So you're walking home, munching on a bag of chips, when all of a sudden a pack of bodies breezes by. Runners in training. You watch them glide ahead of you in awe - their toned muscles tightening and flexing as their feet hit the ground, their sweat glistening and running in rivets down their supple necks, their chests heaving… wait, wait, we're not that kind of website. That vision is enough, however, to make you toss the chips in the garbage and make a resolution: you must run a marathon.

Good for you! The benefits of marathon running include:

  • Increased energy
  • Improved health
  • A sense of accomplishment
  • Increased discipline
  • Quality time outdoors
  • A chance to show off to the opposite sex that you can do it
  • Of course, great-looking legs (Never underestimate the power of lean, muscular legs.)

This SYW will assume that you've never run a marathon before and that you're seeking explanations of some broad details of how to get started on the road to your physical and psychological salvation (cue "Chariots of Fire" background music). While you will not become a marathon runner overnight, you will notice weekly improvements if you follow our sage advice. Of course, there will also be times when you don't feel like you're improving at all. If that happens, remember to give it some time, you'll be rewarded in the end. Wow. We're almost better than Hallmark.

If you can't wait to break a sweat, skip the steps and check out this how-to video.



The definition of a marathon is a race that is 26.2 miles. To translate for all of you who are inept at math, it would take you nearly half an hour just to DRIVE that distance at 60mph, let alone run it. But don't despair; it actually isn't as difficult as it sounds (notice we didn't say that it's not painful…). You just need to approach it with the right attitude, one step at a time. Literally.

  • Ideally, you should expect to spend at least 26 weeks in training. Of course, this will vary depending on what shape you are in currently. It might take a bit longer if your idea of exercise is fetching a pop tart out of the toaster, and a bit less if you are regularly involved in some sort of fitness program.

  • Don't be intimidated by the idea of running a competitive marathon right away. Most people start out with 3 to 6 mile runs and work their way up. These races are often surrounded by a much less competitive atmosphere, and are a great way to get used to the feeling of running alongside tons of people. With a marathon as your ultimate goal, you can begin by "training through" (that's running lingo) these smaller runs.

  • Remember, we're talking about your body and your health here. As always when starting a vigorous exercise routine, you should consult with a physician beforehand. If you have a heart condition or weak knees, we suggest that you keep away from running and try something less vigorous. Like eating.

  • It's a good idea to do some serious research before you begin. If you know people who run, talk to them to find out what advice they have to give. If your friends look at you like you're crazy, then it's time to expand your social circle.

  • Find out what running clubs and organizations exist in your area. Many offer classes, which can be very helpful, as well as provide the safe option of running in groups. A site to help you do this, as well as locate coaches and trainers, is the Road Runners Club of America. Go to the "clubs" section to find your local chapter.


In this case it's the shoes, not the clothes, that make the man/woman. We understand the need to look fashionable out on the track, but the most important thing you should invest your time and money in is a good pair of running shoes. Trust us - you will regret buying those expensive attention-grabbing neon shorts when you're wheezing and gasping for air and trying your best to be invisible.

Good sneakers (or "trainers" for you Brits) are essential. So essential, in fact, that we've devoted another entire article to buying the right pair. In case you don't feel like reading it (pretty lazy for a would-be marathoner, eh?), at least read the following tips:

  • Don't even think about using anything other than shoes that are made specifically for running. And while we're dishing out the advice, don't think about using your running shoes merely to walk around town in. Have some respect! You will only wear them out more quickly and in places that could adversely affect your runs.

  • Visit a couple of stores that specialize in running and talk with someone who can help you make the best choice. Even though the sales will be enticing at larger sporting goods stores, the staff (though probably very cool to hang out with) are often somewhat uninformed. If you go to a smaller specialty store, chances are you will find someone who really knows their stuff about running. And shoes.

  • A lot will depend on the shape of your foot and how you land when you run. If you do have an old pair of running shoes, it is helpful to bring them in - an examination of the worn areas will be able to convey a lot about what type of shoe you need.

