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Running Your First Marathon: The Beginner’s Guide

Thursday, May 11, 2023 1:07 AM

There's nothing like the excitement of running your first marathon, and to make sure race day goes smoothly, you should have a plan. Dr. Hallie Labrador, NorthShore Sports Medicine specialist, discussed many of ways to prepare for a long run in our long distance running chat. She outlines some basic guidelines that will help you from training to race day and afterwards.

Training | Fueling & Hydrating | Stretching | Resting & Injury Prevention | 



When is it best to start training for a marathon if you’ve never done one before?
Most people need 16-20 weeks to adequately train for a marathon. If you’re completely new to running, it’s a good idea to spend 2-3 months getting into a routine of running regularly before you start the full training.

A marathon is approximately 26 miles – a pretty big undertaking. What are some training methods that are useful for getting the endurance and strength to make the long run?
The key is practice. Most training programs have one long run per week which slowly increases, as well as several shorter runs. This enables you to train your mind and body for race day.

Fueling & Hydrating

What can you use to hydrate before/during/after a race? Are there any drinks/ingredients to avoid?
If you’re hydrating right before a race, choosing a drink with a little bit of sugar in it can help the fluid absorb better. Be careful though, too much sugar can cause GI upset. Most basic sports drink have a diluted amount of sugar in them and are a good choice. One or two cups is probably all you need – more than that can be uncomfortable.

During a race, it’s a good idea to drink fluids with salt or sodium in it to help replace salt that is lost during sweating. Again, most sports drinks have sodium added. You should drink to your thirst. Don’t drink at every water stop if you are not thirsty – too much fluid can be dangerous.

After racing, it is a good idea to replace fluid, especially if the weather is warm. Consuming carbohydrate and protein is also a good idea to replace what was lost when you were racing.

What would be a good meal for a marathon day? Should you eat anything during a race?
Your pre-race meal depends on what time your race starts. Ideally, you should eat a high carbohydrate, low fiber, low-fat meal 3 hours before race time. You will need to consume carbohydrate while you’re running to avoid the “wall” that happens if you run out of carbohydrate fuel. You will want to eat something high in carbohydrate, but low in fat, fiber and protein that can be easily digested while you’re running. Typically gels, sport beans or bananas work well for this. You should aim to consume about 60g of carbohydrates each hour of exercise.


Should you stretch before starting a practice run/race? Should the muscles be warm or cold?
There is a lot of debate as to whether or not stretching regularly is beneficial. If you have or are recovering from an injury, stretching prior to and during running can be helpful. Always warm up first. Never stretch a cold muscle – this may lead to injury.

After a race, are there any stretches you can do to help with soreness?
Stretching in and of itself does not usually help with soreness, but keeping your muscles moving (i.e. walking) for a little bit once the race is done can help flush out some of the lactic acid buildup which can lead to soreness. Ice baths can sometimes help with this as well.

Resting & Injury Prevention

After a race, should you immediately get back into training or take a break?
It is important to allow your body adequate recovery after a race, but the amount of time/rest your body needs is unique. Most people need at least a couple of days and up to a month to recover from a marathon. Listen to your body.

What are some common injuries one might encounter while training for/running a marathon?
Overuse injuries are the most common – typically of the knee or ankle/foot. Things like runner’s knee, IT band syndrome and Achilles tendonitis can cause problems.

If something feels wrong during a race, what should you do?
Use common sense. If something is causing mild discomfort and it’s not affecting your running gait, it’s probably OK to keep going and get it checked out after the race. But if you’re having increasing pain, you should try to stop at a medical tent and have it looked at. Sometimes a short rest, stretching or ice can help you keep going, but sometimes it’s best to just call it a day. To race is worth your health and/or safety.

Depending on the weather, what physical changes should you be aware of?
Extremes of weather, both hot and cold, can cause serious, life-threatening injuries. If you’re running in very cold weather, make sure you’re dressed warmly enough and exposed skin is covered. If you get wet and/ or start feeling numbness in your extremities, you should get inside and get warm. If you are running in hot and/or humid weather, be careful for signs of heat illness which includes confusion, dizziness, diarrhea, nausea/vomiting and muscle cramping.

No matter how you hurt it, we can fix it.
Our Orthopaedic & Spine Immediate Care Centers offer care for sprains, muscle strains, fractures, back and neck issues, and sports injuries. Plus, you’ll have easy access to other NorthShore services, like X-ray/imaging, all under one roof. Learn more about our locations.