How to Train and Prepare for Your First Marathon

By Mark Barroso

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.” 


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

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