You’ve finally accepted the challenge. You’ve signed up for the big race and now there’s no turning back. Now comes the toughest part – actually training for a marathon. As if running more than 26 miles wasn’t enough of a task, it’ll take numerous weeks and plenty of determination to adequately prepare yourself for the physical challenges experienced during a marathon. For first-time marathon runners, it can be easy to slip into rookie mistakes when it comes to getting your mind and body ready for what many athletes consider to be the ultimate test of endurance. From training styles to nutritional habits and proper athletic recovery, here are a few tips for first-time marathon runners to consider when preparing for their big race:

When to start training

One of the hardest things to effectively gauge is when exactly should you begin training for a marathon. While a lot of this depends on how in-shape you already are, it’s always a good idea to be better safe than sorry when it comes to adequately preparing yourself. A good rule of thumb to consider for first-time marathoners to begin their training is a week for every mile you’ll run, so 26 weeks. If you’re a seasoned veteran at participating shorter length races, or run very regularly, then you could get away with training for 16 weeks leading up to the race.

Know your limits

As ambitious as a goal running just over 26 miles is, understanding and obeying your body’s limits will help cater to the most important factor of the race: your health. Your training session should be a gradual buildup to the big event, and if you find yourself completely out of breath after just a five-mile jog during your first week of training, there’s no need to keep pushing yourself. The worst thing you can do during your training process is to go above and beyond to the point that you injure yourself, in which case a marathon will most likely be out of the question.

Figure out your routine

Just because you’re running every week in the months leading up to a marathon race doesn’t mean you’re training correctly. You’ll need to plot out and schedule at least four to five days a week to devote to running during this time to appropriately get your body adjusted to the idea of enduring 26 miles. In the first month of training, you should be attempting to run as much as a marathon in one week, so five days of running five miles should do the trick. You’ll also need to appropriately schedule out your rest days, as it’s always a good idea to devote one day of relaxation for every two days you train.

Weekly goals

The gradual buildup before running a marathon will be more efficient if you’re providing yourself with weekly goals to accomplish all throughout training. If you’re planning on training for 16 weeks, you can divide distance goals into four sections, with four weeks practicing running for six miles, the next four weeks covering 12 miles, and so on until you’ve steadily paced yourself to know what to expect when it comes to running the full length. If your race time is more of a concern to you, do the same regimen but add timing goals to your practices.

Marathon nutrition

While eating healthier during your training process is essentially a given, understanding how to practice proper nutrition while you’re running is the real trick to proper preparation. When you’re running for 26 miles, it’s typically a good rule of thumb to refuel your body every half hour to 45 minutes. This means knowing which types of sport drinks or energy bars will not upset your stomach during the course of the race is extremely important. Use your training process as a time to experiment with what types of energy sources work best with your body. As for nutrition outside of running, carbohydrates are truly your best friend. Runner’s World suggests getting at least 50 percent of your carbohydrate intake from lean protein sources, and also consuming many whole grains, fruits and vegetables throughout the day.

Changing tempo

It’s impossible to expect to keep the same tempo of running throughout the entire marathon. Knowing when to turn it on or turn it down is essential to building endurance tolerance. If you’re up to running 10 miles a day, keep a sufficient pace for at least three to four miles, while devoting the next mile or two to a recovery jog before picking the tempo back up again.

Outside of training

It’s inevitable that what you do outside of the training process can impact your overall performance. Aside from nutrition, frequently stretching to increase flexibility is essential for preparing your muscles for such a long journey. You should also be hydrating more throughout the day, drinking at least eight to 16 ounces of water daily. Keeping a personal massager handy when you get home from a day of training can also help alleviate any tension built up in sore muscles.