First and foremost: Congrats! The mere fact that you’re even contemplating running 26.2 miles is amazing. That being said, marathons are no joke, and if you're going to do one, it's best (smartest, safest, healthiest) to plan for it the right way. To help you get a better grasp of what the process will truly entail, we asked New York Road Runners coach Matthew Moran, Ph.D., who’s also an exercise science professor at Sacred Heart University, to list his top marathon essentials. Be sure you’ve got these in place before you start training, and it’ll make the whole process so much more enjoyable—not to mention successful.
Four months to prepare
It takes about 16 weeks for the average runner to prepare for a marathon, so be sure you are able to commit for that amount of time before you register, suggests Moran. Training for a marathon means you’ll have to switch up your weekend routine—meaning, not go out as much. So if you have tons of weddings or travel plans coming up, you may want to considerrunning a marathon at a different time, when you’re more free to devote yourself to the cause.
A solid support system
Training for a marathon is a commitment that’s going to influence your social life, so it’s really important that your significant other, friends and family are on board with your goal, Moran emphasizes. Feeling like you’ve got people encouraging you and rooting for you along the way will remind you that you’re not alone—and that sense of connection will motivate you to plow through your training.
A running coach or running plan
You can’t just wing it and hope for the best—you’ve gotta have a serious plan, especially if it’s your first time. Moran suggests hiring a running coach—you can get an e-coach online, or find one in person at your local running store. They’re not that expensive, either: Plans can be as little as $50 for an entire marathon program, and e-coaches are generally. You can also sign up to be part of a running group, and receive your coaching that way. (Just ask the staff at your gym where you can find one in your area; they’ll know.) The important part is that you have a professional to give you advice, structure, and feedback on your progress, says Moran.
The right gear
It’s actually not that much stuff, though. You’ll need a good pair of running shoes, most importantly. Check out our 7 Best Running Shoes list from 2013, and stay tuned for an updated roundup coming soon. Another helpful link: 6 Tips for Buying the Best Running Shoe for Your Feet. You’ll also need non-cotton workout gear that won’t make you chafe. And finally, Moran says that while many people think you need a foam roller, he believes that the jury’s still out on that one, and you can get the same benefits by being sure to properly stretch after every run. Just be sure to actually, you know, do so.