This is a blog post I wrote some time back, however recent requests for marathon training tips and on how best to prepare to avoid any running injuries made me think that this post can resurface! Let me know your thoughts (especially on point 8 as I have noticed some new running communities emerging) using @TomGoom.
Your first marathon may be some months away and your training schedule might not fully kick in for another month or 2 but now is the time to start preparing your body for the onslaught! Marathon training is tough. It’s estimated around 90% of those training for a marathon will pick up an injury. Many don’t make the start line let alone the finish line so how do you best prepare for one of the hardest endurance events around?
Some time back I attended a fantastic talk by Barry Fudge, Head of Science at British Athletics and Mo Farah’s physiologist. What was clear was the huge amount of planning that went into ensuring Mo’s success. His preparation was a year round process with goals for every session. Now I’m not suggesting you train like Mo but planning and preparation can make the marathon training and the race itself much more enjoyable and rewarding.
So how are we going to approach this? What we need is a ‘top tips’ section…
Top 10 Tips for preparing for marathon training;
- Set goals – firstly you have to ask yourself what do I want to achieve with this marathon? Is it just to get round and conquer the 26.2 miles? Are you aiming for a PB? Raising for charity? Before you can plan anything you need to know what you’re planning for. Your goals will effect every aspect of your training, especially your schedule…
- Pick a schedule – choosing your marathon training schedule may be one of the most important decisions in terms of injury risk and race performance. If you’re too optimistic you might face a rapid increase in mileage and an equally rapid trip to the physio clinic! Set your bar too low and you may never reach that cherished PB. Deciding well in advance can make a huge difference. Runner’s World has a useful ‘Smart Coach‘ programme to help make a schedule. If possible work with a running coach to get an individually tailored approach. Be realistic about how much time you’ll have and make note of the initially weekly mileage because you’ll need to build your baseline up to that…
- Build a baseline – the next 2-3 months are a great opportunity to gradually build up your weekly mileage to a baseline that is close to where your marathon training will start. You’re in no rush so build up by around 10% per week with the main goal to be running comfortably. If things start to ache, drop back for a week or two. Last year I was busy moving house in the months prior to my marathon training. My mileage dropped to less than 10 miles per week. My schedule started at 35 miles in the first week, the sudden increase made everything hurt and I never fully recovered from it! The outcome was that I picked up an injury and had to watch the marathon rather than run in it!
- Deal with niggles – if you have a consistent niggle that doesn’t seem to want to go away but isn’t stopping you run now is the time to nip it in the bud! Marathon training has a way of turning a niggle into a nightmare! See a physio, get it sorted and it’ll probably be gone before you lace up your shoes for that first marathon training run.
- Strengthen up – strength and conditioning (S&C) has a great many benefits for runners. Research suggests it can improve performance and reduce injury risk. Elite runners like Mo Farah who run around 140 miles per week make S&C a big part of their programme to help the body cope with the huge training load. With a couple of months to go before training fully kicks in you have time to build up strength. You may want to go for a general approach and strengthen calf muscles, quads, glutes and hamstrings but for best results see a physio or health professional for a personalised programme.
- Plan your time – one of the hardest parts of marathon training can be juggling it with life in general. Demands of work, family life, relationships and other commitments don’t just stop for a bit while you go running! Most marathon runners will have heard an exasperated love one exclaim, “you’re running again?!” as you head out for another session. Now is a good time to work out how you’ll find the balance and where you might add in another run or two without impacting on everything else. Running to or from work can be great – turn your commute into a training session. Early morning runs are useful too – you can be back before the other half wakes up! See if you can get your friends or family involved, they might be happy to run or cycle alongside you and stop you plodding the streets alone.
- Get your kit sorted – tried and tested kit can make all the difference. Now is the time to test out shoes, running tops, gels, hydration fluids, recovery drinks and GPS watches. Anything you don’t have can go on birthday or Christmas lists too! There can be few things more uncomfortable than realising your one pair of running socks are still damp and musky from last night’s run in the rain and having to slide your foot into them again as you have no others to wear!
- Get support – the running community is fantastic at supporting fellow athletes. Check out your local running shops, groups and clubs. Many will have free training sessions. Get together a little list of ‘go to guys’ in your local area. This can include a recommended physio, running shop, or coach – ask around to find out who’s good.
- Find some new routes – plodding the same path can get pretty boring after a while, explore your area and beyond and work out a few routes at various distances that you can plan into your schedule. After a while you get used to knowing the rough distance to certain landmarks and can planning multiple routes around them. If you’re running a local marathon try including as much of that as possible in your training.
- Consider other races – having a couple of practice races prior to the big one helps you try out kit and experience a race if you haven’t before. Half way round a marathon is not the time to discover you’re allergic to gel energy cubes! One runner I spoke to recently failed to finish because one made her so ill! Many races are organised with marathons in mind – the Brighton Half Marathon, for example, fits in perfectly with your training schedule for running the Brighton Marathon. Beware though many races book up well in advance!
How you approach the lead up to marathon training is going to vary a great deal from person to person. I find a simple 3 runs a week with 2 strength and conditioning sessions works well. Build up strength in key areas then, and as training progresses, you can then swap another run in for one of your strength sessions. The remaining S&C session then works to maintain strength and flexibility throughout. My preparation schedule looks something like this;
The aim of this approach is to reduce risk of injury and improve performance by building a baseline, avoiding large increases in mileage and working on strength and conditioning. Rest days are utilised prior to long runs and to prevent multiple consecutive days of training.
Closing thoughts: there are always so many things you can do to help your development as a runner, sadly though there are only so many hours in a day! For some the level of preparation detailed above might be unrealistic or unnecessary for your goals. See what fits for you. The key points are – gradually build up a baseline, think about your training schedule and deal with any injuries. Good luck!
This post was originally published October 2013 with updates included August 2016.