Marathon Training Guide
19 December 2018 - By Scott Darney
The Spring 2019 marathon season is fast approaching and those of us that have decided to take the plunge will need to start planning very soon. The distance can be daunting even for experienced runners, which is why it is important that your training cycle is smart.
Based on my own experiences and research, I have written the below guide for WRC members who are taking part in a marathon in the Spring and beyond, in the hope that it can help you to run a successful race on the big day, whether you are running your first marathon simply to finish or you are an experienced runner aiming for a PB.
MARATHON TRAINING PREPARATION
Prior to entering your marathon training phase it is important to be ready for both the physical and mental demands. The the 3 main considerations to review when preparing for marathon training are:
Not everyone’s lifestyle is conducive to the most efficient marathon training as many of us have other important commitments but now is the time to think about whether you need to make some sacrifices and compromises in order to maximise your chances of achieving your goal. Think about the following:
- Time – The biggest obstacle for most people is finding the time to run. Think about your routine and where the extra running might best fit into your day. The likelihood is, if you need to find more time to run those extra miles then you will need to be organised about when you run. A tip for those with busy lives who are struggling with time is to run first thing in the morning before a busy day has a chance to catch up with you and suddenly you are out of time.
- Sleep – Elite marathon runners are capable of running up to 130 miles a week during the peak of their marathon training because, when they are not training, they are usually resting and sleeping. It is likely that with an increased training load you will become more tired and with this comes a greater need to ensure that you get a full 8 hours of sleep each night. Consider if there are any temporary measures you can take during your training cycle to allow for this important recovery time.
- Food and Diet – as you will also be using more energy, it is worth taking a look at your diet and consider if it is conducive to endurance running. Most people can recognise where the main improvements can be made to their diet and generally it comes down to reducing processed, high sugar foods and increasing fruit and vegetable intake. A poor diet can have a detrimental impact on your training, your recovery and how your body copes on race day.
Pre-Marathon Training Phase
Anyone entered into a Spring Marathon should already be preparing themselves now for the increase in mileage and intensity that will face them when their marathon plan starts. You do not need to be running peak mileage with 18-20 mile long runs just yet, but you should consider what the mileage and intensity of your first training week might look like and have a plan that will ensure that you are about 80-90% there before week 1 start. With this in mind, you should consider a gradual increase in mileage over the weeks leading into your training plan whilst adding some light speed work if you are not already doing so.
However, you should never increase mileage and intensity at the same time. A simple method for your build up is to alternate each week, introducing some speed work one week and adding a few extra miles the next.
Both during your pre-marathon training phase and your main training cycle you need to be conscious of how much you increase mileage from one week to the next. A common rule is to ensure that you limit any increase in mileage from one week to the next to 10%. Any more than this and you could be putting too much stress on your body which can result in injury.
Mental Training – “Running is 90% physical and the other half is mental”
Whilst mathematically impossibly, the above quote gives you an idea how important it is to be mentally prepared for your marathon as much as physically prepared. A good training plan will work you physically and mentally but attitude is key, so make sure you approach your training the right way by thinking about these 3 key points:
- Take some time to think about why you are really running the marathon. No one can tell you why you are doing it and you don’t need to be public about your reasons (although it does often help) but if you have really thought about your reasons then this will be a good motivator for you on the days that you don’t want to run or when you are struggling towards the end of a long run.
- Remain positive if a training session doesn’t go to plan. If nothing goes wrong in training, how will you know if you can handle the grind on race day? Most of the best athletes have suffered some kind of setback and training does not always go exactly to plan. Coaches can often be very nervous about an athlete that has had an issue-free training cycle because they have not truly been tested like they will be tested in the marathon. You are a better athlete for having faced difficulties in training so enjoy the small victories, but do not let the small defeats get the better of you as they will help you in the long run.
- #JFR There will be days during training where you will not want to run. It will be cold, it will be wet, it will be early, it will be late, it will be dark, you will be tired, you will be busy, there will be all sorts of reasons to skip a session but it is important that, so long as it is safe and sensible to do so: Just. F***ing. Run. When you start to question your motivation, or when you start considering excuses to skip your run, just put your trainers on and go! There is a strong likelihood that you will feel much better (both physically and mentally) after your run than you did before but more importantly, every time you drag yourself out on one of these days it is a victory that will improve your mental strength and make you a tougher athlete.
KEY RUNS & DRILLS
Most marathon training cycles will have key sessions or drills, including a long run and a speed/interval session each week. The club provide interval training on a Thursday night and in the first few months of the year these sessions are geared towards the marathon distance. We also meet every Sunday morning for a long run. However, there are some additions and considerations to these runs to ensure that you are getting the most from them and a couple of other drills and runs that you should consider as part of your training:
Long SLOW Run
All marathon plans should have weekly long runs. However, one of the most common mistakes is running your long runs too fast. This may sound counter intuitive, especially if you have an ambitious target time, but the majority of runners do not run slow enough to maximise the aerobic development which is crucial in carrying speed over longer distances. In simple terms you are trying to change your body’s construction from the inside out in order to improve the efficiency of your lungs in processing oxygen, the rate at which your heart is able to pump blood to your muscles, and the ability of the muscle to take in more oxygen.
Aerobic fitness is something that develops over years but running slow is the best way to train this system.
The 3 simplest methods of ensuring that you are running slow enough are:
- Run at aHeart Rate of 180 minus your age during your long runs. For example, a 40 year old would run at a Heart Rate of 180-40 = 140bpm during their long run.
