Here's How to Train and Prepare for Your First Marathon if You're "Not a Runner"



While it’s been done by some brave individuals, it’s not advisable to attempt running a marathon without any proper training. Even if it takes only 3-4 months, it’s essential to follow a marathon training plan to avoid injury on race day.

RRCA running coach and ISSA-CPT Candice Graciano has run nearly 10 marathons, including an ultra marathon and she coaches runners to crush their first marathons.

Check out Graciano’s top tips for getting ready to conquer what’s likely your hardest challenge to date: your first marathon race.

RUN FOUR DAYS A WEEK

Whether it’s an online workout routine or in-person running coaching, you’re likely going to be running four days a week if you’re preparing for your first marathon, Graciano suggests. 

“For your first race, one of those four running days will be a long run while intermediate to expert-level runners can be running up to five days per week,” Graciano says. “I train by tracking distance so each day it’ll be a certain type of run (either tempo or speed) completed for a certain distance. There are some plans and coaches that would rather track by time and both are right.”

In addition to the four days of running per week, Graciano also suggests strength training, if you don’t already lift weights or do body weight training.

YOU DON'T NEED TO RUN 26 MILES DURING TRAINING

We’ve all heard the saying “practice makes perfect” but in the case of marathon running, you don’t need to practice the exact distance to complete your perfect race.

“If you’re marathon training, your longest training run will be 20-22 miles,” Graciano says. “We don’t go the full 26 because you figure your adrenaline and momentum will help you finish the last four miles during the actual race.”

Run that 20-22 miles on at least two separate occasions during your training leading into race day.

SKIP LEG DAY FOR TWO WEEKS BEFORE RACE DAY

In regards to mixing strength training and running, Graciano says that you can keep doing your current weight lifting routine but if you get worn out from adding running to it, then you may have to sacrifice some iron time.

“If you’re doing all this weight training and running and you feel, ‘Wow, I’m exhausted, I don’t know if I can keep this up,’ then you’ll have to decide ‘OK, I want to run this race, maybe I have to cut back on weightlifting,” Graciano says. “But if you feel good lifting and running a lot, then keep doing it.”

The fitness enthusiast's only exception to the “keep at it” suggestion for lifting is in regards to lower body training. Specifically, Graciano suggests not training legs at all (aside from running) during the two weeks prior to race day and to not train legs the day before a long run throughout your training plan.

TAPERING IS TWO WEEKS

In addition to stopping lower body weight-lifting, you’re also going to decrease the volume of your running training two weeks prior to your first marathon.

“Tapering means you dramatically decrease the amount you’re running so that the day of the race, you’re on fresh legs and not going into the race sore,” Graciano says. “You’re going to go from running your 20-22 miles on a long distance day to 10 miles on your longest distance day. This will start at two weeks prior to race day.” 

It may seem like a good idea to mimic the course distance the weekend prior to the race but marathon training is all about timing and patience.

FIND THE RIGHT RUNNING SHOE

You’ll need to buy shoes that are not only specifically made for running, but also tailored to your specific foot. That means you’ll want to get fitted at a running shoe store for the best kicks.

“I always suggest getting fitted at smaller, local stores where they’ll put you on a treadmill, watch your form and gait, and recommend some shoes for you whether you overpronate, under-pronate or have a flat foot,” Graciano says. “You don’t want to just pick a pair off the shelf or off the Internet.”

STRATEGIZE YOUR SUPPLEMENT AND FOOD GAME

The cardinal rule of marathon racing and most endurance sports is to never try anything new on race day. Practice your fueling during training so you can emulate it on the course. 

Save the clean, prepped meal in a container for after the race. “The only time I’ve ever brought food with me on a course is when I’m running an ultra marathon, which is a race longer than a marathon,” says Graciano.

MAKE A RACE DAY GEAR CHECKLIST

Running races, unlike obstacle course races, often requires you to pick up your race bib, which is the piece of paper that has your unique participant number, the day or a few days prior to race day. When you go to this “packet pickup,” you may receive a bag to bring to the race too. In this bag, bring:

  • Race belt for carrying accessories or any race fuel
  • Bib and safety pins
  • Headphones, if the race allows for them

When it comes to what to wear to the race, never try a new outfit on race day. It’s not like lifting in the gym where new gear springs up motivation. For running races, you’ll need to know if certain shoes or apparel pieces cause chafing or discomfort as these issues can become real problems during the latter part of the race.

RUN RIGHT

According to Graciano, the proper running form is: stand up straight, trying not to slouch, with your head up. Pump your arms as you run but don’t clench your fists. Keep those fists really light, touching your fingertips together. Keep your hands near your belly button, almost in a V, and run that way.

“You don’t want to bring your hands too high because then you start to scrunch your shoulders and your upper body tight,” says Graciano. “Clenching your fists tight exerts extra energy that you don’t need to lose.” 

ABOUT MARK:

Mark Barroso is an NSCA-CPT, Spartan SGX Coach, editor/writer for Men's Health, Muscle & Fitness Magazine, Fitness Magazine and Men's Fitness.



The world’s most personalized pre-workout.
What is your stimulant tolerance?
zero
no stims for me thanks
low
a standard energy drink or cup of coffee is enough for me
medium
I drink multiple energy drinks or cups of coffee a day and/or I take pre-workout before the gym
high
I drink pre-workouts or energy drinks all day long
What is your goal?

