For many of us, marathon training will soon be in full-swing, with both weekly mileage and the distance of your long runs steadily increasing.
Although it might not feel like it right now, training for a marathon should be an enjoyable and positive experience! With a good marathon training plan, there should be clear progression week-by-week (apart from adaptation/recovery weeks), getting you ready to cross the finish line, either setting a new personal best time, or simply with the satisfaction of completing a new challenge.
There are a number of common pitfalls that marathon runners encounter, impairing their ability to perform to their potential come the big day. Below I’ve listed three the key pieces of advice I give runners who are looking to embark on a new marathon training block, be it their first or fiftieth race over the 26.2 mile distance.
1: Prepare Your Body to Run
Some of the biggest improvements I’ve seen my athletes make in their marathon times have come not from dramatically increasing weekly mileage, or adding more speed sessions (although these are both important factors), but from becoming stronger all-round as runners.
The simple fact is, that when many runners approach marathon training, the brain might be willing, but the body is often less than able.
Often, I’ll opt not to give a runner an 18- or 16-week marathon program, instead I give them a 12-week program preceded by 4 to 6 weeks of preparation work.
This preparation phase focuses heavily on run-specific strength workouts in the gym and on the track, with medicine balls, resistance bands and kettle bells. The running sessions in these weeks are minimal in terms of volume – just enough to maintain fitness, and very much technique focused.
You’ll love this free training program as a means of building running strength, stability and technique.
I strongly believe that runners of all levels benefit hugely from the resilience and fortitude that this preparation phase develops. This strength enables them to take maximum benefit from the heavy weeks of running that lie ahead, with reduced risk of injury.
2: Appreciate the Value of Recovery
One of the biggest differences between the training regimes of serious amateurs and professional runners is the quality of recovery. Where we have to fit our runs in between working hours, and eating on the go, professional athletes get to go home after a hard workout, eat and sleep… Then do it all again. This quality of recovery enables them to complete a greater volume of quality workouts in their schedule.
It’s only when the body rests that we get the opportunity to make the physical and physiological adaptations to the training load that result in improved fitness.
So the right balance must be found between training and recovery for you individually. The load bearing nature of running makes it far harder on your body than swimming or cycling for example. Thus going from 3 runs per week pre marathon training block, to 5 or 6 runs per week in a marathon training block is a big step-up in training frequency. Try to give your body a chance to adapt to this increased load – listen to your body.
Nutrition, hydration and sleep are huge factors in recovery. Burning the candle at both ends, and eating poorly will impair your ability to properly recover from sessions, meaning you fail to benefit from each session. At best, you will not see much progress in your running, worse still, you may end up injured or sick.
3: Don’t Play Catch-up
Sounds simple enough, right? But we all know that life gets in the way from time to time.
In an ideal world, we’d all have a personally written marathon training plan, and execute it to the letter. What happens though if you have to stay late at work, or you get sick?
I find it helps to prioritize the runs in your week, knowing which are your key sessions, and which are ok to drop if the worst happens.
As a general rule, in marathon training, the weekly long run is obviously the most important. Try to avoid skipping these, as your body needs to build aerobic endurance through these steady efforts. You also need to maintain the consistency in increasing the durations of these long runs, enabling you to progressively build up to one or more 20+ miler in your training block.
While sticking to your training plan is the name of the game; as long as you keep building up your long runs, don’t fret if you have to skip the odd running workout in the week. If this happens, the worst thing you can do is start to play ‘catch up’. Let it go! Just make sure you execute the next running workout on your plan perfectly.
If injury strikes, don’t try to run through it, stubbornly trying to stick to the plan. Instead go and see a Physiotherapist immediately. Once given the go-ahead to begin running again, do so cautiously in terms of volume – resist the temptation to try long runs in the first 2 weeks, instead just rebuild training frequency. Be realistic, it’s better to get the return to running right first time, with a progressive approach, than end up back at the Physio clinic injured again!