So You Want to Run a Marathon? Here’s Where to Start

Running 26.2 miles is as easy as tying your sneakers, right? Not even close. Here’s how to baby-step your way to Heartbreak Hill and beyond.

marathon overhead

Photo by ZamoraA/Getty Images

Ready, Set…Now What?

Dan Fitzgerald, cofounder of Heartbreak Hill Running Company, and Matt Taylor, cofounder and CEO of Tracksmith, break down the essential dos and dont’s for beginners.


Get a training plan

Whether it’s from famed running coach Hal Higdon or the Boston Athletic Association, a good training guide will tell you how far to run each day (usually over the course of 16 to 20 weeks). All you have to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other. Easy!

Get a buddy

What’s harder than running 20-plus miles for the first time? Doing it alone. Heartbreak and Tracksmith both offer running groups, but you can find a support system almost anywhere. “It’s hard to do it completely solo,” Taylor says.

Be patient

“[Running] feels really bad when you start,” Taylor says, so give yourself time to get over the hump.


Go to extremes

Training for a marathon can be like “going on a diet,” Taylor says. Some people may be able to do it by trying some new fad, but that doesn’t mean you should. “Be conservative, moderate, and stick to the plan.”

Save your fancy new gear for race day

After all, do you really want to spend 26.2 miles learning that your shirt chafes? Didn’t think so.

Try to make up for skipped practice runs

“You’ve got to keep up your momentum,” Fitzgerald says. So no, you can’t just run twice as much tomorrow.

Questions from Someone Who’s Never Run a Marathon

Every runner I know gets up with the sun. Do I have to become a morning person?

Sure, you can get up for those 6 a.m. workouts, but they invented headlamps for a reason.

Do I need fancy running shoes?

You don’t need the most expensive shoes, but you do need the right ones: It’s best to visit a specialty store where staff can examine your stride.

Does the runner’s high really exist?

Yes. Recent science suggests the elusive high is a mix of endorphins and endocannabinoids—chemicals our bodies produce in response to the pain of running—and is most likely during two-plus-hour runs.

Can I actually do this?

Probably? But it’s wise to start short and work up to a half marathon before you go for the big one.

Top Spots to Watch the Race

(Spectating is a sport, too, right?)

Wellesley College at Mile 13

Motivational smooches from Wellesley students help make this one of the course’s most beloved stops.

The Hills of Newton at Mile 21

Stop by Boston College for a hard-core cheering section complete with kegs.

Kenmore Square at Mile 25

Legs are sore, the end is (almost) in sight, and the crowd is going wild. It’s the marathon at its best.