The decision to run a marathon is the easy part. After that comes the reality of long-haul preparation, which demands discipline, planning and focus. A training plan can help you meet your goals.

The worst thing you can do is just go out and start running. You need to make a specific game plan and follow it closely to get to the finish line.

If you're thinking about participating a marathon, the following pointers may help you begin to prepare.

Be Sure You Are Healthy Enough to Run a Marathon

Have a complete physical and discuss any injuries or health concerns with your physician.

Invest in the Right Equipment

Good running shoes are essential. Be sure the shoes fit well and complement your gait pattern and foot characteristics. This will allow a more efficient gait. Shop at a specialized store with trained sales professionals.

Make sure your shoes have adequate support and cushioning. Your feet are the first thing to hit the ground and receive the most impact force. If your shoes have inadequate support or fit, you are certainly looking at foot and back injuries.

Develop a Specific Training Plan

You need a detailed, long-term plan so you can build to peak performance in January. Otherwise, you may under train and not be prepared or over train and cause an injury or peak too soon.

I always suggest a day-by-day plan that schedules every workout until the marathon. But remember to be flexible. Think of your plan as a framework, but allow room for modification.

Listen to your body. If you develop muscle soreness (and you will), you need to get the muscles massaged and maybe decrease your intensity for the next training session. If you have joint pain, back off training and see a physician. As you train, you may need to make other changes to the plan depending on your health and rate of progress.

Strive for Balance

Diversify your workouts by cross training with another activity you enjoy. Remember that, while cross training is a good break, it's not a rest day. Cross training can be valuable when running is not possible due to injury or weather, or if you need a break from running.

Schedule times of active rest when you engage in lower-key activities like golf or canoeing. Otherwise you run the risk of burning out and quitting.

Incorporate Resistance Training

You don't need to spend hours lifting weights, but developing strength helps prevent injuries and strengthens muscles to increase speed and endurance. Extended aerobic training will result in decreases in skeletal muscle mass. The minimum you are looking for in a resistance program is to help maintain the muscle mass you currently have.

Address Abdomen and Trunk Strength

As part of your total fitness plan, include exercises specifically for strengthening your abs and lower back. A strong abdomen and trunk – or core – help avoid back pain and injuries and help the body protect against injury by responding efficiently to stress. These muscles play a key role in keeping the body upright during the gait. A fatigued core will lead to gait abnormalities and eventually to injuries.

To keep these muscles strong, practice exercises such as sit-ups and crunches.

Practice Makes Perfect

Plan to run some shorter races to get an idea of your competition style. View them as periodic touchstones to check your training and progress.

One of the worst things you can do is make the marathon your first race. On race day, people get excited, which often means a poor result. Learn about yourself and practice to get an idea of how you react in competitive situations.

As you train for the marathon, you may find your goal is just not attainable this year. If this is the case, consider adjusting your goals to a half marathon or 5K run.

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