  • Try to shop after you've been walking around for a while, as your feet will have swollen to a similar size as that when you run. Also, make sure that you try on shoes with your own socks. Not only will wearing socks of your usual thickness help you get a better-fitting shoe, but it's just plain nasty to wear someone else's socks.

As for the rest of your gorgeous ensemble, just make sure you are comfortable:

  • In cold weather, wear layers. A t-shirt under a zip-up sweatshirt and a simple pair of running pants should be sufficient. Usually you'll need less clothing than you think when it comes to running. You might feel chilly at first, but remember that you will warm up once you get moving.

  • In hot weather, wear light colored clothing and a light colored hat to protect you from the sun. Also, don't forget the sunscreen. The general rule of thumb is that shorts and a tee shirt are OK if it is above 50 degrees or so.

  • Last but not least, buy a performance-quality watch you can get sweaty in. Make sure it has a stopwatch function so you can keep track of your time.


Training for a marathon is a great excuse to start eating more nutritious food, which is what you've always wanted, right? The good part is, because you're going to be burning so many more calories, you may actually find that you're able to eat more than you usually do. PLUS, you get to eat a lot of carbohydrates (take that, Dr. Atkins!) You'll still need to pay attention to making lower fat choices, but you'll get to focus on items such as pasta, bread, and potatoes in order to fuel your workouts.

After you've been running for a while you may actually start to crave healthy foods. Before long you'll be munching on carrot sticks instead of going out for ice cream. OK, maybe you'll still want ice cream… but it'll be carrot-flavored ice cream.

The basic things to remember are:

  • Eat meals that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat. Don't forget the lean proteins (chicken, fish, legumes).

  • Eat fruits and vegetables, but be sure not to have too many the day before the race (potential digestive disaster while you're running - let's not go there).

  • Drink plenty of water, even on days that you're not running. During your training period, you'll need to consume 3-4 liters of water a day at a minimum. And we're sure you know the old "check your urine-color" test. Not exactly dinner table conversation, but the darker yellow your urine is, the more water you need to consume.

  • It's a good idea to eat a small snack and have a glass of water about a half-hour before you run. Carbohydrates are usually the best choice, with dairy being the worst. Definitely avoid alcohol and caffinated beverages (coffee, tea, cola) as they are diuretics and will quickly dehydrate you.

  • It will take a bit of experimenting to discover which foods work best for you before your workouts (that is, which foods won't have you doubled over with stomach cramps midway through the run).

  • "Carbo loading" (more fun marathon lingo) is reserved for the day or two before an actual race. It refers to eating more carbohydrates (pasta, bagels, etc.) than proteins or fats. This is because your body converts carbohydrates to energy faster than it does with other foods. Therefore, it is common for marathoners to eat a big bowl of pasta the night before the race. Quick note of caution - it is generally not a good idea to carbo load on a regular basis, particularly if you are concerned with weight maintenance.


If you're lucky and rich enough to have a personal trainer, then by all means, put him/her to work. But if you're like us (checking the couch cushions for laundry quarters), you should consider building - and sticking to - your very own training program.

Like we said before, you should expect to spend about 26 weeks in training. The general idea is to slowly increase your distance, and then speed, over the 26-week period. Each week should build off the previous week, and include five running days (one long run and 4 shorter runs) and two rest days. You should never increase your distance from one week to the next by more than 10% or you might injure yourself.

For those of you who can't run for 30 minutes without stopping, you should definitely work your way up to the schedule listed below. (In other words, you'll need more than 26 weeks to train). Start by walking and jogging five days a week until you feel ready to handle the following regime, which is intended for individuals who are already in decent shape:

Weeks 1-2: Run 4 miles long run, 2-4 miles the other days Weeks 3-4: Run 6 miles long run, 4-5 miles the other days Weeks 5-6: Run 8 miles long run, 4-6 miles the other days Weeks 7-8: Run 10 miles long run, 4-6 miles the other days Weeks 9-10: Run 11 miles long run, 5-8 miles the other days Weeks 11-12: Run 12 miles long run, 5-8 miles the other days Weeks 13-14: Run 14 miles long run, 6-8 miles the other days Weeks 15-16: Run 16 miles long run, 6-8 miles the other days Weeks 17-18: Run 10 miles long run, 4-5 miles the other days Weeks 19-20: Run 16 miles long run, 6-8 miles the other days Weeks 21-22: Run 16 miles long run, 6-8 miles the other days Weeks 23-24: Run 14 miles long run, 6-8 miles the other days Weeks 25-26: Run 10 miles long run, 4-8 miles the other days

