Training for a marathon is extremely physically demanding, taking months and putting serious strain on your body. As a result, your training schedule needs to be intelligently thought out and planned, with adequate time to build up your mileage slowly and allow your body to adjust to the extra stress you’re putting it under. Stretching, cross-training and rest days are all essential alongside your running, as you work to strengthen your muscles and increase fitness levels, all while preventing injury. Here are a few tips to help you on your journey, from months in advance, right through to race day.
Warm-ups & Dynamic Stretching
Train with a long run once a week
Your long training runs are what will get you ready for race day! You should look to increase the length of your long runs gradually each week, and try to run them at your desired marathon pace. These runs will also prepare you mentally for the 26.2 mile challenge, and will help you feel confident that you’ll be able to cover the distance.
Include one tempo run a week
Tempo training involves running 20-30 minutes at a pace that feels more difficult than your long run pace. This will ultimately help you to increase your marathon running pace. As your body gets used to the increased pace during the tempo runs, it’ll push the threshold at which you fatigue back. This will translate into your long runs, and will leave you being able to run at a higher pace for longer. Top tip: use a treadmill for your tempo run – it’ll help you to maintain a constant speed and effort level.
Cross train once a week
Cross train at least one or two days a week with low-impact workouts. This will not only improve your overall fitness level, but it’ll give your joints a rest from all the miles and reduce the stress on your muscles. A good way to mix up your training is to try out activities such as cycling, swimming and strength training. Each activity will target different muscle groups that’ll come in useful for the big day. David Lloyd gyms are a great place to cross train, offering a number of group exercise classes and fantastic swimming pools.
Rest days are very important in a marathon training plan as they allow your body to recover from the stress you have exerted. They’ll also recharge your energy levels and help you to build strength. A rest day should be taken the day before and after each long run – this will give your body enough time to re-energise and recover.
Taper off three/four weeks before the race
About three or four weeks before the race you’ll run your longest run. After this, you’ll then need to start gradually dropping your mileage and intensity in order to ensure you’re fit and energetic on race day. With much more time on your hands, it can be easy to want to add more mileage to your training plan just to ‘make sure’ – but this is important time to recover and reenergise, so try to avoid temptation!
Setting goals & milestones
Most marathon training plans tend to start 16-18 weeks before the marathon date and will depend on the runner’s ability and their desired race time. Training plans are used to schedule your workouts and can be useful for planning when to take rest days and other activities. While sometimes it’s impossible to religiously stick to a schedule, it’s important to try and fit in what you can.
Beginner schedule – A general rule is to increase your long runs by a mile each week until 10 miles and then increase it by two miles each week thereafter.
Short workouts/jogs = 20-30 mins, Medium = 35-45mins, Long = 50-60 mins
Week 1 – 2x short workouts/jogs + 3 mile run or 30 min jog.
Week 2 – 2x short workouts/jogs + 4 mile run or 40 min jog.
Week 3 – 3x short workouts/jogs + 5 mile run or 50 min jog.
Week 4 – 3x short/medium workouts/jogs + 6 mile run or 60 min jog.
Week 5 – 3x short-medium workout/jogs + 7 mile run or 70min jog.
Week 6 – 3x short-medium workout/jogs + 8 mile run or 80min jog.
Week 7 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 10 mile run.
Week 8 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 12 mile run.
Week 9 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 14 mile run.
Week 10 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 16 mile run.
Week 11 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 18 mile run.
Week 12 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 20 mile run.
Week 13 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 22 mile run.
(Taper off period)
Week 14 – 3x medium/long workouts/jogs + 15 mile run.
Week 15 – 3x medium workouts/jogs + 8-10 mile run.
Week 16 – 2x short/easy workouts + Marathon Day!
Here is an example of how you can structure your training schedule:
Dealing with injury
When training for a marathon there’s always a chance that you’ll suffer a niggle or injury. The most important thing to do when you spot an injury is not to aggravate it. You should stop any exercise that impacts the injured area, especially if it is high impact. Then see a physiotherapist who’ll be able to give you expert treatment and advice on the best way to recover.
And, don’t panic about your training routine! There are often ways to exercise around an injury meaning that you won’t have to stop training completely. Activities like swimming and cycling are often used in recovery periods as they’re low-impact and will help to maintain aerobic fitness and strength.
An important step in avoiding future injury is to assess what you could do differently. Could you have better stretched the affected area? Was your technique slightly wrong? Your physiotherapist will be able to give you advice on this.