Enhanced Performance
start a fitness program and/or take it to the next level

Weight Loss
fat loss and cutting

Muscle Growth
gain strength and size
Do you play collegiate or competitive sports?
yes
no
Alpha Amino BCAA has a rating of 4.8 stars based on 99 reviews.
Alpha Amino BCAA

Alpha Amino is the ultimate performance, hydration and recovery sports drink powder. Its premium formula is built on the power of amino acids and formulated with ingredients that promote healthy fluid balance. Alpha Amino has 14 Amino Acids including a well-studied 2:1:1 BCAA ratio. These Amino Acids support the body’s ability to fuel skeletal muscles, preserve muscle glycogen stores and reduce protein breakdown.

  • Performance BCAA’s with 0g Sugar
  • 14 Amino Acids
  • 5g BCAA’s in the clinically studied 2:1:1 ratio
  • Electrolytes for hydration
  • Zero Stimulants & Zero Sugar
C4 Sport has a rating of 5.0 stars based on 19 reviews.
C4 Sport

C4 Sport! If you are a collegiate athlete or play sports competitively, C4 Sport is the perfect pre-workout for you because it is NSF Certified for Sport. C4 will help you tackle your training in the gym and on the field.

  • Boosts energy + focus
  • Enhances muscular endurance
  • 135mg of caffeine
  • Contains CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine, an amino acid, patented and clinically studied form of beta-alanine that has been shown to support muscular endurance
  • NSF certification is trusted by the MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAA, and everyday athletes alike
C4 Original has a rating of 4.8 stars based on 328 reviews.
C4 Original

C4 Original! This is our best-selling pre-workout with more than 1.3 billion servings sold! C4 Original is perfect for you if you are new to the pre-workout game or you are seeking a lower stimulant C4.

  • Perfect for energy, focus and pumps
  • Good if you’re at the start your fitness journey/want to step up your workouts
  • 150mg of caffeine

Pro tip: If you are just starting out on a pre-workout, take half a scoop to assess tolerance level.*

Also available in convenient, bottled, ON THE GO formula!

C4 Ripped has a rating of 4.8 stars based on 114 reviews.
C4 Ripped

C4 Ripped! If your goal is to lose weight, C4 Ripped is the perfect pre-workout for you.

  • Helps you train harder while supporting your body’s ability to burn fat
  • Creatine-free
  • Includes ingredients like Green Coffee Bean Extract to support weight loss
  • 150mg of caffeine
  • L-Carnitine Tartrate

Also available in convenient, bottled, ON THE GO formula!

C4 Extreme Energy has a rating of 4.6 stars based on 65 reviews.
C4 Extreme Energy

C4 Extreme! If you love energy drinks and are always on the hunt for higher caffeine levels, C4 Extreme is for you.

  • C4 Extreme is the most stimulating C4 pre-workout
  • 2x as much caffeine than C4 Original
  • 2x as much CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine (tingles) than C4 Original
  • 300mg of caffeine
C4 Ultimate has a rating of 4.8 stars based on 105 reviews.
C4 Ultimate

C4 Ultimate! If you’re a seasoned gym goer who loves pre-workouts and you’re looking for a fully-loaded, high-impact pre-workout, C4 Ultimate has what you need.

  • The most powerful C4 created
  • Per scoop: 300mg caffeine, 6g Citrulline Malate, 3.2g of CarnoSyn® Beta Alanine, 1.5g Nitrosigine®, 1.5g Creatine Nitrate, plus a powerful blend of nootropics
  • Fully-loaded formula packs a heavy punch of ingredients for focus, endurance, and pumps to help push you to your ultimate limit
  • Formulated for the ultimate – not entry level

Also available in convenient, bottled, ON THE GO formula!

BCAA Sport has a rating of 4.8 stars based on 6 reviews.
BCAA Sport

BCAA Sport! If you are a collegiate athlete – or play sports competitively, BCAA Sport is a perfect stimulant-free option for you, because it is NSF® Certified for Sport®! BCAA Sport supports all day hydration & recovery, to maximize your workout results

  • All Day Hydration & Recovery
  • Supports All Day Hydration & Recovery
  • Zero Stimulants & Zero Sugar
  • 4G BCAA’s, 2.25G Added Amino Acids, 2G Added Glutamine, and Added Electrolytes
  • NSF® Certified for Sport®
CN3 has a rating of 4.7 stars based on 31 reviews.
CN3

CN3&trad; combines 3 forms of Creatine into a stimulant-free 3-in-1 Creatine complex! Providing 6.25 total grams consisting of micronized Creatine Monohydrate, Creatine Nitrate, and Creatine Hydrochloride. CN3&trad; is an amazing product to be taken before, during, or after a workout. Looking to amplify Strength & Pumps? CN3&trad; has got you covered!

  • Strength & Pump Amplifier
  • Stimulant free
  • Includes Creatine Monohydrate, Creatine Nitrate, and Creatine HCL
  • Unflavored or flavored
CLK has a rating of 4.3 stars based on 58 reviews.
CLK

Cellucor CLK® is a stimulant free toning and sculpting supplement built on the power of four all-star weight loss ingredients: CLA, Raspberry Ketones, Carnitine, and the latest in diet support; Slimpro®.

  • Stimulant Free Fat Loss
  • Stimulant free toning and sculpting formula
  • Powered by four ingredients to support weight loss
  • Can be taken standalone, or paired with C4 Ripped (C4 Ripped contains stimulants)
  • Raspberry flavored softgels

Share & Contribute

Do you have a story or would you like to a contributor? We'd love to hear from you.

Learn How