How To Prepare For Your Marathon: 11 Essential Tips For Success

Last Updated:

Preparing to run a marathon takes quite a bit of training, but well-rounded marathon preparation involves more than just putting in the miles. 

So, what else goes into marathon preparation besides just running? What are the best tips for training for a marathon?

In this article, we will provide tips on how to prepare for your marathon in the best possible way.

We will cover the following: 

  • How To Prepare For Your Marathon: 11 Essential Tips

Let’s get started!

Runners in a marathon.

How To Prepare For Your Marathon: 11 Essential Tips

Here are some tips for how to prepare for your marathon:

#1: Follow a Good Marathon Training Plan

Whether you are training for your first marathon or are a veteran marathon runner looking to set a big PR, you should follow a marathon training plan.

It is important to select a marathon training plan that is appropriate for your fitness level and training needs. 

Compare different types of marathon training plans and find one that excites you and seems to be compatible with your allowable training time, both in terms of the number of weeks you have to prepare for a marathon as well as the number of days and hours per week you have available to train for your race.

Marathon Handbook has some great free online marathon training plans for all different running levels.

A person road cycling.

#2: Don’t Neglect Cross Training

Running is a high-impact activity, so if you do too much running too quickly and progress your distance too aggressively, you run the risk of injuries

The primary purpose of cross-training workouts is to provide a way to improve your aerobic endurance or conditioning without overdoing it on your legs. This is why choosing low-impact activities is important.

The intensity of the cross-training workouts during marathon preparation training is less important. 

#3: Consider Your Fueling Strategy for Long Runs

Most runners know that you need to fuel for long runs. 

According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), ingesting 30–60 grams of carbohydrates (120-240 calories of carbohydrates) per hour during endurance exercise is ideal.

However, part of your marathon preparation should involve practicing your fueling strategy and experimenting with different types of foods and drinks.

A runner drinking from a water bottle.

Some athletes will do just about anything to support their training and perform better. They will put in hours of training per week, try every recovery modality from massage guns to pneumatic boots, and do their best to follow a healthy diet. 

However, when it comes to sports nutrition, things get a little dicey.

As much as there’s a lot of focus on reading through every nutrition label on the foods we eat on a daily basis, we often don’t think twice about the ingredients that go into the sports drinks we consume before, during, and after our workouts themselves.

Although you might find that your stomach can only tolerate highly-processed sports drinks or energy gels, consider real food alternatives like dried fruit, applesauce, and fig newtons. 

The most important thing is to try everything out previously on all of your long runs so that you have a sure-fire strategy for race day.

A group of people running on a deck next to a body of water.

#4: Keep a Workout Log

Keep a record of all of your workouts, so you can look at your workout history and notice trends if you start to feel an injury coming on or find that you are not hitting the paces you intend to. 

Being able to have all of your workout metrics and history in one place is the best way to stay on track with your fitness goals. If everything is in one place, you can more easily look at your overall energy output for consideration with your weight loss or dietary needs, as well as your fitness improvements over time.

You can certainly use good old fashion pen and paper or an Excel or a Google spreadsheet, or you can track your workout history on a fitness app or platform, such as Strava, Training Peaks, RunKeeper, or Garmin Connect.

Your running log can improve motivation and can help you look back on your progress during your marathon preparation.

A person rolling their glute on a foam roller.

#5: Take Rest Days

The rest days on your marathon training plan are also very important because your body needs time to recover between hard efforts in order to not only prevent overtraining injuries but also to allow the physiological adaptations you are seeking from your training to actually occur.

Although you might be eager to do some amount of exercise on these rest days, it’s really important to respect the needs of your body and actually rest.

If your training is going really well and you are not experiencing any type of soreness or noticeable fatigue, you can certainly take walks and be physically active on these days, but doing formal workouts should be avoided.

#6: Do Recovery and Mobility Work

After every workout, spend a little time doing some stretching and foam rolling.

Using a foam roller is a form of self-myofascial release. It helps increase circulation and keeps the fascia, muscle, and connective tissues mobilized and healthy, preserving optimal range of motion and flexibility.

A person doing a push up on a mobility ball.

#7: Strength Train

One important thing to remember is that distance running is considered a catabolic activity, which means that it breaks down tissue. It is also a high-impact, repetitive activity that causes quite a lot of stress on your musculoskeletal system.

Only running (particularly if you are doing a lot of mileage and running nearly every day as you train for your marathon) can increase your risk of overuse injuries.

Supplementing your running with strength training is one of the best ways to help offset the risk of running injuries during marathon training and to provide your body with an anabolic (building) stimulus.

Moreover, studies show that strength training workouts for runners can improve aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and submaximal endurance performance due to the resulting neuromuscular adaptations.

When you are training for a marathon, you should aim to do 2 to 3 total-body strength training workouts per week, and recovery modalities like stretching and foam rolling should be done daily, if possible. 

Although you can use resistance bands, it is best if you have a set of adjustable dumbbells or access to a gym with weights so that you can more easily do muscle-building exercises.

A runner running through a field at sunset.

#8: Don’t Neglect Your Diet

In order to have a healthy body to fuel and recover from all of your marathon training, you need to support your training with a nutritious, well-balanced diet.

Think of your body as a luxury car. You want to put in premium fuel so that your body operates as smoothly as possible, both while running and in everyday life.

Focus on eating nutrient-dense, whole, natural, unprocessed foods like vegetables, lean proteins, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, eggs, legumes, and low-fat dairy.

Try to limit processed foods, excessive alcohol, and excessive sugar.

#9: Get Enough Sleep

Marathon runners need to be aware of the importance of getting enough sleep every night. Adequate sleep is vital to not only run well but also feel well and maintain optimal health.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, adults need at least 7-9 hours of sleep tonight. The needs of runners preparing for a marathon are even higher.

Make sure you have a sleep routine that supports enough sleep per night or consider naps if your schedule allows.

Two runners speaking to one another.

#10: Speak to Experienced Runners

If you have never run a marathon before, you will probably have many more questions about how to prepare for your marathon. 

Speaking with experienced marathon runners who have a couple of marathons under their belt can be a great way to get some real-world advice and marathon preparation tips.

The running community can be a wonderful resource for beginners. If you do not belong to a local running club or have running friends in your everyday life who have run a marathon, there are tons of online communities with marathon runners eager to share marathon preparation tips with newbies.

For example, Marathon Handbook has a Facebook group dedicated to runners who are tackling one of our free marathon training plans. 

Related: 30 Marathon Quotes In Reflection Of The Epic Endurance Race

A close-up of the soles of runner's sneakers in a marathon.

#11: Find Ways to Stay Motivated

Just because you are getting serious about your training for a marathon, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the experience. 

Preparing for a marathon can be a grueling process because the training is intense. 

Find ways to keep the joy in running, whether running with friends, trying new routes, rewarding yourself, watching running movies, listening to good music, or setting a running goal that really excites you.

Marathon preparation should feel like an elective joy in your life rather than a job or responsibility. Enjoy the process!

For access to our free marathon training plans for all the different levels, click here!

A person running at sunset and listening to music.
Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.