Thinking of signing up to do a marathon? Running 26.2 miles is some feat that requires commitment, dedication and an awful lot of preparation.
Training can take half a year to just a few months, but it is generally considered that a training plan should be 16 to 20 weeks long. You’re training should be goal orientated and you should run three to five times per week ahead of race day.
We’ve already created a guide about how to take care of your feet before a marathon but now we are here to help you with your training. We’ve enlisted experts to try and help you formulate a plan ahead of your big race day with the likes of the London, Boston and Paris marathon’s on the horizon.
Creating a personalised training plan ahead of your marathon is a must, according to Dr Eleanor Atkins at Bupa UK, who says there isn’t a right or wrong time to start your training.
“There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong time to start training for a marathon, but you should consider your current running ability to help shape a training plan. Most marathon training programmes take around four months, but if you struggle to run 10k in one go you may need to start building up your fitness a little earlier. If, on the other hand, you are already able to run a half marathon without any problems, getting up to marathon distance should take less time if your only goal is to finish.
“Training for a marathon can be quite complex. What you’ll need to do and when you should start depends on how advanced a runner you already are. Bupa has a couple of training plans aimed at beginners and intermediate runners.”
Making sure you recover from your training is vitally important as it will help you avoid injuries and recuperate. The 5K Runner believes that you should have a massage or try a foam roller session every couple of weeks during your marathon training.
“Every couple of weeks a massage or session with foam rollers is good. Treat that session as a personal MOT. Pay particular attention to pains in your legs and hips. Nothing really should HURT. If it does be mindful. Yoga once or twice a month is a really good idea.”
Why not visit a Champneys resort? We have a number of different massages available at our spa resorts, ranging from sports massages to aromatherapy massages that will keep your body tip top ahead of the big day.
Many novice runners will be surprised to hear that supplementing running with strengthening exercises will improve your performance as it makes you stronger, faster and a more efficient runner.
Runners need a different type of strength-training than your standard gym goer as they need to work on strengthening the key muscles such as your core, quads, hamstrings and lower back.
The 5K Runner, says, “Strength training is also a great idea but only a small minority of runners follow the advice to do strength training (they are the faster ones).”
Some exercises you should try include:
- Russian twist
- Back extensions
- Squat to overhead press
Warming up before any exercise and it is particularly important that you properly warm up before each training session.
Emma, who runs the blog The PHD Runner, says, “I always walk briskly for five minutes before every training run; this helps to get my muscles warmed-up. I also make sure that I cool-down after every run. As every runner is different and what works for me might not work for someone else.”
Dr Eleanor Atkins at Bupa UK, adds, “It’s really important to warm up your body before training because it gets your body ready for exercise and helps to reduce damage to the muscles and joints you’ll be using during the marathon. A gentle jog to raise your heart rate slightly is a great start, followed by some moving stretches and striding.
“Many runners struggle with tight hamstrings, and stretching these daily can improve flexibility. It’s also important as a runner to improve core strength, as this prevents imbalance and injury.”
So you’ve pushed yourself through the hard workouts and made it through the never-ending long runs, but something that is a common question is ‘what foods should I eat before a marathon?’
The 5K Runner believes eating a balanced diet is the best option, “Eat a normal balanced diet, keep hydrated. If you are at a good weight then you might want to slightly increase your calorie intake during training, be guided by your body in that scenario. As a relative novice you will be running relatively slowly and not burning too many carbs so you might not have to consume as many gels as some of the gel vendors suggest you might need. A banana and milk after training is great.”
Dr Eleanor Atkins at Bupa UK, says, “Whilst you’re training for a marathon, you should be eating a diet full of protein (eggs, grilled meat and fish, lentils and beans) to aid muscle recovery. You should also be eating carbohydrates like wholegrain bread, brown rice, and potatoes to fuel your training too.”
As your training progresses and you are around 12 weeks ahead of race day it is vitally important that you increase your training and go on longer runs.
The 5K Runner, says, “Training should be progressive i.e. you should run slightly further each week at an aerobic level (at a level where you could hold a conversation). You could increase your training by 30 minutes each week. A training plan will tell you when you should introduce small elements of faster running but that is not required for a ‘finisher’ (someone who just wants to finish the race and is not aiming for a certain time).”
Running uphill is hard work but it can give a real boost to your training, putting you through an intense workout in a short space of time.
The Virgin Money London Marathon, says, “Take a look at your regular training routes and see if they already include any hills. If not, have a think about how you could alter your routes, or use our route planner to find a new run in your area.
“Like any type of exercise, if you’re new to hill running you need to approach it sensibly. Start with gentle hills, short distance and a slow pace, gradually building up the intensity.
“Running uphill will work your muscles in a different way to flat road running, so to avoid injury you need to let your body adjust. Your legs will feel more tired than usual after hill running, so try running a little slower the following day to help them recover before your next session.”
Becoming familiar with your sweat rate during training sessions can help you to manage your fluid needs, helping to maintain hydration and ultimately your performance.
It is believed that dehydration greater than 2% of your body weight may result in a decline in performance, which may have a negative effect on the intensity of your race and training sessions. Here are some important tips you can follow:
- Make sure you drink before and during the race
- Drink little and often - avoid drinking lots of fluid throughout the race
- Lucozade Sport provides carbohydrates and electrolytes to enhance hydration and it can help maintain performance during prolonged endurance exercise.
Sleep is important as it will help you perform at your maximum. So just a month ahead of your marathon it is worth getting early nights.
Bupa UK’s Dr Eleanor Atkins, says, “Get plenty of sleep on the run up too; if your body is well rested you’ll perform at your best.”
From around a week out you should stick to your same running schedule, but reduce the total mileage you are running by around 20%.
So essentially your weekday runs shouldn’t be much different from previous weeks, but you should shave a mile or two off your longer mid-week runs.
It is important to do this as it will give your body the rest it needs, will limit the risk of muscle damage before the race and will help you perform at your peak on race day.
The PHD Runner says, “Don’t compare yourself to other runners; with running, comparison really is the thief of joy. Don’t try anything new on race day, especially race gels! Pace yourself sensibly at a sustainable pace when you feel great at the start. Definitely try to avoid the temptation to run at a faster pace than you’re used to. Most importantly, enjoy yourself and have fun.”
Eat a simple, high-carbohydrate breakfast several hours before the start of the race. Bagels, oatmeal, bars and fruit all work well.
If you’re a complete novice runner or this will be your first attempt at running a marathon you should avoid setting specific time targets.
The PHD Runner, adds, “I would recommend that novices who are attempting their first marathon don’t set themselves specific time targets and take the pressure off. You only have one first marathon so try to enjoy the experience. My biggest regret is not having my name on my t-shirt, while other runners were getting loads of support from the crowd; I was the runner without a name.”
Another important thing for novice runners to remember is to make sure you have the right equipment. It really is worth spending out on comfortable running clothes and trainers according to Bupa’s Dr Eleanor Atkins.
“It’s important to start with the right equipment, so make sure you have comfortable running clothes, like properly fitted running shoes. Most sporting shops have fitting services to ensure you have the right shoes for you, which can prevent injury in the long run.”