Training for a marathon is a big commitment, but it doesn’t have to be stressful if you have a good plan and the right resources. In this chapter, we’ll go through some preliminary steps to choosing a marathon, setting your goals, and getting the right gear to carry you through your marathon training and to the finish line.
How Long Does It Take To Marathon Training?
For many runners, the desire to do a marathon training is about personal challenge. You might want to test your limits or prove that you can go the distance. Perhaps a friend has talked you into it. Maybe you’d like to lose weight, get healthier or raise awareness for a charity.
Whatever your reason, hold on to it and remind yourself of it often during the months that lie ahead. When your legs are tired or the weather is nasty, maintaining your motivation will help you get out the door.
Most typical marathon training plans are 16 to 20 weeks long. During this time, you’ll typically run three to five times a week, increasing your mileage as you get nearer to race day. On the other days, you can cross train, do some low intensity exercise (think yoga or Pilates) and, most importantly, rest your legs, allowing them to fully recover.
Running a marathon is a huge achievement. Getting to the start line fit, healthy and fully prepared is a challenge in itself. If you’re planning to take on running 26.2 miles in the near future, you’ll need to dedicate yourself to training for a good few months. But it will all be worth it when you cross that finish line and receive your medal.Marathons have been growing in popularity as more and more runners look to push themselves over longer distances. And, after saying they’ll only do it once, many go on to run more than one marathon. It’s good to remember this because it means that while it’s going to be hard work, there’s clearly something magical about the marathon that keeps drawing runners back.
Participating in a marathon should be a fun, rewarding and safe experience. However, preparing for a marathon requires a lot of time, discipline and commitment, and can often feel overwhelming and, in some cases, result in injury. This is especially true if you are new to running or are running your first marathon.
There are a variety of effective and detailed marathon training plans available for beginner, intermediate and advanced runners. A sports medicine specialist can help design a specific training plan for your level.
Here are some tips from specialists that will help you get the most out of your marathon training. And remember, it’s not just about how fast you finish the race, it’s about avoiding injury and having fun.
Marathon Training: Getting Started
Marathon Training Plans
Find the right training plan – one that suits both your target time and current fitness – and you’re halfway there. The other half is following that training plan closely, which is admittedly a lot harder than picking it.
You might wonder why you can’t just go out and do whatever running you want when training for a marathon. It’s just running after all, so doing a load of running in the build-up will help you, right? Not quite. A structured plan involves a variety of runs that prepare you to complete 42.2km in as smooth a fashion as possible. It also builds up gradually to reduce your risk of injury. If you just go out and run at the same (probably too fast) pace all the time, your training will become a real chore and you’re likely to burn out or get injured well before your race.
Coach has a range of 14-week training plans for all aims and abilities, and each of them involves several types of run. There are interval sessions to help build your speed, tempo runs to improve your ability to sustain your marathon pace, and long runs to build the endurance required to complete 42.2km in one go. Each plan also includes a lot of easy running, which helps to condition your body for the marathon while also allowing it to recover from your harder runs. The balance of all these is key – even if you’re an experienced runner, that balance is very easy to get wrong if you’re simply winging your preparation for an event.
Now you’re presumably convinced by the merits of following a marathon training plan, it’s time to pick yours. Below you’ll find more info on all our free training plans to help you find the one that’s right for you.
Picking Your Marathon Running Shoes
Let’s start at the bottom. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in the shoes you use for your marathon training, so it’s important to get the right ones. If you already have a preferred style and brand, then stick with them – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. If it is broke, in that you are uncomfortable in your shoes or pick up a lot of injuries, or if you’re a beginner runner with no shoes at all, then it’s worth getting your gait analysed.
Many running shoe shops perform a gait analysis free. A quick run on a treadmill will help an expert ascertain if you overpronate (where your foot rolls too far inwards when it lands) or underpronate (it doesn’t roll far enough), or if you are a neutral runner. More advanced gait analysis will also look at how your entire body moves when running, but this is probably only worth doing if you are suffering from a lot of injuries and then it’s best to visit a physio for advice.
Once you know the right type of shoes for you, test some on a treadmill in the store if possible. Going for whatever feels best is a good rule, even if it runs counter to advice from others.
You want a well-cushioned shoe for marathon training, because you’ll be racking up a lot of distance. If you can stretch to more than one pair, it may also be worth buying a lighter, less cushioned pair for faster interval sessions in training and maybe race day itself.
One last point in this section: do not, under any circumstances, buy a shiny new pair of shoes at your marathon expo and wear them for the first time on race day. That goes for all your gear – you want tried-and-tested stuff that won’t annoy, chafe or injure you.
The Running Gear You Need For A Marathon Training
When it comes to your marathon outfit, it’s worth investing in technical garb that wicks sweat away and doesn’t irritate. Don’t forget to extend these principles to your socks and underwear. You might only run one marathon in your life, so it’s worth splashing out on some top-quality kit to make sure the memory isn’t ruined by blisters or shudders chafing.
You’ll also need a method to carry some kind of sustenance with you while you run. There will be drinks on the course, but if you’re using energy gels or bars, you should bring ones that you’re used to with you to avoid any stomach… unpleasantness. A running belt with space for your gels, phone and headphones is a useful purchase. You could buy a running armband instead, but in our opinion belts are better.
