Marathon Training for Beginners

Marathon tips from the Hahner twins: From planning to the finish line.

You want to run your first marathon? Congratulations for taking the first step. To help you successfully reach the finish line, the marathon twins Anna and Lisa Hahner are here to guide you through training, nutrition and the run itself.

Anna and Lisa Hahner running

Marathon training: The most important tips at a glance

Do you know the Hahner twins? Lisa and Anna Hahner are Germany’s most well-known marathon runners and authors of the book „Time to Run.“ Anna’s best time is 2:26:44 and Lisa’s is 2:28:39.

1. Goal Management
2. Preparation
... Distance or Time
... Training Programs on the Web
... Training and Daily Life
... Breathing Correctly
... Posture
... Nutrition
3. The Run
... Clothing and Shoes
... The Right Frame of Mind
... Nutrition During the Run

The marathon experts: Interview with Lisa & Anna Hahner

Lisa and Anna Hahner (born 1989) are the best known runners in Germany. Since 2008 the sisters, known as "Hahnertwins", have regularly participated in marathon races. Their greatest successes came at the Rio Marathon 2015 (2nd place) and at the German Championship 2015 (1st place). Lisa and Anna Hahner are also authors of the book "Time to Run" (spomedis-Verlag, 2016).

1. Goal Management

So you want to run a marathon? That’s the first step. But the question arises, whether a half marathon would be better for would-be marathon runners.

Anna and Lisa claim that everyone can run a marathon. But you shouldn’t set your heights too high. The twins mention it is helpful to have already run 1 or 2 half marathons or 10km runs, as short distance runs are a taste of longer ones. Also, running half marathons puts considerably less stress on your joints and muscles.

Anna and Lisa Hahner know from their own experience how meaningful interim goals are: "On the one hand you remain motivated and on the other you can see whether you are on the right track."

Women’s running group
A half marathon is a great way to prepare for a full marathon.

That means even you can conquer a half-marathon. But you won’t cross the finish line with positive thinking alone. The Hahner twins know from experience how important small goals are. Achieving small goals “help keep you motivated and help you see that you are improving.”

Whether your goals are realistic, depends upon how much time and energy you are willing to invest. Before beginning to train, ask yourself these questions: How often a week will you train? Can you commit fix days and hours to training each week? The “more time you have to train, the more ambitious your goals can be.”


2. Preparation

Know what you are training for. You should never run a marathon without having trained for it or else you risk injury. Anna and Lisa mention that you should train at least 3 months if you want to successfully complete a marathon. When training, leave no stone unturned. Anna and Lisa know that a typical marathon training program takes 3 months. But the twins also train daily, even during the offseason. No beginner can sustain such an intense training regime. For beginners, “you should plan to train 6-12 months for your first marathon.“

Anna and Lisa Hahner know that for performance athletes a typical marathon preparation takes three months. However, they run several times a day all year round. A hobby athlete cannot keep up with such an intensive preparation. As a leisure athlete you should therefore plan "six to twelve months of training for your first marathon."

Keep in mind that you may have to train in the winter. But don’t let low temperatures scare you. You can find the Do’s and Dont’s of winter running in the article Jogging in Winter.

Another important fact: The best training program is different for each runner. Regardless, there are important fundamentals of training, that no marathon training plan should leave out, especially for long runs: “Whether you like long runs or not, you can’t do without them.”

Jogger stands in front of steps
Training is different for everyone. Make your training program yours.

Distance or Time

Should you train for distance or time? This question is in the minds of many runners. There is a differing of opinions on the matter. It’s especially difficult to make a decision. The marathon twins think finding a balance is important.

“Both time and distance play an important role when training.“ When training, be sure you can run the 30km before worrying about speed. At the same time, you should „try to run them at a competitive pace.”

To put it shortly: A little of both!

However, the following applies: Try out what is best for you individually and measure the performance of your marathon training accordingly.

Training Programs on the Web

Following a training program is very important and recommended. The program should “be situational and match your athletic output, as training rarely goes as planned.”

How do I find the right training plan?

Static vs. Dynamic

Static training programs lay out a fixed schedule until the day of the event. Neither individual strengths and weaknesses nor the personal situation of the runner are taken into account. This leaves less leeway in case of accidents or unforeseen circumstances and may not cater to the athlete’s individual development. This can lead to frustration or athletic stagnation.

A dynamic training program can get around this with the help of running apps. The user can send feedback about the training circuits, so the training plan can get the most of its user. In cases of unforeseen circumstances, like sickness or injury, a dynamic trainings plan allows the user to more easily start and stop.

If you have to pause your training several weeks before the marathon, you should focus on racking up Miles and Kilometers once you begin running again. If your training pause happens closer to the marathon, your health is the most important: Shoot for a slower time or decide against the marathon.

Tip: The Hahnertwins Running Club

Besides the app, the marathon sisters run the Hahner twins’ Running Club (HR-Club) (in German). Those who join receive motivational messages and mental tips from both experts, individual run analyses, a big community with 4-6 group runs a year and much more.

