Most of your health benefits will come from your pre-race workouts, not the actual race. Plus, it’s a great way to release stress.

GET IN THE MILES: Hand recommends running three to four times a week, eventually building up to a run of around 20 miles. Horst says runners should reach about 22 miles during their build-up. The idea is to run slower than you would on race day, so you’re running for about the same time as a marathon.

BUILD UP SLOWLY: Though the running coaches weren’t strict observers of the “10 percent rule” — which says one should increase millage by only 10 percent per week — they were believers in building up slowly. Increase your distances gradually.

COMPETE IN SHORTER EVENTS: 10Ks, long trail runs and half-marathons are great ways to get ready for the big day, the coaches say.

DO SPRINTS: A marathon is a long, slow run, so how could sprints help? All three coaches recommend interval training, including hill sprints and hill intervals to help you go faster on race day. “Leg strength is very important,” Hand says.

HAVE A DOWN WEEK: At least once a month, take it easier. Run fewer miles — no more than, say, 12 for the week, Horst recommends. This helps your body recover from the longer, most intense training weeks.

RUN WITH FRIENDS: Even though training isn’t the most fun thing in the world, having some running buddies helps. The more you run with friends, the more likely you are to stay motivated, coaches say. Another way to stay motivated is to write down your running and fitness goals and post them on a wall you can see every day.


Runners should be skinny and lean without much muscle mass, right? Not necessarily, says our panel. Each recommends strength training as a way to help avoid injury and get faster.

DO BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES: Lunges, squats, push-ups, abdominal exercises and other “functional” body weight exercises are great for running, Hand says. “You want to have a strong upper body. You’re carrying yourself. Your arms need to be strong,” Horst says.

DO CROSSTRAINING: Other endurance sports can be great for runners. They let your feet recover, while keeping your cardiovascular system in shape. Hand recommends swimming and biking.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO LIFT HEAVIER WEIGHTS: Early on in training for a race, runners shouldn’t be afraid of putting some weight on the bar. “Everyone thinks you have to be thin, but stronger people can perform longer, better and faster,” May says. “It also helps avoid injury. The stronger I am, the better I run.”


Much as shoes (lighter with smaller heels) and training strategies (shorter runs with more sprints and weight-lifting) have changed over the years, different nutrition advice is also recommended these days. A good nutrition plan is key for your running, and also your long-term health.

DON’T CARBO LOAD: That old advice about slamming down spaghetti the night before a race doesn’t work, the coaches all say. “Runners should be fueling their body all week, eating a well-balanced diet,” Hand says. That means lots of vegetables and fruits and going lighter on the pasta.

EAT PROTEIN: Horst says good nutrition for a runner focuses on a 4-to-1 rate between carbohydrates and protein. May prefers even more protein in his diet than that. Eating protein is particularly important for runners who train more on the street than on grass, because studies have shown they lose iron faster, Horst says.

STAY HYDRATED: This is not just important advice for race day, but for runners everyday. Horst recommends her runners at Loyola carry a water bottle with them constantly. She also says you should plan your training runs with hydration in mind — knowing where water fountains are in the park or placing a water bottle where you grab it to get a quick drink. Getting dehydrated is the quickest way to derail a successful marathon. Maintaining constant hydration will help you on race day.

There. Now you’re ready to take on 26.2 miles.

Who’s up for an ultramarathon?