Blisters 5 min read

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.

With that in mind, we’ve put together this guide to choosing the right footwear, eating well and avoiding injury to help you get into peak condition for the big day. But first, let’s cover the four main components that will feature in any marathon training plan you commit to:

  • Base mileage. This is the total number of miles you run each week, over the course of 3 to 5 runs. You’ll want a base mileage of 50 miles before you get to race day, building up to this over the course of your training. N.B. never increase your base mileage by more than 10% from week-to-week.
  • Long runs. One long run every 7-10 days will help you gradually build up your endurance over time, increasing by a mile or two each week. Over time, this will help you gradually adjust to running longer distances, without it initially feeling like a huge shock to your system.
  • Speed exercises. This is an optional element to increase your cardio capacity, for example by doing practice intervals and tempo runs.
  • Rest and recovery. A vital part of any training programme, ensuring that you don’t overexert or hurt yourself.

Once you’ve found a marathon training program that fits your level of experience (there are some good examples here), there are a few other considerations – both before and after you get going.

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.

So while there are a number of things that will factor into choosing the best shoe for you, the one at the top of the list is something called pronation:

  • Pronation. This term refers to the way your foot rolls when it hits the ground, so as to distribute impact and reduce shock on the lower leg. Some people (supinators) don’t roll (or pronate) their foot enough when it hits the ground, causing a large amount of shock to the leg, while others (overpronators) roll their foot too much.

Whether you pronate too much, not enough or just the right amount, there’s a specific type of running shoe that will suit you best. Use this guide to figure out what you’re looking for.

  • Weight. The more you weigh, the more impact there will be on your legs when your feet hit the ground. Typically, a heavier runner might want to look for a shoe with more cushioning, and a lighter runner might want less.
  • Speed. If you have a time target for your marathon, then you may want to opt for lighter shoes to optimise your speed.
  • Climate. Will you be running in the warmer months or the cooler months? You’ll be generating a lot of heat by running as well, and you won’t want to overheat, so if your marathon is during summer then you may want to consider shoes that incorporate a breathable mesh.
  • Stick with comfort. The overarching rule is to run the marathon in whatever shoe you’ve been training in. If you’ve been running in a heavily-cushioned shoe, for example, then stick with it, because this is what your form will have adapted to.

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):

  • Stretching. It’s easy to forget how important it is to stretch after your run, helping to improve your flexibility so that you’re less likely to injure yourself. Here are some recommended exercises.
  • Strength. If running is your only form of exercise, you will only reach a certain level of strength – meaning you’re more likely to injure yourself when you commit to something more demanding like a marathon. Doing some strength training will reduce your risk of injury.
  • Pushing too hard. Your body has to adapt gradually to the increasing demands you’re making on it during marathon training – that’s why you should increase your base mileage by no more than 10% per week. Rather than speeding your progress, doing too much too soon is likely to set you back through injury. This is also why you need to vary your training sessions with different exercises and different lengths/intensities of runs. Mixing in a few ‘easy runs’ will help keep your fitness levels high without overly straining your body.
  • Recovery. When you’re putting your body through the considerable strain of marathon training, it’s all the more important to ensure that you give yourself plenty of recovery time. This is hugely beneficial in helping your body heal and reset before the next session.
  • Eating/drinking right. You need nourishment to produce the energy that powers your muscles, and you need to stay hydrated to keep your body functioning properly. Eating too much, too little, or the wrong foods can all contribute to poor performance, as can not getting enough water.

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!