Anyone in good health can compete in a marathon, but being able to cross the finish line requires months of training and preparation. And training the mind to stay focused, confident and positive is just as important as training the body. The American Council on Exercise's top 10 tips for completing a marathon will help make the 26.2-mile journey a positive and thrilling experience for those who are willing to give it their all for the first time or for the 10th time.

  1. Get in shape

    Give yourself at least 12 weeks to get in shape and run the marathon. You want to be sure that your muscles and tendons are ready to handle the added stress of a high-volume running program.

  2. Slowly increase your mileage

    When the time comes to start adding longer runs, start with a 6- to 8-mile run and slowly increase by no more than 10 to 15 percent each week.

  3. Vary your training

    Once you have a strong base of aerobic fitness, use interval training and hill runs to increase your speed, strength and endurance. Just be sure to follow a speed or hill day with a lighter training day or a rest day.

  4. Slow down for distance runs

    It is more important that you get used to the time on your feet and get your body prepared to go the distance than to worry about your pace on your long runs. Your pace on distance runs should be 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your average training pace.

  5. Rest

    Giving your body enough time to recover from long, hard runs is just as important as the training itself. The 24- to 48-hour time period between runs is when your body repairs and replenishes your muscles and when strength gains are made.

  6. Wear proper running shoes

    A runner's foot hits the ground around 1,500 times per mile while absorbing two-and-a-half to three times your body weight with each step. Support your feet with appropriate shoes, and replace your shoes at least once every 300 miles.

  7. Dress appropriately for the weather

    Dress in layers, and choose clothing and socks that wick away moisture and keep your skin dry.

  8. Practice your diet

    Fueling before, during and after your run is essential for preventing unwanted pit stops and bonking (hitting the wall) from a lack of energy. Race day is not the time to try something new, so figure out ahead of time what foods and fluids work best for you.

  9. Stay hydrated

    Start every training run well-hydrated and try to consume 6 to 8 ounces of water or a sports drink containing electrolytes every 10 to 15 minutes if possible.

  10. Stay focused and positive

    Always run with a relaxed and positive mind set. Focus on your goal for that day and how good you will feel when you complete it.