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Every year, more than a million people around the world run a marathon. For some, it will be one of many, but for others, it will be a highlight of their lives. If you’re drawn to the challenge and excitement of running a “26.2” this year (or sometime in the future), you’ve got work to do. And we’re here to help.

Most marathoners train for about 16 weeks to prepare, which means starting now for a fall race. The first four to eight weeks are about building a strong foundation: learning how to eat, creating a healthy mind-set and laying down base miles, which are easier runs that are building blocks for the months ahead. The process can be intimidating, but by following a clear plan, you can arrive at the starting line feeling fresh and ready to go.

“Your goal right now is preparation, building a fundamental strength and endurance base to enable you to complete harder workouts down the road,” said Jason Fitzgerald, owner of the Strength Running coaching practice.

That means focusing on lower-effort miles where you can accomplish the “three Cs,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “You should be comfortable, controlled and conversational.”

Aliphine Tuliamuk, who is one of America’s top marathoners with a personal best of just two hours and 24 minutes, said that this early before a fall marathon, she runs about two minutes per mile slower than her pace will be in the marathon. “I let my body tell me how easy to go, and don’t even check my watch until I get home,” she said.

You can choose an even slower pace, of course. Start by setting a weekly goal of one long run (minimum of 10 miles) as well as three to four runs in the range of four to six miles. For a half marathon, the long run can be three to four miles, complemented by two other short runs.

You should also do strength training about twice a week for about 30 minutes each session. You can do body weight exercises or lift weights, whichever works best. Think basic moves, like squats, lunges, dead lifts and core work. “This will make your body more resilient to injury,” Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Skip the high-burn workouts like HIIT or CrossFit, since you’re getting plenty of cardiovascular exercise from your running.

In addition to easy miles, start training your neuromuscular system. To do this, Mr. Fitzgerald recommended something called “strides” twice a week.

  • Find a stretch of road or sidewalk about 100 meters long. Starting from a standstill, gradually accelerate your running until you’re going nearly all out, then back off to finish. Walk back to the start and repeat three to five more times. You can also perform hill strides on short, steep hills, accelerating for about eight to 10 seconds before slowing and repeating.

These early foundational weeks are the right time to consider your nutrition to prepare for the coming training. Holley Samuels, a dietitian in New Hampshire who regularly works with runners, said that if you run in the morning, it’s important to eat first.

“One of the most common mistakes I see is that marathoners struggle to meet their nutritional needs,” she added. “And coffee should not be your unit of energy.”

Before running, especially first thing in the morning, eat simple carbohydrates, such as graham crackers, a banana or applesauce, which provide quick energy. Then replenish with protein and carbohydrates within an hour afterward, Ms. Samuels said. “This will help you recover faster,” she explained. Think along the lines of cottage cheese with berries, honey and granola, a smoothie with a Greek yogurt base or plant-based foods such as a grain with a legume.

Now is a good time to have a doctor check your blood, too, so that you’ll know if you’re entering marathon training deficient in any important micronutrients, such as iron, vitamin D or ferritin.

At the beginning of marathon training, many runners are full of enthusiasm, said Carrie Jackson, a mental-skills coach in sports psychology. That can be challenging to maintain over four months, however, so begin training your mind to stay motivated now. “This is a good time to really understand why you are doing this,” she said. “There’s a sacrifice involved with marathon training, and you need to believe that sacrifice is worth it.”

Set yourself up with short-term goals, like running on consecutive days, and cross off days on a calendar as you progress. You can also begin practicing visualizations.

“Picture yourself crossing the finish line, feeling the sweat rolling down your face and hearing the crowds cheering you on,” Ms. Jackson said. “Control the image, and make it as vivid as possible.” Ingraining these sensations early in training will motivate you later when you hit challenging moments.

Building structure into your days can also help your motivation and tamp down stress. Ms. Tuliamuk plans out when she will run, when she’ll need child care and even when she can squeeze in a nap. Above all else, she said, stick with your program.

“Consistency rewards,” she said. “Day in, day out is how you get it done.”

Amanda Loudin is a freelance writer covering health and science.

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