As you get into multi-hour runs with extended mileage, you’ll need a system to bring fuel and water with you. A hydration waist belt can store 1-2 standard bottles, but can bounce while running, especially when fully loaded. A handheld bottle is another option, and some handles include a pouch for nutrition or a credit card as well. One bottle may not be enough for a longer run. A well-fitted hydration vest is a good, low-bounce option for when you need to carry food, extra water, and even layers with you. But it can be somewhat bulky depending on the design and brand you choose. Whichever system you go with, make sure you test it thoroughly before race day.
Clothing for running is relatively straightforward. Choose pieces that are light and breathable, and that you feel comfortable and happy wearing. Again, you’ll be spending many miles together, so make sure you have support where you need it and ventilation where it counts! For cold weather running, remember you’ll be generating a lot of heat once you get moving. You might be surprised how light you can layer even when it feels cold outside!
Wear your sunscreen, get a hat, and find a pair of sunglasses that won’t bounce or slide off your face. You’ll be more comfortable on long runs, and you’ll recover better if you’re not dealing with a sunburn!
It’s your choice how you and your coach choose to use data, but we recommend at least training with heart rate. You’ll be able to use this single metric to gauge your training stress, measure progress, and even figure out when you’re getting sick before the first symptoms hit. Some wrist-based heart rate monitors don’t even require a chest strap!
You can take your tracking to the next level with GPS data, which will give you your distance, pace, elevation, and other valuable metrics to track your progress.
Marathon Training Tips
Alternate easy and hard days of training.
Your individual training schedule will depend on your level. However, one basic principle that applies to all runners is to alternate easy days of training with hard days, which include long runs or speed work. For instance, you never want to run two hard days in a row, even if you recently missed a day of training. Running on hilly terrain greatly improves your stamina and strength. Regular runs on hills should become part of your training program, which is easy to do in San Francisco.
Run with others.
Although some people prefer to train and run by themselves, finding a partner or group who also is preparing for a marathon, can provide support, advice, structure and motivation.
Warm up and cool down.
Warming up and cooling down are essential parts of every run and should not be skipped. By properly warming up and cooling down, you can prevent injuries and get the most out of your workout or race.
During a warm up, you will gradually prepare your heart, lungs, muscles and tendons for the exertion of each training run or race. It can last anywhere from 5 to 60 minutes, and should include:
Gentle loosening exercises
Event specific exercise, such as sprinting or jumping over hurdles or running strides at race speed
As soon as you finish a workout or race, you should begin your cool down, which not only helps your body recover but also prepares it for its next workout. A cool down can include about 10 minutes of some easy running or jogging to encourage the heart and lungs to gradually return to their normal rates. This is also the best time for stretching and self massage, because your muscles are very loose. Stretching gets your muscles ready for the next day’s workout. During stretching exercises, you should hold the position for between 15 to 20 seconds, and repeat two or three times per area.
How To Fuel Your Running
During your training the main general dietary advice is to ensure you’re eating enough carbs to fuel your exercise, protein to help your muscles rebuild and recover, and fruit and vegetables to keep your immune system in good shape – especially if you’re training in the winter.
You need to also start thinking about in-run nutrition and hydration when your training runs are longer than 90 minutes. Make sure you increase your carb consumption before those runs, and consider carrying gels or another source of carbs with you to restock during the run. Running gels are popular because they are easy to carry and consume on the move.
Staying hydrated is also vital, and this means topping up electrolytes like sodium as well as glugging down plenty of water. Sports drinks contain electrolytes as well as carbs, or you can buy tablets you dissolve in water to create an electrolyte-rich drink.
For your final few long runs before the marathon you should be trying to replicate the nutrition you will be using on race day itself so your body gets used to the gels and drinks. Gels in particular can upset your stomach, and how they affect you varies from brand to brand, so keep trying till you find one that works for you.
How To Avoid Injury
When training for a marathon most people do a lot more running than they have ever done before. Hopefully this should not be news to you. Given that the most common cause of running injuries like plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, shin splints and achilles tendonitis is a rapid uptick in the amount of running done, it’s not surprising that lots of would-be marathoners are struck down with injury during their training.
A gradual, managed increase in your training mileage is key to avoiding injury. If you’re following a training plan, this will be taken into account. If you don’t follow a particular plan, try and avoid massive increases in your total weekly distance – making consistent increases of around 3-5km is a good rule to follow when marathon training.
If you miss a couple of weeks for whatever reason, you’ll also need to adjust your plan accordingly. It’s unwise to go in at week eight, for example, if you missed six and seven. Instead look at what you did in week five and build a little faster than on the plan, maybe catching up with the plan by week 12 or so. This is especially true for your long runs. If you haven’t run for two weeks and try to knock out the 25km listed on your plan when you’re not ready, you are asking for trouble.
Strength training that focuses on your legs and core will also help prepare your body for the demands of running a marathon. Exercises like squats, calf raises and lunges will strengthen your legs, while yoga and Pilates are good options for both stretching your tired muscles and building core strength. You’ll also find a foam roller becomes essential.
Another thing to check if you are picking up niggles constantly is whether you’re wearing the right kind of running shoes for you.
Some injuries are completely unavoidable, of course, and even if you do everything you can to prepare your body for the demands of marathon training it can break down. Be sensible about it if that does happen – go and see a physio, and don’t worry if it ultimately means that you can’t run your marathon. There will always be another race, as long as you don’t destroy your body by running through the pain.