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How to train for a marathon

How to train for a marathon How to train for a marathon How to train for a marathon

Running a marathon is a huge undertaking, and the long training period beforehand can often feel almost as gruelling as the event itself; most marathon training plans require between 12 and 20 weeks of dedicated preparation, all in the name of increasing your endurance.

If you’re planning on doing your first ever marathon, it’s best if you’re already a seasoned runner – the widely-accepted guidelines suggest that you should have been running at a consistent base mileage for a minimum of one year before you get to grips with your marathon training programme.

Running shoes:

Your most important bit of kit is going to be your running shoes, to keep your feet comfortable and as protected as possible from the considerable amount of strain you’ll be putting them through. A shoe that doesn’t fit correctly can lead to poor form, and poor form can lead to injury.

Avoiding runners injuries:

There are a few things that marathon runners frequently overlook, but which can greatly reduce the likelihood of injuring yourself if you stay conscious of them (after all, consistency is the best way to train for a marathon and you can’t achieve consistency if you’re injured):

Fuelling ​your body

Your nutrition and hydration will dictate your energy levels, your decision making and your performance – as well as making your recovery time as effective as possible. Here’s how to optimise your fuel intake:

  • Protein. As a runner, you’re going to need protein and plenty of it – around 60g more per day than the average non-runner. This would be the equivalent of 200g of chicken, for example. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, soy beans, tempeh and lentils also pack a hefty protein punch.
  • Stay hydrated. This is vital, both when you’re running and while you’re resting. You need to make sure you drink when thirsty while on the move, but – generally speaking – not exceeding 600ml of water per hour. When not training, it’s still important to stay hydrated to aid your recovery.       
  • Pre-run fuelling. It’s a good idea to eat 30-60 minutes before you head out for a run – ideally a small, easily-digestible snack that provides a combination of carbs and protein; something like a whole grain bagel, some banana with nut butter, or oatmeal. Avoid fatty foods, or snacks that are high in fibre.
  • Mid-run fuelling. When you’re running a marathon, you’re going to need to get used to the idea of fuelling as you go. You should fuel early and often, and practice eating every half hour or so during your training – with a goal of eating roughly 30g of carbs per hour; bananas, carrots or energy bars can be good choices.
  • Post-run fuelling. It’s important that you have another carb/protein snack in the 30-60 minutes after you finish a run; your body is crying out for nutrients during this period, using them to refuel and heal your aching muscles.

Recovering from injury:

You will get sore, you may well get blisters (in which case, Compeed is here for you), but it’s vital to be able to tell the difference between general pain and an indication of serious injury, and not to try and push through ‘unhealthy’ pain.

  • Recognise ‘unhealthy’ pain. Generally achy legs are normal, but a sharp pain that causes you to recoil if touched could be an indicator of something more serious, as could any pain in your legs that is causing you to alter your running form. Anything like this should be checked by a doctor or a physio.
  • Know when to stop. Any pain that you suspect might be ‘unhealthy’ – especially one that is causing you to limp or alter your form – means you should stop running. Trying to push through could make any injury worse, while running with an altered form could lead to even further injuries.
  • Don’t rush recovery. A week or so resting from your training schedule is not the end of the world, and is unlikely to have any major impact on your aerobic fitness. Meanwhile, you can incorporate some cross-training and low-impact exercises into your schedule instead.

Stay motivated!

With all the above taken care of, the only thing left for you to do before (and during) race day is keep going and stay motivated. You can give yourself additional drive by running with a friend, running for charity or setting small goals for yourself throughout your training. Many runners also opt for a few sessions with a running coach. While this can be expensive, a good coach will be able to provide high-value, personalised marathon training advice.

Once you get going, you might find that feeling stronger, fitter and faster week by week is all the motivation you need.

Good luck!