Jim2's Running Page

When To Run The First Marathon?

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I think it is a mistake for a beginning runner to attempt a marathon too soon. The risk of injury and/or a very discouraging experience is just too great in the first year. Most of the work associated with a marathon is in the training, not the actual running of the race. The race is simply the hardest single day (albeit, also the most enjoyable) of an overall marathon program. The real challenge is to be prepared to handle the training program which precedes the actual marathon before launching into it.

Marathon training places intense demands and stresses on the muscular and skeletal structures of the body. I believe they should be developed and strengthened very gradually....in sequential seasonal stages or phases....to reach a level where they can take on the rigors of marathon training. Pushing them too far, too soon is just inviting injury.

I believe a runners first marathon program should be preceded by at least one or two 10k - half marathon training and racing seasons of 4-5 months each. More is even better. These programs will take the average runner into the 30-40 mile per week range, or even higher on peak weeks in later phases. Further, a beginning runner should build a base of 15-20 miles per week for several weeks before starting the first structured 10k training program. Add it all up and it's easy to spend a year, two years or more just getting to the point where the body is prepared to step up to the next level.....a marathon program.

Each phase, or "running season".....initial base building and a couple of 10k seasons.....of such a long range plan should be progressively more intense (average weekly mileage, long run lengths and speedwork/hills intensity) in order to progressively increase the stress on the body's systems so they can develop in stages to higher levels. Gradually increasing the stress on muscles and bones allows them to strengthen....overstressing them in a short span of time causes them to breakdown.

Does this mean that a runner cannot successfully train for and run a marathon in the first year of running? No, many people complete a marathon in their first year, it just means that the risk of injury and/or disappointment is higher. And, every time a breakdown occurs and it becomes necessary to stop or back off and heal, development opportunity is lost or interrupted. Even without an injury, the chances of an unsatisfactory marathon experience is high.

I believe that Patience (the first of my three "P's" of successful and satisfying running experiences) is of paramount importance. (BTW, the other two "P's" are Perseverance and a Plan.) Exercising patience in building up to a first marathon over at least a couple of years will usually pay a nice dividend at the end.