How-to: Marathon training for beginners

BYU senior Michaela Tanne takes advantage of BYU’s indoor track and weight room to stay fit, exercise and train for future races. (Lauren Lethbridge)

It is said that someone can go from their couch to marathon ready in just six months — so why not you?

Running a marathon is a big feat, but running smaller races along the way will help you prepare. Preparation will require a plan and consistent effort, but getting into shape to run a marathon is possible.

The website Runner’s World, which was recommended by BYU track and field head coach Ed Eyestone, says to not worry about beating a certain time if you are a beginner to running marathons. The best thing you can do is create a plan focused on getting through the course and crossing the finish line.

BYU track and field coach Ed Eyestone (center) gives advice to his team at the 2018 NCAA Cross Country Championships. (BYU athletics)

Eyestone, also an Olympic marathoner, said that no matter where you are in the stages of running, the best thing anyone can do to prepare for a marathon is to be consistent and patient.

“If you are consistent in your running, whether its four or five times a week, you are going to experience success,” Eyestone said. “You may not be breaking the tape, but you’ll be able to walk the next day.”

Here are some steps to take you from your comfy apartment couch to the finish line of your first marathon.

Create a plan (you won’t regret it) 

Creating a plan is key to keeping you on track. It helps you calculate how much you will need to run each week and how to pace those runs. If you don’t know where to start in making a plan, there are different websites with plans for runners whether they be a beginner, intermediate or pro at marathoning. Runner’s World has plans, pace-setting recommendations and other tips for runners.

The 10% rule (known as 10PR)

Be excited and motivated, but don’t try to go too fast in your training. Trying to do too much too quickly can cause injury, fatigue or sickness. The rule of thumb is that every week or few weeks you should be increasing your daily runs by 10%.

If you are running 10 miles a week, then run 11 miles the next week and then 12 the next. It may seem like a snail’s pace but it is actually building more endurance and strength than trying to jump to 16 miles right away. It allows your body to transition smoothly into your training.

One long run weekly 

You may be thinking, “Aren’t I already running long distances every day?” Yes, and you’re doing a great job! But this is different. Eyestone said one of the best ways to prepare for race day is to do a long run once each week that is one-and-a-half to two times the distance of your regular runs.

“Over time, build that long run up until you’re running two and a half to three hours on your legs, just to get used to time on your legs,” Eyestone said. “Even if you’re only covering 15 miles during those three hours, when you’ve tapered a little bit and carb-loaded properly, you’ll be able to get through.”

Apply the 10PR to these long runs too. If your long run is 14 miles one week, then the next will be 15 miles, then 16 miles and so on. Being on your legs for an extended period of time is what will help you pull through on race day.

Fuel the fire

What you eat during training is just as important as training. To sustain energy throughout the course of your long runs, and eventually that marathon you’re training for, it’s crucial to give your body the fuel it needs. Runner’s World offers suggestions for what you should eat before, during and after your run if its longer than 60 minutes.

Dani Jardine
A selection of the food for BYU athletes at the Fueling Station. (Dani Jardine)

Eat 50 grams of high-carb, low-fiber food at least an hour before your run. This allows your body to digest the food so there aren’t any stomach problems during your exercise.


Fuel up on carbohydrates during your run. Don’t go crazy though. Eat 30 to 60 grams of carbs per hour of your exercise, usually spreading out to every 20 minutes. A TrainingPeaks’ training article suggested some smaller foods that offer good carb intake during a workout include bananas, energy bars and even jelly beans.


“Eating a mix of carbs and protein within 30 to 60 minutes post-run is crucial because it helps speed your body’s recovery,” Emily Abbate from Runner’s World said. Depending on the difficulty of your run, you will consume more carbs and protein.

Remember that hydration is extremely important. Be drinking water before, during and after your workouts and throughout the day.

Get out there and run

These are just some of the basics when training for a marathon. The main takeaways from this article are to be aware of what your body needs — listen to it — be consistent and always stay hydrated.

This guide isn’t comprehensive, but there are plenty of running websites, such as Runner’s World and TrainingPeaks, that give more in-depth descriptions of interval training, specific workouts, meals and appropriate gear.

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