Experts Advice: How To Prepare For Your First Marathon
As the marathon season kicks off, excitement is in the air!
We know many of our dedicated followers are gearing up to tackle their first marathon and are eager for expert guidance. So, we've teamed up with professional MyFitness trainer Nils Briedis, who has not only conquered marathons himself but has also coached others to success.
With years of experience under his belt, our guest author shares his personal journey and insider tips on how to train, prepare, and ultimately triumph in your very own marathon debut.
Get ready to be inspired and equipped with the knowledge you need to cross that finish line with confidence!
First and foremost, I am a person, a spirit, and a soul. But professionally, I am a strength and conditioning coach and massage therapist with a masters degree in Sports Science on the way. I have been physically active and engaged in various sports for as long as I can remember, so it seemed like a natural step to choose the profession of a coach, which has been my main job since 2018.
My First Marathon
I've always known I wanted to run a marathon in my lifetime; the only questions were, – when and where?
While I never doubted my ability to complete a marathon through self-preparation, that wasn't my ultimate goal. I aimed to excel and savor the journey, which meant training properly for such an ambitious endeavor. That's when I signed up for the “My First Marathon” project, organized by Aigars Nords – the driving force behind Latvia's marathon culture, also known as the “Godfather of Running” – and his team.
Soon after, my goal for 2022 crystallized: to conquer the “Rimi Riga Marathon” in May, as I was selected as one of the project's participants. The program offered invaluable guidance from a professional coach to prepare for the distance I chose to run. This was one of the most important aspects of how I got ready for my first marathon, and what I highly recommend to everyone – find a coach.
Fast-forward four months, and I crossed the 42-kilometer finish line with a time of 03:00:03h. It was then that I realized our only limitations are those we impose on ourselves. We are far stronger than we imagine, and with determination, anyone can achieve their wildest dreams!
Get Ready For Your First Marathon
There's no one-size-fits-all approach to marathon training, but one thing's for sure: if the goal isn't to crawl to the finish line and spend the next few months recovering from injuries due to your body's overload during the run, you need a plan!
Here's my roadmap for a successful preparation journey:
- Define your goal: know what you want to achieve
- Assess your current health status: understand your current fitness level
- Make a plan: running, all-round physical training routine, consistent sleep regime, proper diet, scheduled time for additional recovery processes like regular stretching, mobility exercises, physiotherapy, massage, heat and cold therapy, etc.
- Execute the plan: engage in regular training and immerse yourself in the process
- The big day: show up and shine on your marathon day!
Find Your Why
Before embarking on any new life chapter, it's essential to reflect on your motivations: why you want to do this, why it's important to you, what it means to you, and how you envision yourself in the unfolding journey. When your goal is clear and well-defined, it becomes much easier to fall in love with the process, which, in truth, is just as, if not more, significant than the actual goal you're striving for. Embrace the excitement, and let it fuel your determination as you progress.
Check Your Current Fitness Level
The journey of preparing for and running a marathon is a formidable challenge for both our bodies and minds. As you define your goal, it's equally crucial to ensure your physical health and fitness level are up to the task. One way to assess this is by undergoing a cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) at a reputable sports and medical facility. This method evaluates your cardiovascular and respiratory systems, which is important for everyone, especially if you're gearing up for a marathon.
In addition to the cardiopulmonary exercise test, it is recommended to undergo medical check-ups and analyses to ensure your body has everything it needs to handle the intense training periods that are an integral part of preparing for a marathon distance.
Before starting to run, I recommend consulting with a physiotherapist to pinpoint any weak areas, what to pay attention to in the training process, and what to keep in mind during the entire preparation time.
Focus on Gradual Progress
Crafting a running training plan with the guidance of an experienced coach is the most effective way to prepare for your marathon, but if that's not feasible, it's crucial to adhere to the principle of gradual progress. A common pitfall in running training is selecting a pace and intensity that don't match your current fitness level. Fast running sits at the top of the pyramid, so it's essential to establish a strong foundation with so-called base runs, maintaining a comfortable pace at which you can talk freely without shortness of breath. Once you've built a solid base, enhance your training with varied intensity levels, including high-intensity workouts, to ensure that your body is well-prepared for the marathon.
Regardless of your desired outcome, your plan should include General Physical Preparedness (GPP) training, which includes both strength and deep muscle-strengthening exercises. Strengthening the ligaments and tendons is also very important for a runner, which should also be included in your GPP regimen.
Building a Strong Foundation
The next important building block is recovery – nutrition, sleep, etc. Tackling an intense training program without a proper sleep schedule and a balanced diet may eventually result in decreased athletic performance, diminished well-being, and even injuries.
Sleep and diet lay the foundation of our pyramid. It's important to prioritize these aspects before delving into other elements like physiotherapy, massages, and nutritional supplements.
Although there are no shortcuts to your first marathon, several strategies can ease your journey, such as visiting the pool or sauna on your rest days. Additionally, having a physiotherapist or masseur close at hand can provide support when your body feels the strain of rigorous training.
Remember, each individual's journey will be different. It is important to develop a personalized routine, incorporating familiar elements that you can consistently maintain throughout the lead-up to the big event. Some may go for training before the sun rises, fitting it in before their workday begins, while others may prefer midday or late evening training. There's no single path to success; instead, each person must embrace their unique journey, drawing on self-discipline rather than relying solely on motivation.
Key Takeaways From My Personal Experience
Connecting with like-minded people helped me stay motivated and strong during my journey, and there is no greater feeling than overcoming your own challenges.
My true marathon experience transcended the 42km distance. it was a story of each kilometer and even every meter leading up to it, including the late nights and early mornings, rising before the sun, overcoming challenges, and savoring moments of joy along the way.
I am grateful for my willingness to look myself in the eye, for my determination and courage to persist, and for my ability to create opportunities even when faced with many excuses. Above all, I am happy for having done this for myself, enjoying the journey and thriving throughout the process.
May you discover your own path, embrace the process, and be blessed with good health and happiness throughout your marathon journey!