Training for Your First Marathon—You Can Do This

For most people, the decision to run a marathon serves as the ultimate test of physical endurance, but for Tracy Eldred, it was more of a social calling.

After months of debate, she decided to take on this monumental challenge after three friends from her Chapel Hill, N.C., social circle convinced her to “take a leap.”

And that leap of faith paid off. The 40-year-old mother and former biology teacher successfully ran the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington, Vt., in May.

“If I was doing it on my own, I doubt I would have ever done a marathon,” she said.

Before the marathon, Eldred said she had run seriously for about three years, but had never attempted a run anything even close to what she encountered in Vermont.

“After the half marathon mark, I had that ‘uh-oh’ moment,” she said. “It’s one of the most difficult things besides childbirth that I’ve ever done.”

If anyone knows how difficult it can be to conquer a marathon – it’s U.S. Olympian Jeff Galloway – who began his love affair with running in the eighth grade.

“An older kid that I liked brought me with him,” he said. “By the end of the 10-week program, I was hooked by the way I felt afterwards, and I’ve been running ever since.”

He’s run 160 marathons since 1963. Galloway said it’s that feeling of camaraderie and support that he’s instilled in his coaching business, Galloway Training Programs.

And something seems to be working—he’s coached more than 300,000 runners who have a 98 percent success rate for finishing races. So read on, for tips on running a successful 26.2 mile stretch.

Train Realistically

Galloway said people should first have a realistic assessment of their pace for the longer runs, which help you build up to the marathon distance.

What makes his program different is the run-walk-run ratio he advises his runners to use.

That’s right—he wants you to walk during training and the marathon.

“If you’re running a 10-minute mile, you use a three to one ratio, which can be whatever you want—you can run 60 seconds and walk 20 seconds, or run three minutes and walk one minute,” he said.

Galloway, who is based in Atlanta, Ga., said accompanying your running with walking allows you to increase your pace, and restore energy to your muscles.

“For those who tried this method, the average improvement in their time was 13 minutes,” he said.

He said you only need to train three days a week. You should run 30 minutes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, saving a long run for the weekend, which increases gradually over the weeks.

Galloway, a monthly columnist for Runner’s World magazine, also suggested starting six months in advance, though the timeframe can be less if you were running before you began training.

Seasoned marathon runner, Amy Charney, said there’s one thing to ask yourself before beginning the training process.

“Do you want to do a marathon?” Charney said. “If you want to do a marathon, you can do a marathon.”

Charney, an events and marketing manager at Endurance Magazine in North Carolina, has run 10 marathons.

She said running is 60 to 70 percent mental, and 40 to 30 percent physical.

Prepare Mentally

Keep yourself healthy and have a positive attitude the week before the race.

“Mentally visualize yourself in the race and crossing the finish line,” Charney said.

Charney said she likes to eat carbohydrate-heavy foods the day before though Galloway warns against overeating.

“It really takes about 36 hours for the food you eat to be available for use,” he said. “That can lead to unloading during the event itself.”

Galloway suggested drinking eight, eight-ounce glasses of water and electrolyte-filled liquids before the big day.

Run and Cross the Finish

The morning of the race, Galloway said to eat something easily digestible and drink a glass of water right after you wake up.

Sugar snacks—like gummy bears and lifesavers—enter the blood stream quickly and keep your brain fueled, Galloway said.

Eat 30 to 40 calories and drink two to four ounces every two miles.

Charney also said to make sure you go to the bathroom before you start, to avoid anxiety about having to use a Porta-Potti along the course.


After you’ve crossed the finish line, Charney said to keep walking and then take time to relive every moment of the race with fellow runners and loved ones.

“There’s this euphoria that sets in for the next two weeks,” she said. “And then there’s kind of a letdown, like ‘Now what? What’s my purpose?’ That’s kind of the reason I keep doing more.”

Charney swore that this year’s Boston Marathon was her last, but she still qualifies for next year’s.

“The fact that I can still get in is reason enough,” she said.

Galloway can attest to the addictive nature of marathons—he and his wife run one a month.

“Most people say that there’s no other accomplishment that equals what they get from crossing that finish line,” he said.

So will Eldred run another marathon?

“If you had asked me that day, I would have said ‘absolutely not’.”

She’s had a change of heart since then, and is considering running one next spring.

For Galloway’s specific training method, click here.