8 Steps to Get from Casual Runner to Marathon Champ

I’ve been running seriously for some time now. Like any runner, though, that wasn’t always the case! Everyone who runs regular marathons started off somewhere small—whether as a couch potato or a casual runner. If you’re there, you can conquer marathons, too. Maybe you feel stuck on a plateau. Maybe you haven’t even started. It doesn’t mean you can’t start working towards bigger, greater exercise goals.

8 Steps from Novice to Marathon Champion

1) Pace yourself.

One of the biggest mistakes novice runners make is trying to do too much too quickly. It gets them injured, burned out, and with a deep, deep hatred for running. Pacing yourself, especially in the beginning, is a key component to your training. If you have been largely sedentary or are only used to light exercise up until now, running is likely going to be challenging for you. And that’s okay! No one expects you to run an 8-minute mile on day one.

You aren’t going to run a marathon in 12 weeks, either. Give yourself room and time to train properly. 

2) Lean on discipline, not motivation.

As with anything, habit, not motivation, should be the driving force. There will be a lot of days where you will not want to run or exercise at all. It’s natural. You don’t have to run every day—in fact, you shouldn’t to avoid injury. Try walk-run combinations, just walking, or cross-training. What matters is that you’re getting out there regardless of how you feel, short of being sick or injured. “I don’t want to” isn’t going to get you across the finish line!

Relying on habit and discipline rather than motivation is the key to keeping your training regimen on track.

3) Find something to love.

New runners often struggle to love running. Even if you don’t love it yet (you will!), try to find something that you enjoy about training. Pick a time of day that you find particularly peaceful or beautiful. Love the energy that a run gives you, or love the positive changes you see in your body or mood. There’s a lot to love about running, even if it’s not the running itself! 

4) Mitigate your injury risks.

Injury is one of the biggest reasons people who start training for marathons don’t end up running in them. Usually, people are injured because they don’t give themselves enough time to train and cram too much into too little time—they don’t let their bodies adjust to new speeds and distances and push too far too quickly.

If you want to save yourself from injury, learn how to stretch properly, take it slow in the beginning, and don’t focus so much on times and distances. Listen to your body.

5) Gear up.

People who don’t run often underestimate the power of wearing the right shoes. Run for a little while in the wrong shoes and you’ll quickly find out just how much damage they can do! Shoes that are not suited for your feet or for the distances you’re running can cause injuries because they don’t provide the right support and stability. They might be pricey, but I strongly suggest going to have your feet properly sized and fitted for running shoes. You’ll regret wearing the wrong ones! 

6) Work it into your calendar.

As a busy professional, making room for a training regimen wasn’t something I could just do on the fly. In order to be consistent, I had to mark off that time intentionally and plan out when I was going to run. That empowered me to not only maintain my habit, but to learn how to be better at time management in general! If you’re serious about running a marathon, it’s crucial to carve out real time to train. Scheduling yourself is important—know what you’re going to do each day: whether you’re running, resting, or training in another way.

7) Set a marathon goal.

For most first-time marathon runners, their goal is simply to finish. There’s no shame in that goal! Marathons are grueling. What matters is having a goal. What you don’t need to do is set the bar so high for yourself that you become discouraged when your training doesn’t reflect enough progress towards meeting it. Be realistic and be kind to yourself. Don’t race during your first marathon. Instead, just focus on finishing. That in itself is a huge accomplishment worth being proud of.

8) Set smaller goals first.

In the running world, there seems to be an obsession with marathons. Don’t get me wrong, I love marathons. But for novice runners, they’re not necessarily the ideal first goal. Instead of aiming for a marathon first, set smaller goals for yourself on the path to your first marathon. Try a 5k. A 10k. A half marathon. Not only will these ease you into longer races, but they’ll help you know that you can run these types of races and better prepare you for a racing environment.

If you take it slow, work diligently, and equip yourself with the right gear, even the most inexperienced runners can finish their first marathon proudly.