So you want to run a marathon, but you have no idea where to start? Then, you are in the right place. I am going to break down my training to give you some tips and inspiration when creating your own plan. The idea of 26.2 miles can feel very daunting, even for someone that has been a runner for over 10 years. The key is to start small and build from there. Especially if you do not regularly run, you cannot just jump into high mileage and workouts. You need to slowly acclimate your body to the mileage. There are tons of training programs you can access online. A popular one is the Hal Higdon training programs, which I am linking here. There are different plans based on the type of runner you are. I think these plans can be a great starting point, but I also think it is important to craft the plan to your specific body and life. Don’t be afraid to get a plan and then make the proper adjustments that make sense for you. Don’t be afraid to change around days or to increase mileage on certain days and take days off when you are struggling. I am not training with the same intensity I did in college; therefore, I am not in as good of shape. However, this is one of the first times where my body feels genuinely good and strong. I think this has a lot to do with the fact that I am in charge of my own training. The truth is, you know your body best. If you are disciplined, there is no better coach to have than yourself. Who knows your body better? With that said, no one should train for a marathon alone and isolated. Even if you are largely making decisions on your training, you should still absolutely consult with someone else to make sure you are on the right track. Marathon training is hard work, if possible, find a tribe that helps keep you motivated and consistent.
If you are postpartum and beginning to train for a marathon, you can go back and read my specific tips for postpartum marathon training, here.
Today, I want to give more specific training tips for marathon training. I am not a coach or by any means a marathon expert. This is my first ever marathon! So, I get it, maybe not the most credible, but there is this quotation that makes me feel a bit more credible when it comes to marathons:
“To run your best marathon you have to be in your best 10K shape. To be in your best 10K shape you have to be in your best 5K shape.” -Randy Thomas, Women’s XC Head Coach at Boston College
I have lots of experience when it comes to training for fast 5Ks. This is really the base of good marathon training, but of course the mileage and longer steady states must be added. So this might be my first time training for a marathon, but I have years of 5K training under my belt. I also believe a huge aspect to good marathon training is patience. You can’t jump into that 20 mile long run. You have to build and build and patiently await the 26th mile. It will come, and you will be ready.
These tips are definitely more geared to the busy person that is trying to squeeze marathon training into an already hectic schedule. This is for those that love running, but running is not everything. This is for those that want to hit their goal, whatever that might be (BQ, sub-fill-in-the blank hours, or just crossing that finish line), but do not want training to take over their lives. So if you’re still with me, and saying yes, yes, yes, that is me, then here are 5 tips to consider when beginning to marathon train:
Start Where You Are
There are tons and tons of training plans to choose from, but I think one of the best ways to create a training plan that works for your body, is starting exactly where you are and slowly building from there. I am not going to get into the technicalities of the training plan because there is so much variation based on running background, but I think a general rule of thumb is to start with what you have been doing. So for example, if before you decided to run a marathon, you were running 4 miles, 4 times a week. So, 16 miles per week. Start that as week 1 of training. In terms of start date, that will also vary based on running experience, but as long as you aren’t going from zero running, 4 months out is plenty of time to build. If you are going from literally not running at all, I would give yourself an extra month to just work on getting used to running occasionally. Back to my example. If you start with week 1 at 4 days of running per week, averaging about 16 miles, then each week, you will want to slowly increase by no more than about 4 miles. Again, this is a very basic way of thinking of it, but that number 4 was a helpful tool to help me build. I also started at running 4 days a week. I naturally increased this to 5 and then to 6 days a week. You will reach a point where it is easier to increase weekly mileage by having a really easy 4-5 mile run on one of the days you typically took off. You will also want to choose the maximum volume you wish to hit. There is definitely a point where more miles is not necessarily the answer to a faster marathon time. This is known as the law of diminishing returns. Choose your number and try to not go over it. This is again very much based on experience and your personal body, but for me, I am finding that 60 is a good number. Again, I have built to this type of mileage and I have only hit 60 for the first time about 6 weeks out from the marathon. I am staying at 60 for about a month of training and then will taper (cut back on mileage) last 2 weeks before the race. While this is definitely not crazy high mileage for a marathon, I know my body, I know my life, and right now 60 is what makes sense.
Designate a Day for Tempo Runs and Long Runs
And stay consistent! Every Wednesday is my workout days. I am at the point that I don’t even think about it. I just know that Wednesdays I need to push myself. I also then know that Thursdays and Fridays, I recover and just run based off of effort. That leads to the big long run days, which I choose to run on Saturdays. I treat Saturdays with extra care and importance. To me, these are the most important days of training. I think it is essential to have this type of training rhythm. Our bodies are smart and I believe they respond well to the same patterns over and over again.
Be Particular About Pace
Depending on your goals, pace will play a different role into your training, but regardless if you are going for the Boston Qualifier time or want to hit sub- 4 hours, pace is important. Again, lots of theories on how to pace, but based on my college training I am used to using VDOT pacing. Here is the link to the best VDOT calculator. I love this method of training because it makes pacing very straightforward. Even if you have not run a race recently, you can put your goal marathon time in and it will calculate your pace for the race, but if you click on the “Training” tab next to the “Race Paces” tab, it will give you the mile pace for easy/recovery runs, T-pace (threshold or tempo pace), I-pace (interval pace, so think mile repeats), and R-pace (repetition pace, so think hard and painful). If you get anything from this whole piece, this should be the takeaway. This is a great to make sure you are on target to hit your goal pace. Final thing on pacing, pay attention to it on workout and long run days, but really try to go off of effort on the other training days. On my easy runs I rarely look down at my pace. There is something to having runs where pace is not the focus, just feeling good and getting in the miles.
Train on Terrain Similar to Course
Know the course you are running ahead of time. Each course is different, so do your research to find out what type of course you will be dealing with (flat, hilly, rolling, down hill). Based on the course, make sure you are getting in runs that expose you to those elements. If you are running a really hilly course, it doesn’t make sense to only run on flat surfaces. Find the hills in your area and incorporate them into your runs. You can also incorporate hill workouts by doing harder effort hill repeats. The best situation of course, is to get to train on the course, but for most of us, this is not always possible. Even if the race will be your first time on the course, try to replicate it as best you can on training runs.
Take Days Off!
Your body needs rest. It is easy to fall into the more is better trap, especially when you are training for 26 miles, but your body needs proper rest to be able to absorb training. I am the type of person that sometimes struggles with rest days, especially when I am anxious about hitting my goal time. It really helps me when I think about taking days off from running as a way to get better and help my body absorb the training. Changing your perspective on rest and days off make it so much easier to allow your body the rest it needs. I often think about how an extra 8 miles will not do me that much more good, but it can definitely cause injury or burnout.
I hope these tips can help as you start your marathon training! If you do have a marathon on the calendar, I would love to hear which one and how training is going. Leave a comment below!