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January signals the end of the festive period and the indulgence that goes with it. It also means a time for renewal, healthier habits and even upcoming marathons for the keen runners amongst us. With that in mind, marathon training is nothing short of hard work, dedication and total commitment. It might seem daunting knowing how to train for marathon, especially if you are a beginner and we would advise against anyone who is thinking about winging it on the day.
We’ve called upon two of our master trainers to put together their top tips for marathon training to give you a flavour of what to expect in your training.
Number of sessions each week: The number of sessions will vary from person to person and develop over time however three is the magic number for me with one relatively long run and two shorter sessions.
Targeted distances per session each week (based on marathon): Based upon a marathon distance I’d advise that the maximum distance in one session should never exceed 19-20 miles or 30-32 kilometres. This is partly physical i.e. avoiding overtraining but also massively physiological as hitting the wall is never fun! In the early weeks, 15 kilometres per week would be a realistic goal.
How to build up distance and achieve consistent pace: This is a very personal process, which is unique to the individual. Many people underestimate just how far the marathon distance is, so take it slow! A simple method of working out pace is to work backwards from the time in which you hope to complete the marathon. For example an 8 minute mile would give you a finishing time of around three and a half hours meaning that you could set a pace for each mile.
Use a mix of types of running sessions (e.g. Fartlek, intervals, hills, time trials): Some resistance training sessions and hill runs will help build leg strength however there is no substitute for getting the miles in the legs! Focus on a settled pace no matter the distance in each training run.
Rest days: The rest days are just as vital as the training days, without a sound recovery plan your marathon plans could go up in smoke! Replenish carbohydrates, top up proteins and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
Stretching: Pre-run go through dynamic movements which ready those tissues involved in gait to ensure a more comfortable stride. Get the feet, ankles, hamstrings, hips and spine in particular going through a range of three dimensional moves (forwards and back, side to side and in rotation) to prepare the body for the various demands of running. This is especially prevalent if the marathon course goes off road and cross-country.
Quality over quantity of runs. You can train effectively for a marathon with 3 runs per week. One session at threshold pace, one either hills or sprint session, and one long slow run.
Don't increase the distance of your long slow run by more than 10% each week. The higher distances you jump to, the more of a shock it is for your body and the more likely you are to get an injury.
Check the marathon route that you're planning to run. You don't need to run the course but it is worth checking if there's a pesky hill at mile 20 that you haven't factored in. Observe and include bits from the course in your training. If it's hilly, include hill running in your training. If it's off road in some parts, add in some trail running. If some of it is on cobbles, go and try out some cobble running.
Practice nutrition. You're going to need fuel during the marathon. Energy gels are great for some people, but can make others vomit. Use your long slow run to try a few out and get your stomach used to whatever is going to give you that extra push at the end.
Break in your trainers. If you think you're going to need new trainers during your marathon training, get them sooner rather than later. Give yourself a minimum of 4 weeks running in them before race day. You need to get your feet used to them. A blister early on can mean curtains for a marathon.
Book in shorter races during your marathon training. If you're 8 weeks away from a marathon, get yourself signed up to a half marathon. Getting used to running in a large group of people can be overwhelming at first. But it will also push you harder so you may run faster.
Have a plan. If it's your first marathon, work out what you're doing pace wise on your long slow runs. You should be doing miles 60-90 seconds slower on these runs than the time per mile on race day. Work out your pace, train to it and know how fast you're going to run.
Don't go out too fast on the day. You might feel amazing at the start, pumped by everyone around you. But push it too quickly and you'll fade before 26.2 miles is out. You made a plan, go with it. If you're still feeling great at 18/19 miles, see if you can up your pace slightly. But remember you've still got more than a 10k to go!
Make sure that you're hydrating the day before the race. Don't leave it to the morning. Aim to have your pee almost clear when you go to bed. Plus, if you're really hydrated the night before, you won't need to drink as much in the morning and the last minute toilet dash won't be an issue for you.
Leave yourself plenty of time to get to the start. If you're rushing, you'll feel stressed which isn't great when you're trying to focus.
Be kind to yourself: face wipes, flip flops and a massive jumper in the bag you leave with friends or at the drop off will be a welcome end. Oh, and whack something sweet in that bag too that you can digest easily!