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First Steps in Marathon Training

For Marisa Boasa, the decision to start running was as much about changing her life as challenging herself. The 35-year-old from Vernon, Conn., began running in 2010, when she was north of 275 pounds.

“I was extremely overweight, unhappy and missed the former me—the person who loved to run, who was fit and fearless,” she said. “Starting to run again gave me back my confidence.”

This year, after having lost more than 100 pounds, Boasa is one of the 26 runners who will be attempting their first marathon as part of the Saucony 26 Strong project, a collaboration between Competitor and Saucony that pairs a veteran runner with a first-timer to train for a fall marathon.

For Boasa, like many runners starting out, training her body to run was physically demanding and mentally challenging.

“It was painful,” she says. “My knees hurt, and I even had a MRI to confirm all was well. My orthopedic said ‘Your knees are OK, you can do this, however it will take time, you will have to push through the pain and take it step by step.’”

For runners taking on the marathon for the first-time, the key is to have a solid training base and a detailed plan that allows for a gradual increase in mileage. Boasa will be competing in her first-marathon this fall, but that will be three years after she started running, including two half marathons she did last fall.

“The most common issue I see is the ‘Terrible Too’s,” said endurance coach Mike Norman, who created Boasa’s training plan. “Too much. Too soon. Too fast.

“People are so excited to get started training that they get a little too aggressive the first few weeks,” he says. “At first, the body can compensate for the extra speed and distance, but pretty soon it catches up with them, either by injury, exhaustion or lack of motivation.”

Having a detailed plan—and keeping a record of how you follow it—can help you avoid the perils of overtraining.

“I highly recommend keeping some sort of training log so you can keep track of everything,” Norman says. “By the time you get to the higher mileage part of training, you want to already know what works and what doesn’t in terms of apparel, gear, hydration and basic nutrition.”

Other tips for first-time marathoners starting their training include:

Focus on recovery: “Always remember that your body doesn’t get stronger during the hard workouts,” Norman says. “It can only get stronger while you rest, as it adapts to the stresses of the training days.”

Mix things up: Too many runners do every run at the same pace. It’s important to challenge your body with harder runs and recover at a slower pace.

Start where you are—not where you want to be: Maybe you ran a really fast 5K 10 years ago, but that’s not necessarily what you’re capable of now. Figure out your current fitness level and start training from there.

“It’s never too late to start,” Boasa says. “It’s worth the pain, because I knew one day I would run stronger and have no regrets—because I never gave up.”

To view the 26 Strong home, click here.