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Marathon Training Tips

Get a Checkup First
Get a checkup first.

Running a marathon is one of the most physically challenging things many people will ever attempt. Even a reasonably fit person can take 4 hours to complete the 26-mile 385-yard race. The key to completing it successfully is plenty of pre-race training, while avoiding burn out and injury. Here are several things you can do to prepare for that big day.

Start by making sure you're running a minimum of 10 miles a week before you even consider a marathon. I don't mean 10 miles in one session, but rather 10 miles total over the course of 7 days.

Consider the risks carefully. Estimates vary, but on average, up to 70% of the people who train for a marathon will experience at least one injury. Most get over it rather quickly, but serious injuries can persist for years.

Once you're successfully completing at least 10 miles weekly, choose your race. It should be a minimum of 4-6 months away, depending on your current physical condition. For your first race, look for something close to home. You don't want to be worrying about all the travel arrangements, climate differences or altitude problems of competing somewhere hundreds of miles away from what you're used to.

Gradually build up distance by increasing the lengths of your runs 5% a week (NOT 10% as most running books and articles suggest. If you're starting at 10 miles weekly, by adding 5% it brings you to 10.5 miles the second week. You'll be at 11 miles the third, about 11.55 miles the fourth and so on. Within 16 weeks, you'll be all the way up to 20 miles a week. Any more than 5% and you risk hurting yourself.

Now do the math. If the first race you want to run is 2 months away, you don't have enough time to prepare. If it's 8 months away, start getting in shape now but save the serious training for 6 months before. Once you've got a start date, write out a schedule so you stay consistent.

Get the right gear. The most important thing you need to buy are your running shoes. Make sure they provide adequate support and that you have enough space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Don't get too attached to them; you should replace your shoes every 300 to 500 miles.

Pay attention to the weather if you train outdoors. If it's winter, make sure the air isn't so cold it can hurt your lungs. During the summer, wear light clothing and try running in places that provide some shade. Avoid running outside at all on days when air pollution is bad. You can check the local air-quality forecast at weather.com. Always bring enough water to stay properly hydrated.

Train at the pace you want to compete at. If your goal is to complete the marathon in under 4 hours, which means running about 6.5 miles per hour, you can't practice running at a slower pace of 8 miles per hour. You'll get proficient at what you practice, so practice what you plan to run.

Mix up your runs. Every training program should be a mixture of easy runs, hard runs and long runs. Alternate between hard and easy runs each day and once a week add the long run in.

Cross-train with low impact activities like biking or swimming. While you're at it, don't neglect the rest of your body. Engage in core strength training and upper body exercises two or three times a week. Core stability is critical to helping you maintain good form as you increase your miles.

Take at least two days off every week. Your body needs a chance to recover from all the pounding. A study conducted in 1994 at the University of Northern Iowa showed that runners who trained only 4 days a week did just as well as those that trained 6 days a week and ran 20% more miles.

Next week I'll share the things you should do two days before all the way down to two hours before the race starts.

Part 1 2

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Updated 6/22/2011