at marathon pace over time.
  • I'm tired/feeling sick/feeling pressed for time--should I skip a run? Every marathon plan should have a little wiggle room in it. If you're feeling especially tired/beat up, or may be getting sick, take an extra day off to recover. As long as you are getting in 90 percent of your planned volume, you should be just fine. 
  • When should I start my taper? I'd recommend starting to cut back about 3 weeks out from your event. Your body needs this time to recover from the demands you've placed on it. Gradually take your volume down over the 3 weeks until in your final week, you probably won't even run 20 miles total. 
I hope I've been able to answer some of your questions. Feel free to email me at if you have any others I haven't touched on, and good luck on your big day!


  1. good to have this resource, as i do know some DC peeps.

    You go girl;-)

  2. Thanks for the FAQ's! I appreciate that.

  3. Lots of good info here, thanks!!

  4. Thanks for taking the time to help us newbies out!

  5. Thanks so much for this extremely helpful information.

  6. I'm glad I found your coaching blog!! I may be emailing you some questions soon!

  7. I just discovered your coaching blog. Love it as I am marathon virgin and 10/10/10 is coming soon!! Thanks!