Here are your essential first steps to running a half-marathon, marathon or ultra-marathon:

First Steps

Eric Gillis, an Olympic marathoner, who lives and trains in Guelph, Ontario, says it’s a good idea to sit down and talk about running the distance with an experienced marathoner. He or she can help point you in the right direction and give you some good tips straight off the top. Next, Gillis advises to look for some running partners or a coach to help you get started.

Building on that, Greg Wieczorek, a Halifax runner and 2:25 marathoner who writes marathon plans and coaches others through his website, Project PB, advises joining a local running group led by an experienced marathoner. “Experienced runners have gone through the process themselves and have a wealth of knowledge in order to help you proceed safely,” he says.

Training Plans

Cliff Matthews, a running coach since the 1960s in Halifax who has coached many of the city’s fastest marathoners, says don’t jump into things too fast — be patient and be consistent. “The ideal scenario would be to have some type of goal in line with and realistic with your past history,” Matthews says. “[People often] want to try and do too much too soon or lose sight of the fact that marathon running is very demanding in general.”

Wieczorek tells runners to increase their total weekly mileage as well as their weekly long-run gradually over a period of months. He suggests weekly mileage should go up no more than 10 per cent per week, while the longest run of the week shouldn’t be more than 25 to 30 per cent of the weekly total. Every third or fourth week should be devoted to recovery, dropping the distance back to about 75 per cent of the previous week’s maximum. “Outside of these guidelines you dramatically increase your chances of injury,” he says.

Matthews divides a 24-week training plan into quarters. The first six weeks focuses on base building with one weekly long run; the second six-week phase introduces runners to speed-work, with some faster-paced but shorter-interval runs designed to help with leg turnover and form. The third six-week period is the most intense, concentrating on runs at marathon pace, and harder speed-work sessions at a three- to five-kilometre run pace. The final phase is the “taper,” during which training volume drops, but intensity remains high for two weeks and then mileage drops in the recovery period before the race.

Gillis says runners should learn to focus on their goals. “When you’re first starting out, be very flexible in what your goals are. You’re going to realize the learning curve is very steep and that you’ve never done this before. Be open-minded to change and that it’s not going to go as well as you thought or it’s going to be different — and you’re OK with that.”


Look for shoes with some cushioning, but that are still lightweight. An excellent choice is the New Balance 890 V4. At 241 grams, the shoe is light. The shoe’s ABZORB crash pad in the heel and the foam midsole makes for a springy ride while reducing road-shock from every foot strike. Overall, it has a nice light fit that will make you forget they’re even on your feet — perfect for race day.

For training, consider Brooks’ Glycerin 11. At 335 grams and with Brooks’ DNA cushioning, the Glycerin is a comfortable shoe for the long runs ahead. The shoe’s upper uses 3D print overlays to cut down on weight and ensure a snug fit. Brooks also removed the shank in the sole in previous models to enhance runners’ contact with the ground for an extra-smooth run.

As equally important as shoes, but something runners often pay little attention to, are socks. The best socks on the market come from Balega. The company employs a number of high-tech yarns along with high-thread counts to create cushioned socks that don’t cause blisters. Their Blister Resist model, for example, contains Drynamix with natural mohair wool for a blister-free, cushioned run.

Nutrition & Hydration

Wieczorek says a key component of distance running is teaching the body to burn fat as fuel. The liver can only store a finite amount of glycogen, which powers the body and comes from carbohydrates. Therefore, you need to learn how to take in sufficient carbs from sports drinks and energy gels along the way. Gillis adds that a general rule of thumb is to take in 50 grams of carbs per hour. It’s a good idea to practice taking in water on the run, as you’ll need to take advantage of water stations along the route to stay properly hydrated. As Gillis notes, if you fail to get the fluids and nutrition, “it will be a long, long race.”

Author’s Picks:“I like to use Gu energy gels, usually about one every 10 km during a marathon. Also worth mentioning are Nunn salt tablets. I dissolve one in water and they help keep the electrolyte balance up.”