Mastering the Marathon: Essential Training Tips for Success
Start with a Clear Plan
Running a marathon requires a well-structured program and planning. A successful marathon is really to be ready at the start line, so a well-designed training plan is the foundation of your marathon success. Before you start on your dedicated marathon training, it is considered to have the best prerequisite if you are able to run 7-8km without any problems for about 6 months beforehand, depending on your fitness level. Fewer kilometres might be sufficient if you are performing other kinds of sports regularly. It will only be for your own benefit if you have been running steadily for quite some time before embarking on your marathon training.
When you make your plan, the most important thing is that you have motivation. A marathon is a great mental challenge, so it is the will that will get you through it. Set realistic goals and create a schedule that gradually increases kilometres and intensity over time. Aim for about 18 weeks of training before the marathon in order to set yourself up for success. In your program, you should incorporate rest days to allow your body to recover and prevent overtraining. Incorporate both long runs, interval runs and recovery runs in your training. If you aren't an experienced runner you can consider seeking guidance from experienced coaches or online resources to structure your plan effectively. There are several webpages where you can find ready-made programs too. See here, here and here for example.
Build Endurance and Stamina Gradually
Marathon training is a gradual process that slowly builds your endurance. By focusing on building your stamina and endurance you won't tire as quickly which will be very important when you will have to keep your body moving for 42 kilometres. Stamina is how long you can perform an activity at maximum capacity and endurance is how long you can perform an activity in total. To increase your stamina you have to include interval and speedy runs in your training or add in intense forms of workouts such as HIIT or plyometric exercises (e.g. box jumps, tuck jumps, squat jumps). To increase your endurance you will have to run as regularly as possible and be consistent in doing so.
When you begin your marathon training you should focus on increasing your weekly kilometres by 10% or less to avoid overexertion and reduce the risk of injuries. These long runs are vital for developing your stamina, so incorporate them into your training regimen once a week, gradually increasing the distance as you progress.
Cross-Train for Strength and Injury Prevention
Don't neglect the importance of cross-training in your marathon preparation. Engaging in activities such as swimming, cycling, or strength training can help build overall fitness, strengthen supporting muscles, and reduce the risk of overuse injuries. It can also be important to level up your running and reach your goals. Cross-training activities help develop muscles that are not typically engaged in running. By for example strengthening your core, upper body, and lower body through activities like weightlifting or Pilates you can improve your running posture, stability, and power.
Cross-training also provides a mental break from running, keeping your motivation high. Mixing up your workouts with cross-training activities adds variety and reduces the monotony that you might experience in the longevity of a marathon training program. This means that finding cross-training you enjoy can help prevent burnout and keep your motivation high throughout your marathon training journey. It can also provide active recovery days for when you need a break from running but still want to engage in physical activity. It allows you to maintain your fitness level while giving your running muscles a chance to recover and rejuvenate.
Fuel Your Body Properly
Nutrition plays a crucial role in marathon training as it both optimises your performance during marathon training and can aid in your post-run recovery. Remember to pay extra attention to what you give your body during this time of training and make sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water throughout the day - and during your runs. You can consider using electrolyte-enhanced drinks or sports drinks for the longer runs in your program to replenish electrolytes lost through sweat. Aim to eat a balance of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats in your meals. Carbohydrates are what provide the primary fuel source for your running, so prioritize complex carbohydrates like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
During the run itself, you can experiment with different fueling strategies during long training runs to find what works best for you. Some prefer to use energy gels and bars, while others prefer bananas, dates, raisins or even jelly beans. The most important thing, however, is to listen to your body. Everybody is different and each runner will have unique nutritional needs. Play around with different snacks you enjoy and pay attention to how it makes your body feel. Experiment with the food you eat both before and after your runs until you've figured out what works best for you.
Listen to Your Body
Other than paying attention to your body when it comes to nutrition, this also goes for everything else in this training period. While you do need to push yourself as you train your body to run for longer distances, you should also look for your body's signals during training. If you experience pain or discomfort, take it seriously and seek appropriate advice. Also acknowledge the fact that on some days you might have better runs than others, and sometimes you just have a bad run. Don't push yourself or beat yourself up over it - look forward to the next run instead. Take your time and listen to what your body is telling you. It won't help to push through injuries as this can just lead to more severe problems down the road. And we want to make sure you do end at that starting line with proper training behind you and a healthy body in front of you. Instead, allow yourself adequate rest and recovery time to avoid burnout and improve overall performance. Incorporate stretching, foam rolling, and other recovery techniques into your routine to maintain flexibility and prevent muscle imbalances.
As we mentioned in the introduction: marathon running is not just a physical challenge but also a mental one. It can be challenging to keep your mind motivated when you feel like your body just needs to rest or when you just feel so bored running kilometre after kilometre. And if your mind checks out, that's when things will really get tough. If you do manage to keep your brain engaged, that's when you will reach that finish line with a pace maintained and hopefully a smile on your face!
Practice visualization techniques to envision both crossing the finish line, but also think back to your most successful runs from your training. Think of runs that made you feel empowered, comfortable or content. These memories will help you stay motivated during both the long training runs and hopefully for the marathon itself! You can also break the race into smaller milestones and focus on one step at a time. Break it into chunks you find manageable. It might be easier to see yourself complete 5k 6 times, rather than think of the end of 30 kilometres. And instead of focusing on how many kilometres you have run, think about how many kilometres you have left. Also think of developing mental strategies to cope with fatigue and self-doubt, such as positive self-talk or dedicating your runs to a meaningful cause.
Get Adequate Rest
Rest and recovery are as crucial as training itself as rest will actually help boost your running. When you allow your body to rest and gain new energy you help your body build muscle, strengthen it and keep your spirits reinvigorated. In fact, some experts say that everything you do outside of running is influencing your running as much as the training itself when it comes to becoming stronger and more resilient. If you never allow yourself time to recharge it can worsen your training by leading to injuries, burnout and tiredness.
Allow your body time to adapt and repair by incorporating rest days into your training plan. On these days your muscles get the chance to bounce back, and you avoid stress fractures and protect tight tendons. Additionally, aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support muscle recovery and overall well-being.
Embarking on a marathon journey is an exciting and transformative experience that requires commitment, discipline, and a well-rounded training approach. By being organised and aware in your marathon training you set yourself up for success and you'll be well-equipped to conquer the challenges that may occur. Remember, consistency, patience, and self-care are key to achieving your marathon goals. But more importantly: embrace and enjoy the journey you are on, listen to your body, and celebrate the progress you make along the way. Lace up your running shoes, set your sights on the finish line, and prepare to unleash your full potential as we know you will conquer the marathon with confidence!