Marathon Training: The Essentials

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It’s the time of year where, if you’ve signed up to a spring marathon, you’ll likely be getting stuck into your training for the big day. Or you may be considering a challenge later in the year and are wondering just what training for a marathon is all about.

Here are the nuts and bolts of marathon training, including the key things that you should know before tackling your first marathon.

This blog will give you answers to:

  • The marathon: can I do it?
  • What’s the minimum amount of training I need to do to ensure I complete the marathon?
  • How much training should I be doing each week – and what type of sessions?
  • How do I know which training plan I should be following?
  • What should I be looking at when it comes to nutrition?
  • What is tapering and how long should I do it for?
  • What will happen on race day?

The marathon: can I do it?

In short: absolutely yes!

The marathon is the iconic race distance, and more and more people are tackling the challenge every year. With the right training, along with dedication and self-belief, anyone can complete a marathon – providing there are no particular health reasons why you couldn’t or shouldn’t.

The human body is capable of so much, and in daily life we rarely need to test it. Running for 26.2 miles non-stop can seem like a daunting prospect, but it is genuinely hugely achievable no matter your age, size, or running experience.

What’s the minimum amount of training I need to do to ensure I complete the marathon?

Unfortunately there is no straight answer to this question – a lot depends on how often or how long you already run for, as well as your current fitness and other variables in your life. The most common training plan length is 16 weeks and this is what you should be looking to do to have a solid base of training.

You’ll also typically have a ‘base’ level of running fitness prior to starting any training plan – this is where you’ve built up your aerobic fitness and your running consistency over a period of weeks or months, ready to tackle full marathon training.

How much training should I be doing each week – and what type of sessions?

Again, this hugely varies depending on individual variables. You should be looking to do at least three sessions per week, but ideally four or five – or six if you’re a more serious runner.

What’s most important is session quality, particularly if you don’t have time to train as often as you’d like. The most important session in your week is the long run, which you’ll build up to around 18-23 miles as your final long run before race day.

As well as that, you should be looking to add speed training to the mix. It can be all too easy to think that if you keep getting out there and logging the miles in the same way, you’ll be fine – and you probably will, but what speed training does is it builds your foundation, increases your endurance capability, and makes you stronger – all of which helps when it comes to running the marathon.

Other run types you should focus on include tempo running and hill training. Tempo running is faster running, usually over 4-10 miles, which trains your body to sustain a harder effort without getting fatigued. Hill training builds your strength.

You should also be cross training, to build different muscle areas and give your body a break from running. Try cycling, swimming or yoga as low-impact activities to complement your running. If you can, focus on building strength too – even a few minutes of planks each day can work wonders for your core.

It’s crucial that you’re getting enough rest as part of your training, especially after long runs or hard sessions. Rest is when your body rebuilds, and rebuilds stronger.

How do I know which training plan I should be following?

With so many options out there, often saying different things, it can be hard to choose a plan that’s right for you.

If you’ve signed up for a marathon, they may have plans you can follow. The best training plans however are the ones that are built specifically for you. If you’ve got a plan that’s personalised to you, then you’ll know you’re training in the best way for you, your fitness, your goals, and your weekly schedule.

If you’re interested in a bespoke training plan, get in touch. If you’re fundraising for a charity as part of your race, you’ll get 10% off.

What should I be looking at when it comes to nutrition?

Good nutrition is critical all the time, but particularly as support to an effective training plan. Eat colourful foods – lots of fruit and veggies. Make sure you’re getting enough protein with legumes, lean meat, eggs. And support your increased training load with carbohydrates.

You don’t need to be piling in the pasta every night, but if you’ve got a long run coming up then build your stores in the days beforehand (being careful not to overeat the night before). Carbs give you slow release energy which keeps you going on your long runs.

Make sure you’re keeping hydrated too, including during your long runs.

What is tapering and how long should I do it for?

The taper is the reduced period of activity before your race. For a marathon you’re looking at a three-week taper, although some may prefer four or two. Tapering allows your body to recover from the training, while building up your glycogen supplies and strengthening and freshening you ready for race day.

Cut back on your run time by about a quarter to begin with. Two weeks out, keep all your runs easy. In the final week, do some light running while focusing on getting rested and eating and drinking right.

You shouldn’t stop running during the taper period as then you’ll feel too sluggish on race day. You can also complement your running during the taper with extra cross training if it helps you to feel like you’re not being too inactive.

What will happen on race day?

Control everything you can control in the build up to race day, and on the morning itself. Get your kit ready, work out your breakfast and what you’ll take with you. Look at the route and plan your fluid and energy intake along the route.

Give yourself plenty of time to get there and to do everything you want to do beforehand (including allowing time for toilet queues!).

Don’t worry about what you can’t control – things like the weather. Focus on doing the best you can. Most of all, believe in yourself. You’ve put in the hard work and you know you can do it.

Look out for more blogs on marathon preparation in the coming weeks, and get in touch anytime for any training support.

Get stuck in and enjoy pushing yourself to the next level on your marathon journey!

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