Things to Know Before Running a Marathon

So you want to run a marathon, but do you really know what you’re getting into? Here are 10 things to know about training for and running a marathon, so you can look like a seasoned marathoner.

You don't have to run for 26.2 miles.

Walkers in race
Yellow Dog Productions

Some beginners worry about having to take a walk break during a marathon because they think they’ll look or feel like a failure. There's no shame in taking a walking break!   The majority of marathon participants take a walk break at some point during the race, whether it’s a strategic run/walk approach or walking through some of the water stops. Taking walk breaks can be a very smart race strategy because it may help you avoid the muscle fatigue that often happens towards the end of races.  And they give the same finishers’ medals to everyone who crosses the finish line, regardless of whether or not they ran the entire distance.

Wearing the right running shoes and sports bra makes a big difference.

Runners feet
Photo by John Foxx

Wearing the right running shoes is the key to comfort and injury prevention. Visit a running specialty store to get fitted for the right running shoes for your foot type and running style.

If you’re a female runner, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable and confident running in a well-fitting,  supportive sports bra.

You shouldn't run 26 miles in training.

runner looking at watch
Westend61/Creative RF/Getty

Many beginner runners assume that they need to run at least the race distance or beyond to be ready for the race.  To be physically prepared for the race, you don’t have to run 26.2 miles before race day. Most marathoners-in-training do no more than 20 miles as their longest training run and are able to successfully complete the marathon.

You’ll have to train in some bad weather.

couple running in snow
Jordan Siemens/Getty

While it’s fine to do some treadmill running while training for a marathon, you should do some of your runs outside. And since you never know what kind of weather you’ll get on race day, it’s good to practice running in less than ideal conditions so you’ll be prepared and confident to handle bad weather on race day. Get safety tips and motivation for running in the cold, heat, and rain.

You’ll have to make some sacrifices.

night running
Scott Markewitz/Getty

Sometimes people put running a marathon on their bucket list, without giving much thought as to the time and financial commitment. 

Some people don’t realize that marathon training is very time-intensive. At times, it may feel like a part-time job (that you don’t get paid for).  Beginners should plan to run or exercise at least 4-5 days a week and, once you hit your training peak, one of those days will involve hours of running .

And running a marathon isn’t cheap. In addition to the race entry fee and travel/possible lodging costs for race weekend, you’ll need to buy running shoes, running clothes and gear, sports nutrition, and other essentials. You may also have other related expenses such as gym membership, child care, physical therapy, and massages.

Before you commit to a marathon, think realistically about your work, family, and other responsibilities to determine if you would have the time and money to commit to the training and the race. Some people may need to get family members on board before committing if they’re going to need help with childcare and/or household responsibilities.

You need to carry fluids during training runs.

runner with water bottle
Cultura RM Exclusive/Mike Tittel/Getty

Perhaps you’ve run short enough distances that you haven’t had to carry a water bottle or wear a hydration belt up until this point. But when you’re training for a marathon, you’ll need access to fluids to stay hydrated, so you’ll need to get accustomed to carrying fluids.

Fortunately, there are many water bottle and belt options out there, so you should be able to find one that works for you. And, if you really don’t like running with water, you won’t have to do so during the marathon, since there will be aid stations throughout the course.

Also see: 

You don't have to hit the wall.

Runner in race

Most people assume that “hitting the wall” is an inevitable part of running a marathon, but that’s the case. If you do the proper training, pace yourself properly and avoid starting out too fast, and take in calories during the race, you should be able to avoid reaching that point when you feel like you’re running through a foot of mud.

Also see: How to Avoid Hitting the Wall

Marathon training is not a guarantee for weight loss.

feet on scale
Buena Vista Images/Getty

If weight loss is your only or main motivation for running a marathon, you may want to rethink your decision to train for one. Training for a marathon is not a sure-fire way to lose weight – many marathoners-in-training find that their weight stays the same or they actually gain weight. Part of the reason for that is that they assume marathon training gives them a license to eat and drink anything you want.  

If you're trying to lose weight (or maintain your current weight), figure out how many calories you need and focus on eating a  healthy, balanced diet.  Then try keeping track of your exercise, food, and beverages in a journal -- you'll get a more accurate picture of how many calories you're actually burning and taking in. And tracking everything will make you think twice before eating junk.

You may have to go to the bathroom in an undesirable location.

portable toilet
David Zimmerman/Getty

If you have a fear of portable toilets or gross convenience store bathrooms, you’ll need to get over that soon.  Chances are that you’ll have to duck into one or the other during a run at some point.  It’s common for marathoners-in-training to have a sudden urge to use the bathrooms because they drank too much water before their run or they’re suffering from dreaded runner’s trots.  You’ll be putting in a lot of miles and at some point, you’ll probably need to interrupt your run for a potty break in a porta-potty, a nasty bus station bathroom, or even in the woods.  Consider it a rite of passage as a marathon runner!  Even if you make it through your entire training without using a porta-potty, you won’t have much choice come race day morning.

Also see: 

Not everyone will support your marathon training.

Group running
Christopher Futcher

While it’s important to try to get your family members and friends on board with your commitment to run a marathon, keep in mind that not everyone will be supportive. You may meet some resistance from concerned family members and friends who are worried about the toll that training might take on you. You should be prepared to counter the naysayers with reasons why running a marathon is a worthwhile goal for you. You may want to seek out a running group to get support from other runners. And get tips on how to handle criticism directed at marathoners.