The Dos and Don’ts of Training for a Marathon Straight From a Run Coach

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You just signed up for your first or 15th marathon—congratulations! Anyone who has ever completed a 26.2-mile race will tell you that going the distance will change your life. But before race day—and don’t worry, you have plenty of time—there’s a whole lot of training to be done.

Over the course of 16 or so weeks and hundreds of training miles, you’re sure to experience your fair share of blisters, bruises, great runs, rough runs, and a few chafing scars. That’s all par for the very long course. But if you want to make it to the start line healthy—which most coaches will agree is the ultimate goal of any training plan—you need to avoid some common marathon training mistakes.

So before you hit the ground running, heed this advice from Jess Movold, marathoner and coach at Mile High Run Club and The Fortitude Strength Club in New York City.

Runner workout: Upper-body moves to strengthen
Stocksy/Guille Faingold

DO get a training plan—and actually follow it

If you’re a first-time marathoner, you’ll definitely want to have a plan of attack, whether it’s an online training plan or a certified running coach. Then, once you have your plan in place, stick to it and take it seriously. “Commit to the plan and the work,” Movold says. “If your long run is on Sunday, do your long run on Sunday. If you miss it and have to adjust, do so and move on.” Life happens and that’s okay—your plan is a guide, but it’s rooted in what works, so respect it. “If you put off your training to the following day, it becomes a slippery slope,” Movold says. “You’ll end up doing too much on one day or not giving yourself proper recovery time before your next hard run.”

DO put your phone down

If you run 20 miles but don’t post about it on Instagram, did the run really happen? Yes! And you can still snap a post-run selfie and get it on the ’gram—just don’t let too much technology hold you back. “Running and training with a phone can be a distraction,” Movold says. “The best training season I ever had was the one I did without my phone constantly in my hand.” The urge to scroll your feed during a long-run bathroom stop is tempting, but keep your eye on the prize. You’ll have plenty of time to catch up on your friends’ farmer’s market finds and boozy brunch adventures when you’re spending quality time with your foam roller later.

DO consider scaling back your social life

Marathon training is hard. It’s physically challenging and mentally taxing. And the reality of all that is that maintaining your bustling social schedule just may not be as feasible for the next 16 weeks. “Training seasons are demanding, but the key word is season,” Movold says. “Commit to the plan and put yourself first. That means sleeping more, recovering more, and eating healthy meals to support your hard work and dedication to your training.” You don’t need to blow off your friends and loved ones and say you’ll see them at the finish line, but you’ll probably appreciate a little more downtime and fewer social to-dos as your mileage increases.

DON’T skip speed drills in your training

Long runs are key as you build toward race day. They help strengthen and familiarize your mind and body with the distance you’re preparing to conquer. But speed work is important, too. “If you only focus on distance runs, you’ll build your mileage, but you’re missing an opportunity to run less and gain speed, momentum, and strength,” Movold says. “So work some intervals or hill repeats into your plan.” (Not sure where to start? Take a speed-focused class at Mile High Run Club for inspiration and a butt-kicking.)

DON’T forget that it’s supposed to be fun

Marathon training is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re a first-timer or a marathon maniac, preparing for an hours-long race is intense. There will be moments of pain, of weakness, of discomfort, of serious doubt. “The worst thing you can do is to lose your connection with the joy of running during the process,” Movold says. “Remember that the training is hard, and that’s to be expected, but do special things for yourself to preserve the beauty of running and the reason we’re connected to the movement in the first place.” Rest when you need it. Run with a friend when you’re craving company. Listen to your favorite playlist or podcast to keep you inspired as you approach hour three of a long run. Get a massage. Really #treatyoself. “You don’t want to get burnt out before race day,” Movold says. “Imagine that finish line and the reason you committed to the race in the first place. Hold onto the joy and get rid of the pressure, the stress, and the doubt.”

DON’T forget to strength train

Many runners start running so much during marathon training that they don’t have time or energy to do much else. But an increase in mileage without at least two days of strength training can lead to injury, Movold says. “We need strong muscles to adapt to the increase of mileage and requirements for speed and distance,” she adds. “So get it in!” Movold knows her stuff: Adding strength training to her running routine helped her shave 20 minutes off her marathon time.

Once you get to the start line, don't be surprised if your brain feels as energized as your body. And after you cross the finish line—and post that victorious medal shot—make sure you recover like a pro. Or a supermodel

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