Marathons are one of the more popular running races in both the U.S. and the rest of the world. According to RunRepeat, over 1.1 million people finished a marathon in 2019. It may seem like every runner you know has run a marathon (although that is not true at all!) Naturally, you may be interested in attempting 26.2 miles–but how do you know if you are ready to run a marathon?
You have been running for at least six months (ideally a year)
Theoretically, you could go from couch to marathon. However, this approach is neither safe nor always enjoyable. Mileage ramps up very quickly in these plans, which increases your risk of injury. Plus, a rapid build can make marathon training feel more challenging and tiring than it should be.
You can use the marathon training plan in the Runkeeper app to help you train appropriately. Stick to the plan as closely as you can, increase your miles slowly, and take your recovery seriously. If you can do that, you’ll be ready on race day.
Running places a considerable amount of stress on your body, including your musculoskeletal system. It takes several months for a new runner to adapt to the impact of running. If you try to build mileage too quickly during that timeframe, you are very likely to get injured. Instead of rushing from no running directly into the marathon, you want to take a slower approach.
Ideally, you want to run for at least six months, if not an entire year, before you start training for your first marathon. Begin with smaller amounts of mileage first and let your body adapt to that. Then, when you do start marathon training, you will have a higher level of fitness!
You can already run 8-10 miles
A marathon is 26.2 miles. That is a long distance to run in one race, which means that long runs are vital to your training. A long run is simply your longest run of the week. In marathon training, long runs will increase to 18-22 miles, depending on a runner’s ability. While not the full marathon distance, that’s still a far way to run!
Most marathon training plans last 16-20 weeks. However, since your body needs time to adapt, you want to build up your long runs carefully. To do so, you will want to start already being able to run a longer distance. Eight to ten miles is a good benchmark for a first-time marathoner.
Another reliable benchmark is having completed a half marathon. If you can run 13.1 miles, you are ready to train to run a marathon!
You are running 20 miles per week (or more)
Marathon training is not just about the long run. In most training plans, you run more throughout the entire week. For example, you may run 7-10 miles during your weekday runs and 20 miles for your long run at the peak of marathon training.
To handle the higher weekly mileage, you want to be already comfortable running a minimum of 20 miles per week. There is nothing magic about 20 miles per week. However, for most runners, it is enough to develop a good aerobic base.
If you are not at 20 miles per week, spend several weeks gradually increasing your mileage before starting marathon training.
You have 16-20 weeks before the marathon
The marathon distance is truly a long-distance race. For most recreational runners, it takes three to six hours to complete a marathon. The average finish time is typically around 4.5 hours. Running for that long places tremendous strain on the body, so you must be appropriately trained.
While you can often run a 5K race off of just a couple of months of running, a marathon requires a longer period of training. Ideally, you want to spend 16-20 weeks (approximately 4-5 months) to prepare for the marathon distance. This longer duration allows you to build up mileage carefully.
If you are preparing for your first marathon, it is not recommended to spend fewer than 4-5 months training. Otherwise, you will not be physically prepared–and without preparation, you will not enjoy your first marathon.
You have time in your schedule to train
Weekly training volume varies based on a marathoner’s experience level. However, most plans will bring you up to running at least 30-35 miles per week for a beginner. If you are a more experienced runner embarking on your first marathon, you may run closer to 40-50 miles per week.
Your schedule should permit time to run all those miles–without sacrificing sleep. After all, sleep is when your body recovers from that training! If you do not have the time, then you may not be ready to run a marathon. Instead, focus on a shorter race (such as a half marathon) that allows you to enjoy long-distance running without the time commitment.
You want to run a marathon
It may seem like every runner out there runs marathons, but that is quite simply not true. You do not need to run a marathon to be a ‘real runner.’ Many professional runners and Olympic runners have never run the marathon distance!
Your desire to run a marathon for yourself–not because your friends are or you feel like you have to is part of knowing you are ready. Marathons are challenging, and the training requires a considerable commitment of time and energy. If you do not actually want to do the marathon, then you are not ready to run a marathon.
Last March comedian Brooks Wheelan ran a marathon without training in 4 hours and 16 minutes and hurt himself. Let his story be an example of everything you should not do before running a marathon.