If you love to run and are looking for the ultimate running goal, a marathon totaling 26.2 miles may be in your future. While it might be too late to register for two big races on the horizon–Chicago Marathon (Oct. 7) and the New York Marathon (Nov. 4)–there are plenty of local marathons, which are a great place to start.

Whether you’re a recreational runner or a collegiate athlete, marathon training programs range from 12 to 20 weeks. You will be increasing your running mileage to 50 miles or more per week over the months leading up to race day.  Having a plan in place is key for the average runner to make sure both mentally and physically your body is ready for this type of challenge.

12 to 20 Weeks Before Run Date – Get a Plan

Online: If you have signed up for a marathon race, keep in mind that proper training is key and a plan should be followed to help prevent injury, improve your endurance and complete the race. There are many running programs that are easy to access online.  Some favorites include: Hal Higdon, Jenny Hadfield, Nike and Runner’s World programs which are easy to follow and offer different time lines that could be a match for your workout schedule.  

On your smartphone: Technology can be part of your resources as well. Just pick up your smart phone and download one of these free apps. The best free apps are

– C25K 5K Trainer

– Runtastic

– Striiv Walkathon + Fitness Games.

– MapMyRun

– Run The Map

– RunKeeper

– Calorie Counter and Diet Tracker by MyFitnessPal


In person: In addition to training on your own, there are running groups in every community. Check out local running stores to meet other runners.  Many boutique running stores offer training programs. One other idea for group training starts with running for a cause. Many large marathon races link up with charities which offer free training if you run for their cause. You will be requested to raise money for their charity but you’ll meet other like-minded people, have a group experience and do something good for your community.

6-8  Weeks Before Race Date

There are a few more things you should include in your training besides running, strength work and flexibility training.  Mental training, understanding your nutritional needs, and performance attire will also be important.

Mental Training

There are two main components that are included in mental training: optimism and willingness. Having both of these in your mindset will be your secret weapon in completing your first race but don’t wait until race day to start using these to your advantage.  Like physical strength, athletes know that practicing mental strength is important too. There isn’t an Olympic Athlete that hasn’t used visualization in training for their ultimate competition. Seeing yourself running over the finish line is key even before the race begins. Establishing a mantra while you train can be something to practice during your longer runs in your training program and it’s important  to establish the mindset that you will be able to complete your daily training also. Don’t underestimate keeping a journal of how you feel during your runs as a way to review and evaluate your training. Looking at this journal and seeing that you felt okay last week after the long runs can help when you’re slow to move on your next run.


Nutrition isn’t something to think about the week before.  When you’re training for a marathon, you shouldn’t be looking to lose weight. Many people think that this will be easier than if they just tried to lose weight on their own, but the reality is that you’re training your body to slowly consume calories to finish a long endurance event. Calorie burn will happen, but you’ll need to fuel the body during these intense runs to avoid injury and brain fog.  Carbohydrates, fats and lean proteins are key to optimal nutrition. Likewise, if you eat before your longer runs, think complex carbs like oatmeal, potatoes or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich rather than just a juice or banana. Any activity lasting longer than 90 minutes will also need electrolyte replacement. This is where the sports drinks can come in handy.

Performance Attire

You will need a good, fitting pair of running shoes for sure from the onset of training, but you may change shoes during your training.  Many boutique running stores offer gait analysis to help you understand what type of running shoe may be best for your body’s movement. If you can afford to, get two pairs of the same shoes and alternate them periodically throughout your training.  Performance attire is not limited to running shoes. Wicking fibers with flat seams will keep the skin protected from chaffing that can occur with sweat and movement. They say that cotton is rotten for runners whether it is a T-shirt or socks. Cotton stretches when wet and can rub more easily against the skin causing blisters.  (Ladies skip the thong underwear too for running. Chafing most likely will occur in less optimal spots on the body).

One Week Before Race Day

The week before race day is a great time to rehearse your mantras, review your journals and focus on diet and sleep.  You want to be fully rested and a bit of “carb” loading will also help within a few days before the race. You will want to make sure you are not adding any new foods into your diet for digestive sensitivities and getting to bed early but not too much out of your normal routine.  You will be expecting a lot from your body.

Reviewing your journals will help you feel confident in reaching your goals. No need to second guess yourself. You’ve put in the time and your body will not let you down. Don’t compare yourself to others at this time either. Everyone has their own routines and past experiences that will make their training unique.  Anything that you do during this week is about refining your training not restructuring. So smile, relax and dream your finish line mantra with victory.

The Night Before Marathon

The day before the race, don’t make common mistakes of not running that day, lingering too long at the expo or changing your diet with a heavy meal. Check the weather forecast and determine what you’ll be wearing.  If it may be hot/cold think about disposable layers that you don’t mind donating to goodwill if you throw them off during your run. Then lay out your clothing, bag, tissues, water, fuel and even a large trash bag so you’re ready for the morning. The trash bag will come in handy to lay on the grass ( which will be most likely wet) and organize your belongings before you head into the race corrals.  Tissue will be for the portable potty that most likely will run out of toilet paper. If possible, attach your bib to your shirt.

A final race day checklist should be reviewed before you nod off to bed. Twas the night before marathon and all through the house, not a creature was worried about finishing the race. That’s you! So smile, relax and dream your finish line mantra with victory.

Race Day

You’re ready to run and have some fun! Arrive early to the event so that you can feel relaxed. Jog a little so that you’re not tight before you start. Yes, you need to stay hydrated, but no major drinking 30 minutes before the gun. You will be most likely staged for a marathon so that faster runners will be in front and slower runners behind them. Don’t worry!  Everyone will have their timer go off when they cross the starting line if you are chip-timed. Attitude is everything. You have practiced for this day and your mental toughness will bring you to the finish line. Remember when your legs can’t run anymore, run with your heart. You are powerful, strong and it doesn’t matter how fast, it’s just that you do your best.

-Andrea Metcalf

Andrea is a Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Nutritionist and Health Expert. She’s based in Chicago and has appeared on NBC Today Show, USA Today, Oprah.com, Rueters Health Report, More.com, Better TV and local Chicago stations. You can find her at www.andreametcalf.com.

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