Running Your First Marathon

By Warren Finke
Coach, Team Oregon
Portland Marathon Clinic

Many people believe that the marathon is the ultimate running event. The experience of completing the marathon has been a life-changing event for many people. Is the marathon for you? How can you best prepare for the challenge?

With proper training and motivation, almost anyone can complete a marathon. People of all body types, ages and abilities have gone through our clinics for the Portland Marathon and completed the event successfully.


There are certain physiological and psychological prerequisites that almost all marathon training programs and coaches agree on.

Marathon running is for adults. You must be emotionally and physically mature to withstand the psychological and physical punishment of marathon training and racing. The stress of marathon distances can cause permanent damage to still growing bones and is well beyond the enjoyment level that encourages young people to stay with the sport of running. We discourage marathoning for those under 16.

Marathon running and training is for experienced runners. To start our program we recommend that runners have been running for 3-6 months, have some short race experience and run an average of 15-20 miles a week. Hal Higdon, who has developed the Chicago Marathon training program, is even more conservative, recommending one year of running as a prerequisite. David Brennan and Al Lawrence of the Houston Marathon suggest a starting base of 10-20 miles per week. There are two reasons we make these recommendations. First, although you may be able to develop the cardiovascular ability to survive a marathon in a 5 or 6 month training program, the muscle and connective tissue fitness takes considerably longer. Thus, there is a high risk of injury in increasing a beginner's running to marathon levels in a short time. Second, most beginning runners simply lack the commitment it takes to complete a marathon training program.

Marathon training is for healthy individuals. If you have a chronic disease or injury, check with your physician before training and running a marathon. With proper medication and maintenance, many individuals with diseases that were once considered totally debilitating such as asthma and diabetes have successfully completed marathons. The same completion is possible for those with biomechanical and other handicaps, provided they have proper guidance from sports medicine professionals.

Commitment, Commitment, Commitment! These are the three most important attributes of anyone training for a marathon. In our program, over 80% of those who start complete the marathon. 99% of those who complete the training and start the race finish. Although there are injuries, very few curtail training completely or keep people from doing the event. Most of those unable to start the race have had life get in the way of their training. Most of them didn't realize the level of commitment it takes to train for a marathon. You must have the support of your family, friends and co-workers. You must be willing to make life style changes that will enable your training. You must have a good reason to do the marathon.


The best way to train for a marathon is through an organized training program such as the one we do for the Portland Marathon. If you are a beginning runner, there are some changes you can make to prepare yourself before the formal training program begins.

Change Your Training to a Hard/Easy Pattern Instead of doing the same workout every day, alternate 3 hard days with 4 easy days. You can do this by running every other day or by running roughly twice as much on the hard days as the easy days. Don't add miles to implement hard/easy. Instead, figure out how many miles you are doing now and divide them up so that you are running more on the hard days, less on the easy days. Remember no running counts as an easy day.

Add a Long Run Day. Pick one day a week for doing a long run. Follow the long run with 2 easy days. Every 2 - 3 weeks add a mile to the long run day until you can run 6 - 8miles.

Increase Mileage to 15 -20 Miles per week. Do this first by increasing the long run day, next the other hard days and, last, the easy days. Keep the ratio between the long run day and the easy days between 2 and 4 and the ratio of the hard days to the easy days at 2.

Example week:

Long run day 6 miles
Easy day 0
Easy day 2 miles
Hard day 4 miles
Easy day 2 miles
Hard day 4 miles
Easy day 0 miles
Total 18 miles

Once you have been running a 6 - 8mile long run and are doing 15 to 20 miles per week, you are ready to start marathon training. There is a beginning training program listed on the Portland Marathon Clinic website You can register online to join us in our clinics. In addition, Marathoning Start To Finish, the book we use for training beginners through advanced marathoners, is available (see RESOURCES)