What does it take to run a marathon?

This Sunday is the 41 st New York City Marathon. More than 40,000 people will run 26.2 miles in the five boroughs, making it the largest marathon in the world. The allure of such a great physical test is tempting for professional athletes, everyday runners, and celebrities alike. Heck, Oprah, Will Ferrell, and P. Diddy have all gone the distance.

This year, you're likely to hear more about the New York City Marathon in the media than you ever have before (if you have at all.) That's because Chilean miner Number 12, Edison Peña, will run from Staten Island to Manhattan. While the 33 miners were trapped half a mile underground for 69 days, Peña ran. He covered up to six miles a day by running back and forth in mine passages, listening to Elvis Presley on an iPod. Peña has never run more than 10 miles at one time, but on Sunday, he'll further test his mettle as the world watches.

Video: Preview the NYC marathon and its exciting course.

If you watch the race or hear about Peña on the news and think that maybe you'd want to try a marathon, too, here's an overview on training to go 26.2.

Who can do it?

You don't have to be a life-long runner to train for a marathon. Runner's World recommends 16-week beginner training plans for people who have run for at least one year and regularly average 15 to 25 miles per week. Consult your doctor if you didn't do so before beginning your running routine or if you have any health conditions.

Pick a Race...

Many marathons are in the spring or fall, but pick one that your local weather will allow you to train comfortably for. Although you can get in some good running on a treadmill, most marathoners say that the best preparation for an outdoor race is training outdoors as well. If you live in southern states, a winter or spring marathon will mean less training in the summer swelter. If you live in midwestern states, training for a spring race through the extended winter's cold and snow would be difficult, so a fall marathon may be best. Once you've picked the race, sign up right away. Getting it on the calendar will jump start your motivation.

Get Going: Find a race near you.

…And a Training Plan

Next, you need a training plan that outlines when and how much to run and when to rest. Runner's World's beginner marathon plans call for 4 days of running and 3 days of rest per week. These are all easy runs with a focus on the long run. The long runs start at 5 miles and gradually build to 20 miles, usually adding on two miles per week (plus a few cut-back weeks to give your body a chance to recover). Two or three weeks before the race, you'll reduce your weekly mileage so your body is well rested for the big day.

Try these exclusive Runner's World Training Plans.

So, why only go up to 20 miles when the race is 6.2 miles longer than that? People generally run faster on race day than they do during their training runs, thereby covering more ground in the same time. That, plus on race day, you'll be strong and rested and there will be cheering spectators. Running those last six miles in training just isn't worth the risk of injury.

Address lingering injuries

Do you have a sore hip or a balky knee? See a sports doctor before you begin training. Tell them that you're going to run a marathon and you want to strengthen that body part to withstand the training.

Listen To Your Body: Where does it hurt?

Buy a good pair of shoes

You'll be running more miles than you ever have before so it's important to have high-quality footwear. Head to a specialty running store to have your gait analyzed. The employees will recommend a shoe that has the right balance of support and cushioning for your body. Here are our best tips for buying the right shoes for you.

Our experts solve your shoe conundrums.

Strengthen Your Core

The muscles in your abdominals, lower back, and glutes provide the stability, power, and endurance you'll need for powering up hills and maintaining efficient form mile after mile, when you're fatigued. Simple planks will do the trick. Rest on your forearms and toes and hold the position for 10 seconds with your back stick straight. Repeat three times, three times a week. Add five seconds each week.

Long Run 101

Long runs are the most important element of marathon training. For first timers, their purpose is to get you used to spending long periods on your feet. Since these workouts are much longer than the majority of your runs, they require a few special considerations:

1. Eat on the Run

On runs 75 minutes or less, you can rely on your body's glycogen stores to power you through. But on longer runs, you need carbs and electrolytes. You don't have to slurp down gels if you don't want to-real food like pretzels or fig newtons will do, but can be more unwieldy to carry. There are also several kinds of sport chews-think of them as nutritious fruit snacks. You should start taking in carbs between 30 and 60 minutes into your workout. The ideal is 100 to 250 calories (or 25 to 60 grams of carbs) per hour, after the first hour of running.

2. Refuel Quickly

Eat a snack containing carbs and protein within 30 minutes after finishing your run. Carbs will top off your glycogen supply and protein will help repair muscles that were stressed by the run.

3. Cool Down

Taking a 10-20 minute ice bath or cold water bath will help reduce inflammation and soreness. Fill the tub with just enough water to cover your legs. Multitask by having your post-run snack while you soak. Wrap yourself in a towel or wear a sweatshirt to stay warm.

Making your long runs count.

Race Day

Your goal should be to cross the finish line smiling-you can worry about hitting a certain time during your second marathon. If you're interested to know about how long it will take you, Runner's World Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso says you can expect to run about 10% faster per mile in the race than you do during long runs.

Are you race ready?

Is anyone training for their first marathon? Anyone considering signing up for one in 2011?

Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.

[photo credit: ThinkStock]

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