Tips and tricks for training for your first marathon

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Making the decision to run your first marathon can be intimidating. You might know that you want to challenge yourself, but you might not know where to start. While training for a 26.2-mile run is rigorous and takes a lot of time and patience, it can be incredibly rewarding.

If you're new to running, a marathon isn't the best place to begin, but that doesn't mean you can't ever get there. When starting out, it's important to be honest with yourself about your fitness levels. This will help you to set realistic goals and make a schedule that fits the training you'll need.

Below are 15 tips to keep in mind before you commit to the big race.

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Get an early start

If you're new to running, you're going to want to build a relationship with it before you start training for a marathon - up to a year is recommended. But if you've run before and want to make the commitment to run a full 26.2 miles, 20 weeks is a good place to start. Giving yourself enough time allows you to focus on goals, reduce stress and lower the likelihood of injury.

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Choose quality shoes

Going to a store that specializes in running shoes is a great way to find your perfect fit. They'll usually have you try on different shoes so they can watch your natural gait and evaluate the type you'll need based on that. If you choose to pick your own shoe, determine whether your heels often slip out of your shoes while running. If they do, choose a shoe with an ankle collar that will keep your heel in place. To avoid a shoe that binds your toes too closely, get a feel for the toe box of each shoe you try on. Can you flex your foot? Do you have enough room in the width and length of the toe box? If yes, then that's the shoe for you.

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Don't start with unattainable goals

While a good base to start with is at least 20 relaxed miles per week, you should aim to increase that mileage every seven days. How much should you increase it? No more than 10% each week, according to experts at REI. Adding more than a few miles each week can result in injury. Once you start increasing mileage, make sure to factor some long runs into your training routine. For reference: on an average run, you should be able to carry a conversation comfortably. For a long run, you should only be able to speak in sentences.

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Build your mileage over time, and include long runs

A solid goal is running between 30 and 45 miles in the weeks before race day. This doesn't mean split your mileage evenly across your training days. Incorporate long runs, short runs, high-speed runs and relaxed runs into your week. If you do 6 miles of distance twice a week, try doing 7 miles for those distance runs the next week. As for endurance training, doing one long run every seven to 10 days is the best way to get your body accustomed to long distances. Increase long-run mileage with alternating lengths: 10 miles one week, 12 miles the next, 13 miles the next, and then back down to 10 miles before a 14-mile weekend run. Gradually, try to reach 20 miles on your longest run three weeks before race day, and then your final long run before the race should be no longer than 10 miles to give your body enough rebound time for the big day.

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Don't run 7 days a week

Running seven days a week will wear you out physically and emotionally. Marathon running is about building endurance and giving your body the time it needs to heal. If it's constantly being trained, when will it have time to rest and recover? If you've been running six to seven days per week, cut back to four or five days a week - especially if you've reached 10-mile runs, according to jeffgalloway.com.

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Be prepared for both physical and mental challenges

It can be challenging trying to meet the rigors of marathon training. Adding mileage, incorporating high-intensity running and strength training puts the body under a lot of physical stress. Missing a workout, not meeting the pace you aimed for or not saving enough time for rest is mentally taxing. If you are facing any challenges during your weeks of training, know that it's OK to take breaks. Try to think about where you can scale back or make moderations to your training schedule, and do so accordingly.

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Choose the right type of marathon for you

Choosing a random marathon and traveling there for your first run can be difficult. When deciding on a city, keep in mind what type of marathon will best complement your training. Are you used to the up-down mechanics of hills? Are your muscles accustomed to flat terrain? What is the weather like where you will be doing the majority of your training? Would you prefer sidelines that are sparsely populated in rural areas or crowds of people cheering you on in a big-city setting?

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Incorporate speed training

Interval training is an anaerobic exercise - or an exercise that breaks down your glucose stores without using oxygen. These shorter, more intense forms of exercise help you build strength and increase speed. HIIT - high-intensity interval training - workouts and tempo runs are both ways to boost your endurance.

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Incorporate strength training

Just as you would add some interval training to increase speed, so too should you set aside days for strength training to build muscles that don't get used when running. Repetitive stress from the same type of workout can lead to muscle or joint injury. Avoid this by using non-run days as a day for weightlifting. If you're new to strength training, try bodyweight exercises and then gradually add small amounts of weight each week. The goal is to develop stability and core strength, which will also improve your form while running.

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Do not ignore what your body is telling you

If you need a rest day, take a rest day. It will not offset your training. Fatigue and pain are not symptoms you should ignore and push through, because they will only make your training worse. If you're fatigued, you're less likely to focus on form, which could result in injury. If you have pain somewhere, continuing with difficult workouts could lead to muscle tears, strains or stress fractures. Pain that is expected: hamstring tightness, a sore lower back and strained hips. Pain that you should take a break for: unbearable shin splints, hip flexors that are so tight they change your gait or inflamed tendons around your knee.

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Run on varied terrains

Running imbalances can happen if the terrain you train on doesn't change. Muscles will get used to the repetitive motions of your gait, which leads to some muscles being much stronger than others. Think about the path you typically run on. Is it flat concrete? Hilly? Rocky? Grassy? Switching up the type of trails you train on will challenge different muscles in your legs to make for more effective workouts. Smaller muscles will have time to grow and become stronger and larger muscles will be less prone to injury from repeated stress.

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Rest time is crucial

Practice is important, but resting is the best way to recover and continue to improve your workouts. There are two types of stress you put your body through when exercising: metabolic and mechanical. Metabolic stress is having low energy because the energy stored in your muscles has been depleted. Mechanical stress is physical damage to muscle tissues. On the days you don't run, try low-impact strength exercises or no exercise at all. Your muscles - especially those in your legs - will have more time to bounce back.

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Chafing is not a joke

Bike shorts, Band-Aids and body glide - stock up. Running is not always the most comfortable sport. Besides normal pains like shin strain or tight muscles, raw skin from repetitive rubbing hurts. There are preventative measures you can take, though, before it scares you away from running forever. For the thighs: body powder and compression shorts keep the skin dry and prevent skin-to-skin contact. For the groin and underarms: body glide is a balm that reduces friction and moisturizes your skin. Antiperspirants and hair removal help as well. For the nipples: Band-Aids and sports bras made of soft fabric are your best bets.

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Don't waste money on pedicures

Sorry, but your toenails might fall off. That $30 pedicure you like to treat yourself to? Skip it. Running puts a lot of pressure on your feet, and the constant pounding can cause your nail beds to separate from the skin and fall off. Invest in shoes with strong, roomy toe boxes. If you see a nail on the verge of popping off, don't tear it off. Let it naturally fall off and then cover your toe with a bandage to keep it clean; it will grow back.

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Focusing on your pelvic floor muscles can help with stress incontinence

You might experience some leaking on runs. Your body is under a lot of pressure, and this can lead to stress incontinence - a result of strenuous physical activity, according to the Mayo Clinic. Focusing on strengthening or relaxing your pelvic floor muscles and consuming the right amount of liquids are just two ways to mitigate what can be an embarrassing experience. If your pelvic muscles are weak, a physical therapist will recommend exercises that will strengthen them. Conversely, the muscles of your pelvic floor could be too tight. To loosen those muscles, try breathing exercises and stretching before and after your workout. Not taking care of yourself post-workout is just one way you are sabotaging your own workouts.

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