We are different, in essence, from other men. If you want to win something, run 100 meters. If you want to experience something, run a marathon. ―Emil Zatopek, 1952 Olympic Marathon gold medalist.
Every one should attempt to run a marathon once in their lifetime. As opposed to other sports events, here, just participating and completing the run is a big achievement. The preparation for a marathon has to be done consistently for several months preceding the actual event. If you are a beginner with a reasonable level of physical fitness (walk, jog or play a sport 3 times a week), the ideal time you should train for is 6 to 8 months. If you aren't an active person, and can't walk up a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, then you should give yourself a year. In addition to exercise, nutrition is another pillar while getting yourself ready for a marathon. Here's how you can start off.
Training: To start with, you need to decide if you want to run only the 5 km run, the half marathon which is 21 km, or the full marathon which is 42 km. The 5K is not a bad place to start, as it gives you a feel of what running in a marathon is like. Once you have made the decision, you will have to fashion your training schedule accordingly. No matter what kind of program you decide to follow or which distance you decide to run, one factor will remain constant, and that will involve plenty of running. The objective of marathon training is to condition your body and mind to run the long road.
A basic training schedule will start with running three times a week, which in time, will be increased to 5. On one of these 5 days (ideally Sunday) you will run a distance considerably longer than you do on other days. One is advised to start at between 3 to 4 miles a day, and run about 7 on the long run day. As the weeks go by, these distances will gradually be increased. It is important to build gradually, or you may risk injury, which can be a major setback.
Tools: A good pair of running shoes is a 'must have' for every runner. However, getting a pair is not as simple as going to a sports store and picking the one you like best. You are advised to go to a specialty running store, where the staff will help you select a pair of running shoes to cater to your biomechanical needs. Be aware that these shoes can burn a hole in your pocket. In addition, also pick up other apparel such as socks, singlets, shorts, etc., in synthetic blends, that wick away sweat and provide more comfort while running.
Nutrition: If you are wondering what to eat in these months, know that there is much debate about the best nutritional plan. However, the basics remain the same; you need carbohydrates for energy and protein for muscle building and repair. Minimize the presence of fried and high fat foods in your diet, as well as those with empty calories. Apart from your regular daily intake, you will now need 100 calories per mile you run. 65% of these should come from carbohydrates (ideally complex carbohydrates), 10% should come from protein, and 25% should come from unsaturated fats. Staying hydrated is also of utmost importance.
Mentally readying for a marathon is an important part of the overall training process. You have to train your body to listen to your mind, and have to break through many barriers you encounter. Running a marathon requires grit, determination, and perseverance. It is these qualities that are your real trophies, along with a great sense of accomplishment.