Distance: 26.2 miles
The Scoop: Welcome to the bucket-list level of running, both for casual runners and many professionals. Why does it seem to be the common ground connecting the two? “A marathon is a big challenge, and it takes a different type of dedication than training for shorter running events,” says Underhill. “People [sometimes] run them to celebrate milestones in their life—like a big birthday or conquering a disease—and it’s something that requires a great deal of preparation. You have to be dedicated to the process in a way that’s different from running a 5K.”
But when you want the greater reward that comes from conquering 26.2 miles, you have to be willing to take on the hefty workload. Not only does it require a much larger time commitment for training—about four to six months, depending on your current level of fitness; some may need a full year if they’re starting from scratch, says Underhill— but you’ll also have to place some social events on the back burner (ahem, Friday night happy hour). “There just isn’t enough time for everything when you’re running for three hours on the weekend,” says Underhill. That said, though, you don’t have to give up everything. “Find a training plan that works well with your social, work, and family life,” she says. “You can still go out with your friends, but you may just need to go home earlier than you normally would. Giving up everything during marathon training isn’t the smart way to go—you’ll want to have a life outside of running so you don’t get bored or burnt out.”
How to Train: Figuring out a proper fueling plan is key, as you’ll be out on the course for twice as long and what worked for you in the half-marathon may not be your best bet in the full, says Wade. So while you may have been fine relying only on sports drinks through the half, you might need something more substantial now, like energy gels and chews, or even solid foods like orange slices and pretzels. And don’t forget about hydration. “Practice drinking at water stations during practice races, and consider carrying a handheld water bottle, like Nathan’s QuickView Running bottle, on long runs,” says Underhill.
While you know how important it is to train your body for this many miles, don’t forget about your brain. Running a marathon requires you to spend a lot of time exerting energy, and that can become just as mentally exhausting. “Practice positive mental imagery at the start of the race, and toe the line with an arsenal of positive thoughts or mantras to help you get through when the going gets tough,” says Underhill.
Gearing Up: Remember, marathon training alone puts a lot of miles on your sneakers—and that doesn’t even take into account the pavement you’ll be pounding for the actual race. Warner suggests nabbing multiple pairs at the beginning of your training cycle and putting one set aside until about six weeks before go-time, so you have a well-broken in (but not worn out) pair of kicks ready for race day. What type of shoe you wear comes down to personal preference—what works for your bestie won’t necessarily work for you—but Warner suggests wearing a sturdier, well-cushioned shoe, like the Hoka One One Valor, which provides more support and cloud-like cushioning for a higher number of miles.
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