When considering a marathon, you should have at least a year of consistent mileage under your running belt. A distance of 26.2 miles poses a significantly larger injury risk than the two or three-mile morning jog most people are used to. Once you have been running for a significant amount of time, and your body has adjusted to longer distances, you can then take marathon training into consideration. It may even be wise to enter a few shorter races to prepare for running such a distance.
The Training Plan
To construct a proper training plan, it is necessary to build your mileage over the weeks leading up to your marathon. A conservative approach works best here, with mileage gradually increasing to somewhere around 50 miles per week over 10-20 weeks. Aim for about four-to-five runs per week and make sure to keep them at a comfortable pace.
Once every seven to ten days, incorporate a long run into your plan, to allow your body to adjust to higher mileage runs. Slowly increase the distance of your long run over time, to continue to allow your body to adapt. As a rule of thumb, make sure to decrease the mileage of your long run after every three runs. This allows the body to maintain its recovery and lessens the risk of injury.
Speed work is a useful addition to any marathon training plan as it may help increase aerobic capacity and build greater leg and glute strength. This can be incorporated into your training plan by including interval runs and tempo runs. Interval runs involve running at a much greater pace than normal, for a predetermined distance. These are interspersed with periods of recovery at a jogging or walking pace. Tempo runs involve running at a challenging pace for a much longer period of time, usually several miles at once. Both types of training build the body’s work capacity and allow it to work more efficiently over time.
Rest, Recovery, and Nutrition
Rest is an essential component of any marathon training plan and allows muscles to recover from demanding workouts. On rest days, you may choose to do a number of other activities that may facilitate the recovery process. These include swimming, yoga, weightlifting, and cycling, or anything that is not considered high-impact activity.
Proper nutrition and hydration will complement a well-constructed program and can assist in achieving optimal results. To avoid dehydration, always carry water during your long runs, or plan them where you know you can easily access a water source. Long runs also require a hefty amount of glucose to fuel your working muscles, so it is also a good idea to carry easily digestible carbohydrates with you to refuel muscle glycogen when you get low. These can be found in the form of energy chews or gels and can be easily stored in a pocket or running belt.
The Big Day
After grueling weeks of training and what seems like an impossibly long lead-up, marathon day arrives. Make sure to eat a high-carbohydrate breakfast several hours before you start running, and drink plenty of water. Wear comfortable clothes, and make sure to pack any foods you plan to consume throughout the race. When you cross the starting line, make sure to start slow, so as not to burn out early. Finally, pace yourself, keep hydrated, and enjoy the race!