So you’ve decided to take on the mammoth challenge of running a marathon. It may be for charity, to beat your personal best, to get healthier or simply to work towards something. Whatever your reasons are, you’re going to need to be prepared.
Training for a marathon takes time, so it’s best to get in early to give yourself the best chance of making it to that finish line. It’s also critical that you gradually build strength and endurance during your training. Trying to tackle 42.195 KMs with little to no previous running experience will leave your body battered, broken and even permanently damaged. Training isn’t all physical either; it’s also about changing your mindset, increasing your determination and perseverance and altering your lifestyle. We take you through the steps you’ll need to follow in your training to dominate that marathon!
Doing the research
The first thing to do after deciding to run a marathon is to assess how fit you are. This can be a daunting first step for many people and is often very eye-opening. It’s essential to do, however, as it will allow you to formulate a realistic training program.
If you have any existing injuries or health concerns, you may want to visit your doctor before beginning training. Ask them if there are additional risks to your body that you should be aware of when training and running the marathon. Being in the know about your own body will help you to mitigate the risk of injury.
It’s also time to throw out those ten-year-old sneakers and invest in a new, high-quality pair from a sports shop. Take the time to sit down with the sales staff and discuss your intentions for the shoes. They’ll often have a close look at your gait and instep to assess the most appropriate pair for you. You’re going to be doing a lot of miles in them, so comfort, support and longevity are critical for perfect running shoes.
Generating a training plan
Training for a marathon should begin at least two to three months before the event day for a person in good health. Starting your training as early as possible, however, is always the wisest option. Even if the marathon isn’t for another year, It’ll only make you fitter!
There are five crucial elements to a marathon training program. If you want to get serious about your goals, these should be included in your plan.
Building your base mileage is the most important aspect of preparing for the marathon. It enhances your endurance capabilities at a safe pace. You should be running 4-5 days a week, and each week you should be increasing the length of your run by 10% increments. Keep a steady pace during these runs; the goal isn’t speed. Beginner runners may start with as little as 9 KM on their first week of training, and increase this by 10% each following week until they reach a peak week of 25 KM, and then gradually drop down again.
Long runs are also critical for marathon training, as these will prepare you for both the physical and emotional strain of long distance running. On your long runs you will build physical strength and enhance your willpower. You should complete one long run a week, that, like your short daily runs, gradually increases in mileage. You don’t need to go too crazy here; lengthening your long runs by 3 KM a week is sufficient. And make sure you don’t wear yourself out. You might bump up the length of your long run for three weeks, then drop back a bit. Many coaches also recommend that you don’t do the full marathon length during training as it will increase the risk of injury before the event.
Tempo runs are shorter runs using more energy. Including tempo runs into your training program is up to personal preference. These runs will challenge you to be speedier. It can make your running feel easier, and program your brain to cope with a hard pace for longer periods.
The good thing about constantly running is that you have an excuse to eat carbs! Meals and snacks containing carbs and protein will provide the energy you need to pound the pavement. Iron-rich food is also essential, as sweating can reduce your iron levels. Try and eat food which are also high in vitamin C, as this will increase your body’s iron absorption. A breakfast of eggs, spinach, veggies and toast ticks all these boxes.
As we mentioned previously, you only have to be running four to five days a week. The other days should allow your body to recuperate after such high impact activity. In fact, many marathon runners significantly scale back the speed that they run at, and the mileage that they undertake, three weeks before the big day. This is called ‘tapering’ and gives the body a chance to rest before hitting the track. It also means less chance of injury before the marathon.
Keeping up the momentum when the weather is bad
If the weather is impeding on your ability to train (which, in winter, is a very real possibility) don’t be disheartened! You can always hire a treadmill to continue running so you can complete those five days a week. It may not be the same as running on roads, but you can alter the incline to simulate certain parts of the track you’ll be experiencing in the official marathon. A handy feature if the marathon takes place away from your home, and you can’t practice parts of it in your training outdoors!
Maintaining a positive outlook
Remember, for many beginner runners or charity runners, getting to the finishing line first is not the ultimate goal. It’s crossing it at all. And for a first-time marathon runner, that can feel like you’ve won the whole damn thing! As much as your strict training program has prepared you physically, motivation and perseverance will also play a large part in propelling you to the finish. Time to start training – good luck!