Training to Train: Feel Ready on Week One


With marathon season approaching, the traditional 18-week build-up is on the minds of many first-time marathoners. To ensure you are ready to tackle your training plan, be sure to prepare your body, your mind, and your life for marathon training with a pre-season plan.

Build a Base

Building a base is training to train. That is, getting your body ready for the true marathon build-up.

Most novice marathon training plans call for four days of running per week during the main training cycle. If you are not doing this already, your first step is to get accustomed to that both physically and mentally.

At the Chicago Area Runners Association, we advise runners that, prior to marathon training; they should be able to run at least three miles three days per week, plus one additional long run of six miles. Runners who can do this reasonably are likely able to execute a novice 18-week marathon-training build-up without a high risk of injury.

If you have never run before, your first step is to walk, more than run. Get your body used to being active and on your feet for an extended period of time. The simple act of putting in 45 to 60-minute brisk walks can help prepare your body for running. The next step is to progress to a walk/run program. Starting with cycles of two-minutes running, two-minutes walking for three miles. Then gradually increase your run minutes and decrease your walk minutes until you can complete your runs without walk breaks. That said, a run/walk marathon plan can be an effective plan for many. Many CARA training sites offer run/walk groups. They are not just for beginners either!

As you progress into more regular running, be patient and take your time. Six weeks out of your marathon build-up it is perfectly acceptable if your long run is still only three miles.  Use those final six weeks to progress that long run to four, five, then six miles. A run does not have to feel easy before you progress, but you should feel in control and able to reasonably recover within a couple of days after each long run before you increase distance.

Aside from building up your miles, use the base building cycle to get a strength training and flexibility routine started. Whether that is through a cross-training activity, or traditional weight lifting and stretching, the best runners put time into becoming a better athlete, not just a better runner. A training plan with some diversity of work will help you become more injury resistant.

Start a Routine

Getting your body adapted to running routinely is part of the process. The other is getting yourself prepared for the routine of training on a schedule.

CARA’s group training long runs start between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m., depending on location. Most folks do not wake up that early on weekend mornings on their own; waiting until week one to start waking up early may leave you looking like a zombie on the trail the first few weeks.

Our bodies respond best when we commit to a routine. The saying that we are “Creatures of Habit” is undoubtedly true. In your lead-up to marathon training season, getting yourself accustomed to waking up early and being active will go a long way when those group runs begin. You will wake up easier, your body will not revolt against you when you do, and you will feel more alert and ready to train at those early hours.

Create A Support Team

The marathon is important to you. Make sure it is important to those around you, or at least make sure they know what you are doing and why.

For 18-weeks you will need to get to bed earlier, and you will need some extra personal time on the weekends to recover from your long runs. That may mean telling friends or significant others that you cannot stay out as late on Friday nights. Or, that you cannot go straight from the long run to an all-day to-do list of errands and household work.

This is your time to do something unique and special. Be ok with having to be a little selfish for a few months, you can make up for it later. This marathon is worth some sacrifices, and you may need your friends and family to make some too.

If you are lucky they will want to be part of your support team. Find ways to actively engaged them in your process. Whether that is them being accountability partners who motivate you to be your best, or going for runs with you or riding a bike alongside. Maybe they will even give you post-run massages and make you some special reward meals. They are more likely to be on board if they feel like they are part of your goal.

The marathon is an obtainable goal, but still a challenge. Respect what is coming by getting properly prepared for it in the pre-season. Be sure you have taken care of the steps you can control. If you do that, you will likely see great success in your fall marathon.

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Prior to assuming the role of Executive Director, Greg has held several roles for CARA since joining the staff in 2015, including Director of Events & Marketing. During his tenure with CARA, Greg has operated in a number of capacities, including program strategy, marketing, race direction and social media management. As the Director of Events and Marketing, Greg was integral to the direction of the CARA Runners’ Choice Circuit and the implementation of the neighborhood ‘Go Runs. As well as the successful growth of the Wintrust Lakefront 10 Miler & 5K, the Orangetheory Fitness Ready to Run 20 Miler and CARA’s Marathon VIP Experience.


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