How to Prepare For A Marathon – The Essential Guide

I’ve written a lot about running marathons – whether it’s how to beat the 4-hr mark, how to train for one in under three months or why you shouldn’t run one.

In this post, I’ve distilled down all the discussion and advice into seven key points.

Without further ado, here we go:

1. Design a Training Plan

Draw up (or download) a decent training plan that increases your weekly mileage in manageable increments.  Remember to include your long runs on the weekends.   Ideally, your training should peak with a 19 to 21-mile run.

2. Get the Right Gear

Your old gym shoes might be fine for the occasional run, but you’re running a marathon.   Get a suitable pair of shoes – they need to be comfortable after running for hours in them.   Not sure how to choose good running shoes?  Here’s our guide.   Same goes for the rest of your gear – you should invest in decent stuff.

3. Know your Race

When you pick your first marathon, make sure you pick one that gives you plenty of time to train – ideally more than four months.   Also, find out what the course is like – are there hills?  If so, you’ll have to include hill running in your training.  What’re the chances of poor weather?  What do the aid stations provide?  All of this has an effect on your day.

4. Know your Pace

Most first-timers just turn to a marathon and run however fast they feel.   This is a mistake.   Its been shown that at the start of marathons, people run much faster than they think they are running.   Nerves and anxiety get released as energy, and it can be easy to be swept along in a big crowd of runners.   Furthermore, runners who run a consistent pace throughout the entire marathon have a much better race than those who go out too fast, then hit the wall later.   Based on your training runs, use a GPS to figure out a what a comfortable pace is for you, and do your best to stick to it throughout the marathon.


5. Taper

Tapering is giving your body a chance to get a little break and recover in the weeks leading up to the marathon, so on the big day, you are stronger than ever.   For novice runners, you should taper for the three to four weeks prior to your marathon by scaling back your training mileage every week.

6. What to Eat

In the days leading up to the marathon, carb loading can be useful.   This gives you a few extra calories in the tank prior to starting.  During the race, you need something that is easily digestible and gives you energy quickly.   Energy gels are very popular – but not everyone can stomach more than a couple of these sickly-sweet packets before they start to feel their stomach jumping around.   Do yourself a favor and train with the snacks or gels you intend to eat during your marathon, to make sure your body can handle them.

7. The Mental Prep

Visualise and plan everything for your marathon day.   Know exactly what you’re going to eat when you wake up, how you’re going to get to the start line, what you’ll take with you, and what you’ll do when you finish.   Remember that a marathon is a long run – I sometimes find it helpful to mentally break it into 4 x 10km runs (and a little bit at the end).

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of His work has been featured in Runner's World,, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

Leave a Comment

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