10 Tips To Nail Your First Marathon

by Maggie Puniewska

It used to be that marathons were reserved for running fanatics, thought to be a little crazy for voluntarily hitting the pavement for periods of up to five hours. But now the 26.2 mile race has moved from a niche workout to more of a bucket list item; even Pamela Anderson is running marathons. Races are popping up all across the country and with a little hard work and dedication, more and more runners are signing up for this popular endurance challenge.

Preparing for a marathon is quite the physical and mental test, so it's best not to take training lightly, especially if you're a marathon newbie. For the inside scoop on how to tackle the 26.2 miles, we tapped three top running coaches. Ahead, their 10 tips how to to ace your first marathon.

First, Check That You're Actually Marathon Ready

"Runners who are attempting their first marathon should give themselves 16 to 20 weeks of dedicated, "official" training. This is assuming you start in good enough shape to run about 10 miles for a long run; if you can't, you're probably not ready to undertake a marathon and should focus on shorter race distances first, like a 10k or half marathon. After about a year of consistent running, you can set your sights on a marathon. It's a very long race and shouldn't be underestimated!" -Jason Fitzgerald, USA Track & Field certified coach and founder of Strength Running

Consider A Coach

"If you're getting ready to tackle your first marathon, having someone in your corner who can help you see the big picture and guide you through the training is vital." -Carl Leivers, Atlanta-based running coach and USA Track & Field Endurance coach

Set Realistic Goals

"The first marathon is a learning experience. Do not set out to run your best race ever. I suggest setting three goals: Goal A, B, and C. A is if all the stars are aligned, B is a more realistic time goal (something you can live with), and C is crossing the finish line on two feet. Tell yourself you will be thrilled if you reach any of these three goals." -Kim Maxwell, Minneapolis-based running coach and founder of KMax Fitness.

H2O + Fuel

"When you're running that long, your body is going to need fuel. Make sure that you get used to drinking water while you run and you find a brand of energy product (gels, jelly beans, or chews) that you like and work well with your stomach. Staying hydrated and fueled properly is a big part of feeling good in the last few miles." -Leivers

Don't Skip Weights

"Runners have to do strength exercises! Start with basic bodyweight exercises for about 10 to15 minutes after every run. Runner-specific exercises (like those for the hips and glutes in this strength routine) help runners stay healthy and run stronger." -Fitzgerald

Schedule Active Recovery Weeks

"I believe that newbie marathoners need a mental and physical break from training every four weeks or so. I strongly suggest a "recovery week" where you cut mileage in almost half while doing some fun cross training, like swimming or biking. This is still an active week but gives you a chance to give your mind and body a break. I feel this is vital to staying motivated and positive about training." -Maxwell

Cap Off Mileage

"In terms of weekly mileage, 30 to 40 miles per week is a minimum baseline for most runners during their peak training. When you consider the length of a long run, that makes up the majority of the total mileage. The long run should max out at about 18 to 22 miles depending on your fitness level and ability. More advanced runners can run 21 to 22 miles but that's certainly a more aggressive long run distance." -Fitzgerald

The Right Socks Are Key

"Socks must be made of sweat-wicking fabric. Cotton socks are a no-go because they hold on to perspiration and cause rubbing, which can result in painful blisters. You dish out more money for [high-performance socks], but it's well worth it!" -Maxwell

If The Shoe Fits...

"Ideally, you should avoid buying a new shoes for race day because you want to train in the pair that you plan to race in. But if it's time to upgrade, definitely head to a running store to be fit for sneakers. Take an old pair with you to show a specialist, who can see where you tend to wear the soles and can help you pick a new set. And bring your socks. Many runners make the mistake of not trying on their shoes with the socks they are going to wear while training, which can lead to a [poor] fit. Be picky and try on a lot of shoes! Shoes wear down fast, and they are the most important accessory on your body." -Maxwell

Nothing New on Race Day

"Race day is not the time to try a new gel, sports drink, or slip on a new pair of sneaks. Make sure that you've practiced everything." -Leivers

Image Credit: Fotolia/Maridav