Building muscle, strength training & stretching

Finding the right Training Program

Besides apps, you can find tips and tricks to marathon preparation online, like the Runner‘s World for example. But not all training programs are the same. While some help readers cross the finish line, others help readers get under 4:30 hours. Choose the one that matches your fitness level.

A performance analysis or placement run can help you find the right training program. Performance analyses or performance diagnostics are provided by doctors, hospitals and specialized stores. While running on a treadmill, your maximum oxygen absorption level will be measured, meaning you’ll know when your body is running at an oxygen deficit. You can then utilise these values to get the most out of your training. You can do a placement run yourself with the help of an app. From there, you can find the right plan.

Simulate a competition

Anna and Lisa Hahner advise you do the following to prepare you for competition: "Do as you would on the day of the big run: Get up at the same time, same breakfast, put on the same clothes, same food". That way, your body knows what to expect on the day of the marathon.


Training and Daily Life

Combining Training and everyday life is no easy task! Work, kids, family and marathon training, all in one? No problem.

“Treat running like an appointment you’d put on a calendar. You’ll find yourself treating it as such. Try biking to work and then running back home in the evening. The next day, run to work and bike back. That way you can do the environment a service and feel good while doing it!”

For the last two weeks, keep in mind: Reduce the frequency and intensity of your runs before the event. Instead of running, taper. Tapering is a reduction of training intensity.

Alongside tapering, a healthy balanced breakfast and plenty of sleep is very important.

Family jogging together with baby buggy
Running enthusiasts have to balance sport, family and work

Breathing Correctly

„Breathing is an important component of maximising your energy output and ensures you reach your peak performance potential.” Normally, your body automatically regulates your breathing. If not, the Hahner twins recommend Pilates and yoga. “So that you become more attuned with your breathing – that also applies to men!”

When running, pay attention that you breath with your mouth, so that you can take in more oxygen. For efficient breathing, it’s also essential that you run with a correct and relaxed posture.


Have you ever watched someone jog? While each has their own running style, you should brush up on the basics. Running with poor posture wastes energy and can even lead to injury.

You can find out how to develop the right running form in our guide "The right running technique".


It is a known fact that nutrition plays a crucial role in training. But is it true?

While Training for the Marathon

“A healthy and sensible diet promotes athletic performance. We pay careful attention that the food we consume is rich in protein and fresh.”

Even the twins indulge with cake once in a while. Anna and Lisa don’t skip sugary foods, but they also don’t overdo it.

Immediately after training, we recommend a shake from milk and fruit.


Before the Marathon

During Training

Eat roughly 3 hours before running. Best are foods easy to digest, which have little fat.

“We like to eat porridge in the morning before a run. The oats are filling and contain plenty of protein. With a dash of cinnamon and a bit of fresh fruit, you have a delicious breakfast.”

Running Shoes and Fruit
A balanced diet is a building block to success.

3. The Run

The big day has arrived and you stand before the starting line. But what should you wear? And what if you suddenly lose motivation or the energy to continue while running? Quick, help!

Clothing and Shoes

Be sure to check the weather in advance and wear similar clothing to those you wore when training. Since marathons usually start early, dress warmer to deal with morning fog or mist. Once you get started, you’ll warm up.

Our Tip: Start the run with an old sweatshirt or a plastic poncho, which you can leave on the side of the road. Ponchos are often part of the participation package from the organiser. As an alternative, you can also make neck and arm holes from a rubbish bag.

The Right Frame of Mind

Lisa and Anna recommend positive thinking. It especially helps for running, get excited over improvements! “Every step that you take is a step closer to your goal.” You can use the euphoria and enthusiasm of the crowd in order to motivate yourself and win positive energy.

Use the excitement and enthusiasm of the crowd to motivate you. It is of course ideal if family and friends support and cheer you on.

By the way: More detailed tips on mental strength and motivation can be found in our guidebook "Mental Training in Sports" by mental trainer Andreas Mamerow.

Nutrition During the Run

Besides the mental component, nutrition during the run plays an important role in your stamina. Make sure to drink enough water during the run. How much and when depends on the air temperature, your own weight and running speed.

Besides drinking enough water, getting enough calories through carbohydrates is very important. Energy bars are perfect as they are packed with carbohydrates, which your body can easily convert to energy. If you don’t get enough energy, you can go hungry and under perform.

Important: Regarding provisions and equipment, make sure you try nothing new come race time. Wear what you know and eat/drink what you know. On the day of the race, your body should be used to the food and clothing, so that you don’t run into any problems.

A women crosses the finish line
The finish line is your goal.

Great Job!

You made it! You have all the tips and tricks you need to successfully begin training for your first marathon. If the mind stands in your way, check out the article mental training in sports.


Images: Cover image: © Hahnertwins; Images: © iStock/sanjeri; © iStock/jelenahinic; © iStock/Halfpoint; © Hahnertwins; © iStock/Halfpoint; © iStock/FatCamera