You'll notice that the above distances never reach the "marathon" mark, meaning they come in under 26.3 miles. Hey, you try incorporating a 26-mile run into your daily routine; it's a bit time-consuming. The idea is to build your stamina to the point where the difference between 16 miles and 26.2 miles isn't all that jarring. If you can handle the above schedule, chances are you'll do fine on the day of the actual run. Just be sure to adhere to the following pointers:

  • Motivate yourself - Admittedly, it can be hard to get out of bed on those mornings when you've stayed out way too late the night before. Even going out for a shorter run is better than not going out for a run at all.

  • Prioritize - If you really want this, then make training a necessary part of your day. If you're feeling too busy, skip Survivor! - not the run. You have to MAKE the time.

  • Stretch - Despite it's lightweight reputation, stretching is not just for yoga and pilates nuts - it's for the hard core athlete. Really. And it's just as important as a good pair of sneakers. After a 5 -10 minute warm-up jog to get your muscles ready, do a thorough 10 - 15 minute stretch of all the muscle groups in your legs - that would include your hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, groin, and hip flexors. Stretch slowly, and never bounce. Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds, and make sure you give equal attention to both legs. You should also stretch after you run as part of your "cool down." Check out these diagrams to make sure you're doing your stretches properly.

  • Keep a slow pace - Many people make the mistake of running too fast and then burning out. It is easy to feel competitive when someone flies by you, kicking sand in your face. Suck it up! The slower you go, the more energy you conserve, and the more likely you are to improve your endurance. A good way to measure your pace is by your ability to talk comfortably while running and not feel out of breath. It would probably be less embarrassing to practice this with a partner.

  • Don't be too cool to walk - Walking for a minute or two when you feel as though you just can't run another step is perfectly respectable; in fact many seasoned marathon runners use this method as an integral part of their training. Often, that short period of rest will allow you the energy to complete the run.

  • Set reasonable goals - Choose a training program that you know you can stick with. Don't overdo it if you aren't quite in shape yet. Don't make it easy for yourself to miss a run because the time you allotted is crowded into your half-hour lunch.

  • Have patience! - This cannot be emphasized enough. Running a marathon is not easy. If it were, everyone would be doing it. You will reach a point when you love and actually crave running. But it will take your body a while to reach that point.

  • Advertise - Tell people what you are doing. There is nothing better than having the support of your peers. Maybe they'll even sneer and make you feel guilty if you consider skipping a practice.


You've stretched, you've hydrated, you've carbo-loaded… now what? With thoughts of glory consuming your mind, you mustn't forget to make sure there's actually a race being offered in your area. Here and here you'll find a couple of great places to search for marathons.


  • Most sponsoring organizations will allow you to register up to the morning of the race (with a bit higher of a registration fee), but we recommend signing up well in advance just to be on the safe side.

  • For the larger and more popular races, like the New York City Marathon, you'll have to register a few weeks or months in advance. Not everyone who applies even gets to run - since so many people are interested, they have to use a lottery system to choose the participants.

And off you go! There are some important points to remember as you're running:

At least a week before the marathon, really ease up on your training schedule (say, 3 miles every other day). You don't want to burn yourself out before the race begins.

If you're not feeling well, then don't run. You'll get other chances.

Bring water with you, and drink as much of it as you can during the run.

  • After the big day, you should congratulate yourself for your hard work. In fact, make sure your friends congratulate you, too. You may even want to wear your medal out to a bar. On second thought, that would be pretty lame.

  • Rest for a week after the run. Don't begin your rest on the day of the run, however; you'll need to keep on your feet and walk around in order to avoid some serious soreness.

  • After you've recuperated, feel free to begin training for your next race. You'll feel better in the long run (pun most definitely intended).