On April 20, 2015 I completed the Boston Marathon, my very first marathon. After finishing the marathon, so many people asked me what the training was like, and how I was able to do it while being a full-time college student. It seems like so many people have this dream of running a marathon, especially those of us who live in Boston and are surrounded by the magic of the Boston Marathon every year. I’m here to tell you how to make that dream a reality, because while I promise it isn’t easy, it is a million percent worth it! 

How to train for your first marathon

First things first: pick a race, and sign up. Some marathons are easier to register for than others. The Boston Marathon is not an easy marathon to register for, but it can be done. As a first time marathon runner, you will not have a qualifying time, and even if you have run marathons before, the qualifying times for the Boston Marathon are extremely competitive and difficult to achieve. So, the best way to register for Boston is as a charity runner. Thousands of charity runners register for the Boston Marathon each year, and each of these charity teams has a slightly different application procedure. You can check out a list of the charity teams here and look into their application procedures. I would recommend applying to several teams to increase your chances of being accepted, as some teams have more competitive programs than others. As a charity team runner, you will be required to raise money for the charity (this year’s minimum was $5000), but don’t let this deter you!! You will be surprised how easy it is to raise the money when you are doing something SO awesome for an amazing cause. 

After you register for a race, the next topic is training. A lot of people freak out at the idea of training for a marathon because they can’t even imagine running 26.2 miles. In fact, when I first applied to run the Boston Marathon, I had only run one half-marathon, and I was injured when I ran it, so it was extremely painful and slow – definitely not a confidence booster. The thing to remember when you try to wrap your head around running a marathon is that most training plans are 20 weeks long – that’s FIVE months. You begin your training on day 1 of week 1, not day 30 of week 20, so do not be scared of the end-goal, just take it one day at a time. The first week of training starts out with a 3 mile run, and you won’t get up to half-marathon distance until the 10th week. So basically, just remember, it’s not a sprint- it’s a marathon (figuratively and literally). You have plenty of time.

There are many different training plans out there, and you should pick one that fits best with your schedule. My training was formatted the same way each week: 

Monday: Rest Day
Tuesday: Track Workout (short sprints) or Hill Workout (hill repeats)
Wednesday: Cross training (spin class, yoga, swimming, whatever you like!)
Thursday: 30-60 minute run (length increases from 30 to 60 minutes as training progresses)
Friday: Cross training
Saturday: Long run (distance changes each week)
Sunday: Recovery (easy run, walk, etc. to recover from your long run)

Once you pick a training plan, stick to it. Hold yourself accountable to your schedule, and try to be strict with yourself. If you need to miss a workout here or there, or you get sick and have to take a week off, don’t panic. It is totally okay. You know your body better than anyone, and you know when it needs a break. I missed a whole week during training when I got the flu, and I freaked out because I thought my body would forget how to do it’s thing, but guess what – it didn’t. However, you should try to push yourself to complete your workout even when you aren’t in the mood, because the difficult workouts are the ones that make you stronger. You never know how you are going to feel on race day, so make sure you train even on the days when you don’t really feel like it – you will be better for it.

The most difficult part when training for a marathon isn’t the training – it’s the mindset. There are going to be days when you don’t want to get out of bed to go for a run, but you will. You will train your mind to motivate you, even when you don’t feel motivated. Your mind will become your best friend. You learn a lot about yourself when you are training for a marathon because you spend a lot of time in your own head. While that can be kind of scary, it’s also really cool. Training allows you to see what your body is capable of, and more importantly, what your mind is capable of. For me, running gives me more confidence and happiness. Lets face it – running a marathon is pretty badass. When you look in the mirror you will see yourself differently, because you will start to appreciate your mind and your body a whole lot more. As Elle Woods put it, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Training will make you feel happier, and it will be a great outlet for your stress (especially if you are in difficult classes).

On the day of the race, have fun! Wear your name on your shirt so the crowd can cheer for you. Make sure you smile for the cameras – it’s always nice to have great race pictures! And don’t worry so much about your time, instead focus on having fun. My favorite quote is, “Your greatest runs are rarely measured by racing success. They are moments in time when running allows you to see how wonderful your life is.” For me, this sums it up perfectly. So get out there, sign up for a marathon, and find your happy pace!


About Ellen: I just finished my fourth year at Northeastern studying Chemical Engineering. My favorite way to start each day is through exercise – it really transforms my mindset and gives me a positive outlook. I mostly stick to running, but in the past year I’ve branched out and have fallen in love with biking, swimming, and total body strengthening. To me, staying fit means staying happy and healthy. I feel better when I exercise, and that’s what keeps me coming back to the gym.  

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10 Responses

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