How to Train for a Marathon
Have you ever wondered whether or not you could run a marathon? Have you long felt envious of friends and work colleagues who have participated in marathons and thought to yourself “Well, maybe next year”? Have you dreamed of sharing in this glorious moment, yet always been held back by self-doubt because you’re a beginner?
With The London Marathon, one of the biggest events in the global running calendar, just around the corner (26th April 2020, now postponed to 4th October 2020) your thoughts may well have turned to the prospect of running a marathon once again. You may wonder if you’ll be able to do it or whether you have enough time to train. Here we’ll provide you with practical advice to help you train for a marathon, whether it’s the London Marathon or any of our nation’s other great races this year.
Can you do it? YES, you can!
Whether you’re thinking of running your first marathon for a charity that means a lot to you, for work or simply to test your mettle, don’t let your lack of self-belief hold you back a moment longer. Can you do it? Yes, you can! And here we’ll show you exactly how you can. As long as you stay motivated and keep a clear eye on your goals, absolutely nothing can stop you!
How long does it take to train for a marathon?
This depends on a number of factors including your current fitness level, your overall health and how many opportunities you have to train per week. It’s entirely possible to go from couch-to-marathon in as little as 24 weeks. For those of a reasonable fitness level, getting marathon-ready can take as little as 12 weeks as part of a vigorous training plan.
Those at the start of their training regimen should start out by running 20 miles per week and aim to build their weekly mileage up incrementally to 50 miles per week in the lead up to race day. Ideally they should make time for 3-5 long runs per week. The majority of these runs should be done at a nice, gentle pace. Aim to do one long run every 7-10 days and keep building your base mileage in your shorter runs.
Always consult your doctor before embarking on marathon training.
Practical marathon training tips
Whatever your personal goals, we all need a helping hand in our training every now and then. Whether you’re a veteran runner or are just getting off the couch for the first time, you need to train smart to get yourself ready for race day while also mitigating your risk of injury while training. Here are some practical marathon training tips to ensure that you get the most out of your training…
Supplement your running with strength training
As well as your 3-5 runs a week, you should also make some time to spend in the gym. After all, running requires strong muscles as well as cardiovascular fitness. Of paramount importance is strengthening the core. Good core strength helps to ensure proper body alignment and prevents your form from breaking down when you get tired running at a marathon pace.
Be wary of over-training
Your training should not exceed 5 runs a week, including one long run that gets you closer and closer to marathon length every 7-10 days. Anything more than this and you risk over-training. Your body needs to recover after heavy exertion, especially after your long runs. It’s a good idea to take a rest day after your long run and include a “cut back week” every 2-4 weeks.
Incorporate speed work
Even if you’re not trying to shave time off a personal best, it’s a good idea to incorporate speed work such as intervals or tempo runs into your training. These will help to improve your cardiovascular and respiratory fitness to make your gentler runs easier and more enjoyable.
Practice eating and drinking while running
When marathon day arrives you’re going to need to make use of refueling and rehydrating stations. And if you’re not accustomed to eating and drinking on the go this can feel really strange and throw you off your game. Try getting used to it with an isotonic drink, energy gels or energy bars during training.
Massage with a foam roller after training
The last thing you need is to be unable to move after a particularly intense long run. Using a foam roller for 10 minutes of self-myofascial release 3 or 4 times a week can be a huge aid to recovery. It can prevent over inflammation and restore the structural integrity of muscle tissues. This means less downtime, more efficient recovery, optimal performance and less chance of injury.
Listen to your body
Aches, pains and hitting the wall are all well-known components of marathon running and training. But in your zeal to power on through, don’t make the mistake of not listening to your body. Furthermore, you should also make sure to fuel your body properly if you expect to achieve peak performance in training and when running. The Running Channel has some great advice on how to fuel your long runs…
Marathon training apps
As in most things, there are a wealth of mobile apps that can help you in your marathon training, helping you to track your progress, stay safe and remain motivated;
Nike Run Club – Everything you need in a running app with guided workouts and personal coaching plans to help you stay motivated.
Strava – Great for tracking your performance and measuring it against that of others in your area.
Runtastic – Not only a great tracking app but fantastic for keeping you motivated when your body would rather do anything than run.
RunGo – Stay safe and never worry about getting lost with RunGo, which provides you with real-time directions so you don’t need to memorise your route.
Marathon day preparation
After all that training, marathon day is finally upon you. Now it’s just a case of ensuring that you’re well prepared on the big day so that your performance matches all that effort you’ve put in. Here are some tips for your marathon day prep:
- Keep well hydrated. Take a big drink of water the night before and another big drink the morning of.
- Eat a modest breakfast that’s high in complex carbohydrates such as a bowl of porridge, cereal bar, wholemeal bagel or fruit.
- Use Vaseline on areas prone to chafing.
- Remember to go to the toilet 30-40 minutes before the start time (and expect long queues).
- Make sure you’re not overdressed as your body temperature will rise exponentially over the course of the race.
- If you usually run to music, check in advance with the race organisers if you’re allowed to wear headphones.
- Try to keep your pace slow and steady, especially at the start of the race.
Post marathon recovery
Congratulations, you’ve run your first marathon and proved to yourself and the world that you can do it! But it’s important to remember that you’ve just put your body through a tremendous amount of strain. You need to be kind to yourself in recovery to get yourself back up and running again quickly. Lie down as soon as possible and try to elevate your legs for at least 10 minutes. This can help reduce your risk of injury. Get yourself a nutritious, high-carb meal as soon as possible to replace diminished energy reserves. Get a light “recovery rub” from a massage therapist and take a cool bath to help combat inflammation.
Get an early night and make sure you’ve booked the day after the marathon off work to dedicate to your recovery.