How To Succeed in Your Next Marathon, Half or 5K — 11 Tips

A major accomplishment for any runner or walker is to complete a marathon or another distance event. The marathon’s 26.2 mile distance is an exceptional way to really challenge yourself. A half marathon or a 5K are other great options for testing yourself.

Along the way you build your fitness and enhance your overall health. And a growing body of evidence points to a relationship between exercise and fitness in reducing the risks of certain cancers.

While marathons are timed, the beauty of this unique event is that simply finishing is a true accomplishment — for some, a once in a lifetime triumph. For your first distance running event, don’t worry about your race time. Just focus on finishing. Then if you do a second distance run, your goal can be a faster time than your first.

What does it take to finish a marathon or other long event? We can summarize in one word:


Start your training for a distance run by checking with your health care professional to ensure you’re in the right physical condition for the effort ahead. A number of professional resources are available to guide you in safe, healthy training.

With a green light on your health, you’re ready to take on a distance run challenge. A number of training plans are available for marathons, half marathons, or 5Ks from resources such as Runner’s World. Allow 16 weeks to train for a marathon. 14 weeks for a half marathon. And 8 to 10 weeks to train for a 5K. If you’ve run distance events before, your training plan will guide you in the finish time you might aim for.

How you can get there

Experts such as the American Council on Exercise have some helpful tips for preparing for and completing an event such as a marathon.

  1. Tell others what you’re planning. When other people know about your plans, it becomes real and their interest will help motivate you to stick with your training.
  2. Build your base fitness level. Your training plan will help you work your way up to your full distance run.
  3. Vary your training. Use interval training and running hills to build your speed, strength and endurance.
  4. Slow down for longer runs. This will allow your body to get used to being on your feet for longer times. Set a pace for long runs that’s 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your average training pace.
  5. Remember to rest. Plan to follow challenging days with lighter recovery days or a rest day. During 24 to 48 hour recovery time is when your body repairs and rebuilds muscles. That’s when you gain strength.
  6. Wear the right running shoes. Your foot can hit the ground 1,500 times every mile while you run. When your foot hits the ground, it absorbs up to three times your body weight. You’ll need a quality shoe that’s built for your running style. You may want to check with a running shoe fit expert to help you get the right shoe. If you wear orthotics, make sure they fit well in your new shoes. Consider replacing your running shoes every 300 to 400 miles. A worn shoe can cause injuries, but make sure you wear your shoes enough before race day so you know they’re comfortable.
  7. Dress for the weather. Dress in layers. Moisture-wicking clothes and socks can help keep you dry and comfortable. Experiment with your attire and wear what you know is comfortable on race day. Don’t wear something new for your event.
  8. Include your diet in your training. As you train, keep track of the food (body fuel) and fluids you consume before, during and after training. Note how it makes you feel. This will help you plan for what you eat and drink during your big event. With a demanding event such as a marathon, the wrong food or fluid choices can slow you down or make you sick and unable to finish the event.
  9. Stay hydrated. Start all your training runs well hydrated. Your urine should run clear. Many experts say for shorter runs, water is sufficient. On longer runs lasting more than an hour, every 15 minutes drink six to eight ounces of water or a sports drink that includes electrolytes. After the run make sure you re-hydrate.
  10. Prepare yourself for race day. During training, simulate what the race day environment will be like. If it’s an early morning race, do some of your training runs that time of day. If you usually eat before training runs, do the same before the race. Basically, remove as many variables as you can on race day.
  11. Remember mental training. Your body will go farther when your mind is willing. Keep a relaxed and positive mental state. Understand that you’ll have ups and downs. Relaxing and smiling through challenges will make you a stronger runner over the long run.

If during your training you get a bit sore, there are some tips to prevent and recover from muscle strain. The keys are to:

  • Warm up before training.
  • Stretch your muscles.
  • Cool down after.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Stay active!

Following these steps will help you build your fitness and have a healthy, enjoyable time preparing for and participating in your distance running event. Enjoy your journey!

Meet the Author

David DeJongh, DPT, is a physical therapist at Aurora Health Care on Good Hope Road in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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