- Conversational pace – if you are able to hold a conversation during your run then it is likely you are running easy enough.
- 1-2 minutes per mile slower than you marathon pace. For example, a 4 hour marathon is roughly 9 mins per mile, so long runs should be between 10-11mins per mile.
Some plans specifically ask that you run a fast close or to add marathon paced efforts into your long run. These are also important in some advanced training plans to help toughen runners up and enable them to finish a marathon strong. If you have these runs in your plan be sure the alternate them with slow runs too.
“Movement = Blood flow = Recovery”
Recovery runs are crucial in marathon training as they aid the recovery after a fast or long run. A recovery run is a short run of about 3-6 miles and it should be your slowest run of the week at an easy conversational pace. There should be no efforts, strides routes that will raise the HR should be avoided if possible, this run is purely to get the legs moving. If you only do 1 recovery run each week then try and fit it in the day after your long run, if you are able to cope with higher mileage then add a recovery run after any or all of your quality sessions. Runners are often amazed at how fresh their legs can feel the day after a recovery run compared to when they had a day of complete rest after a long run.
Strides are a useful tool to prepare your legs and keep them strong for fast work. You should try and include strides in 1 of your runs each week. They are very simple and there are 2 ways to add them to your run.
- Within an easy run, add some sprints of 6-10 seconds running at about 80-90% sprinting speed. You should look to do between 4-6, with 1 stride every 3-6 minutes.
- At the end of an easy run, take a few minutes to recover then run a stride of 6-10 seconds at 80-90% sprinting speed or use the 100m straight of a track. When finished, walk back slowly the length of your stride and repeat 4-6 times.
Note – do not add strides to interval sessions, long runs or recovery runs. Number of strides and stride length/time can be varied based on your experience.
TRAINING GUIDELINES & RULES
During your training it is important to have some structure and some rules to follow to ensure you maximise the effectiveness of the program and minimise the risk of injury. Some general guidelines you may wish to follow are listed below:
Drop Down Week
Not all Marathon plans cater for this, but it is beneficial to take a drop down week every 2-4 weeks in which you drop your mileage by 10-15% for just 1 week. Frequency of runs and intensity within this week should remain the same, just cut down slightly on the miles of each run to allow yourself to recover a little. Much the same as the recovery run, the purpose of the recovery week is to give you body time to recover so that you can face the harder and longer sessions relatively fresh.
No Back-to-Back Sessions
Never do 2 quality sessions on consecutive days. A quality session is a speed / interval session, a long run or a tempo / threshold run.
Whether your legs feel good or not, they need time to recover from any kind of run where you are running long or fast. Most training sessions are made up of 2-3 quality sessions and you should always plan your week in advance to make sure that you don’t break this rule. If it is not possible then you should forfeit one of your quality sessions and consider asking a coach to help you make the right changes in your training week.
Don’t try and play Catch-up
We are not professional athletes, we have to fit our running around families, jobs, commitments, injuries, illnesses etc and the likelihood is that you will miss a run here and there. Where you can’t re-arrange your schedule to fit a missed run in, then just skip it jump back in on the next day available. The odd run here and there won’t have a huge impact on your training but be mindful that you do not make a habit of this and consider what you might be do differently if the same issue pops up again.
Race Day Practice
The no.1 rule of Race Day is: Don’t do anything new. That is: Don’t wear anything different. Don’t change your breakfast or try a different fuelling strategy. Don’t try running at a different pace, cadence or adjust your stride length based on the Running World article you read on the way to the race. You should choose at least one long run or practice race to try out your race gear and specific gels or bars that you intend on using on race day to ensure that you are happy with your choices.
This deserves a heading of it’s own due to the impact it can have on your training.
Some of the advice provided so far acts as a safeguard to reduce the chance of injury (ie; not running back to back quality sessions, limiting weekly mileage increase by 10%, introducing recovery runs etc). However, as runners we know that injury, and dealing with them, is part and parcel of the sport so it is more important than ever to be sensible about niggles and knocks that you might pick up. Running through pain can put you out for weeks or months when a few days rest might have had you back running with very little impact on your training cycle. Here are a few basic tips to keep you in shape:
- Make sure you engage in dynamic stretching before each run (especially speed sessions) and static stretching afterwards.
- Consider investing in a foam roller and seek advice from a coach or a fellow WRC member if you are unsure how to use properly.
- Think about taking a core or strength and conditioning class or ask a Personal Trainer to write you a plan that you can do at home.
- Try and see a sports masseur as regularly as you can during training. Some like to have a sports massage once a week but this can be pricey. A more affordable option would be to have a monthly sports massage. WRC has a list of recommended therapists who provide physio and sports massage services here: https://www.withamrc.org.uk/sports-therapy-injury-massage-providers/
My best non-medically qualified advice is to listen to your body. If the pain is up to 3/10 (10 being the most painful) then see if you can run gently through it as it might not be anything more then just soreness which might ease with movement. If the pain does not disappear or increases to more than 3/10 then stop running, and consider seeing a physio or doctor for professional assistance.
If you have made it this far and digested the above principles then I believe you will be in great shape to run a great marathon in 2019! Good luck and most of all, have fun!
Acknowledgements – A large proportion of the above information has been learned from Running Coaches Steve Sisson and Chris McClung of Rogue Running – the information that they share on their free weekly Running Rogue Podcast and from their Podcast Training Program that I participated in for my Brighton Marathon training cycle from January to April 2018.