The marathon is a beast of a race, and a difficult distance to master. Training for one requires discipline, commitment, sacrifice, and a lot of time. This can often feel overwhelming and the reason so many runners gave up on their marathon goals early on.
But fret no more. My friend, I got you covered.
To help prepare for a marathon the right way, in today’s post, I’m sharing a few tips that will help you get the most out of your marathon training.
Build up to it
Having the right mileage base is the backbone of efficient and pain-free marathon training.
To be race ready, aim to run four to five days a week with a minimum mileage of 20 miles before doing any serious marathon training.
What’s my best advice? Of course, work up to it. If you’re a newcomer to endurance to first start with shorter distance events.
Once you have a few races under your belt, start serious training. Keep in mind that most marathon training plans range from 12 to 24 weeks.
Give It Three Months
Now you got the base, what do you do next?
In general, you’d need to train for at least 12 weeks to be race ready—this is especially true if you are a newcomer to endurance events.
The three-month period is long enough to safely build up your lung power, endurance, and key workouts, but not so long that you lose motivation and fall off the training wagon.
So what’s the safest way to increase mileage?
That’s where the 10 percent rule comes in handy.
This is the safest way to build mileage. Add a little distance to nearly every run each week. As a rule, aim to gradually build your weekly mileage up to 40 miles over the three months leading up to race day.
Build Your Long Runs
Whether you’re looking to finish your first marathon or want to pull off a sub-3:00 event, long runs are key. Other sessions—recovery runs, marathon-pace runs, and speed work—are also important but not as vital as the long run.
Long runs help your body adapt to extended periods of running. They also simulate real marathon running conditions, which helps to physically and mentally prepare for tackling the 26.2-mile beast.
Once you’re a few weeks in, start building up your weekly long runs. This should be performed no more than once a week, extending your long run by a mile or two each week.
Your first step? Start with a distance that you can run with ease—say eight miles—and then progressively build up the distance.
On the third or fourth week, scale it back by a few miles so as not to push your body more than it can handle and risk injury or burnout.
For example, you might cover 10 miles on Saturday, 11 miles the next, then 12 miles, and then ten again before moving to 13 or 14 in the fifth week.
So how long should your long run be?
According to experts, build it up to 20 miles a session, but at a pace drastically slower than your marathon pace goal, typically at 30 to 45 seconds slower than your goals marathon race pace.
Complete at least six long runs (about 20 miles each), the last of which should be roughly two to three weeks before the event—during the start of what’s known as the taper period.
Fuel your Efforts
Proper marathon training isn’t just about the miles. You also need to get your diet up to speed.
Just because you’re pounding the pavement for endless hours doesn’t grant you la carte blanche to eat whatever you want nor treat your eating habits with reckless abandon.
The fact is, your nutrition is as much as important as your training plan—it might even be the most important factor for training success.
To fuel your training, bulk up with high-carb, low-fiber foods (pasta, bread, grains, etc.). Eat also plenty of good fats (avocados, oils, nuts, etc.) and lean protein (fish, meat, and chicken).
Time Your Nutrition
Don’t ignore your post-workout diet. Consume a carb-protein drink, such as a recovery sport shake within the recovery window—the hour following a workout.
For sessions over 2 hours, consume about 60 grams of carbs per hour.
In general, choose foods high in carbs and low in proteins, fats, and fiber. Some example of good pre-run options includes a banana, bagel with peanut butter, or an energy bar.
To make the most out of it, make sure to experiment with a different type of fuel on your training days to see which ones work the best for you.
Find out what mix of foods and drinks works the best for you, and choose the same things during your marathon. Having a good eating and drink strategy while logging the miles is key.
Stay well-hydrated. Make sure also to drink plenty of water. Carry your water for long runs to keep you well hydrated.
High mileage exposes to injury. However, how you handle these aches and pains is critical for your marathon success.
If you feel any pain, then do something about it. Even a small niggle can turn into a serious injury and derail you from reaching your full potential.
Use ice, take anti-inflammatory medication, and, most importantly, take ample rest days to allow the injury to heal. Running through pain will only hinder the recovery process or even make it worse.
Dealing with common overuse running injuries is often a reality of marathon training, despite being proactive and taking injury prevention measures.
Some of the most common injuries include:
- Runner’s knee, or what’s known as Patellofemoral pain syndrome. Learn how to deal with here and here.
- Plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of the bottom of the foot. Learn how to deal with it here.
- Iliotibial band syndrome. Or ITBS, an inflammation of the IT band, which is a thin band of tissue, runs along the side of your thighs.
Furthermore, follow the 10 percent rule at all times, work on developing proper running form, and aim to build a strong to help you dodge injury and stay on track.
The few weeks leading to your race day are most vital. That’s why all good marathon-training plans have a “taper” period. During the period, you taper, or reduce your training volume.
The taper period helps you reduce accumulated fatigue and recharge after all the training, which ensures that you’re well rested so you can reach your full potential on race day.
Don’t know how to taper? Don’t worry.
Tapering usually occurs during the three weeks before the big day. This is how:
Three weeks out: Do your last 20-mile run three weeks before the marathon. Consider your last run as a “race rehearsal” for the event. Run it as if you are running a real marathon race and execute your nutrition and hydration plan, too.
Two weeks out: Reduce your training volume to roughly 40 to 50 percent. Resist the urge to run harder or longer as doing so will only compromise your efforts. And remember to make a proper recovery, especially sleep a priority.
One week before the event: Cut your mileage to one-third of your normal training volume and keep your usual pace for the most part. Focus on recovery during the last week. This gives your body the chance to rest and rejuvenate.