With less than 2 percent of the United States having run a marathon, there’s no denying that 26.2 miles is a long distance for the human body to run—but it’s not impossible. Although marathon interest is steadily increasing in the U.S., for some, the idea of multiple hours of continuous running may seem a far stretch. Yet what it comes down to is willpower and patience. With time, training and perseverance, you can reach your marathon goal.
For a healthy, injury-free and positive marathon experience, follow these training tips:
Find Your Plan
If you Google “marathon training plan” you will see hundreds of training schedules pop up. Before selecting the first one you see, determine what kind of plan you’re looking for based on intensity level and your running experience. Not only do plans vary in length, they also vary in workouts, weekly mileage and the number of times you run each week. Four months is an average training period but it really depends on your current level of fitness and endurance base. If this is your first marathon, it might be a good idea to select a longer plan to give yourself time to adjust to the training demands. For recommendations, try Runner’s World “Smart Coach” training guides.
Starting off with high frequency and intensity can lead to injuries and burnout early in your training season. Your first week of training should match up for your current endurance level. So, for example, if you are up to three miles of continuous running, let five miles be your long run that week. Also, keep in mind the 10 percent rule: increasing your weekly mileage by only 10 percent at a time will help increase your endurance in a healthy and consistent way to keep you on track and avoid too many aches and pains. Remember, start small in order to finish big.
Go The Distance
Along with your recovery days, your long run days are extremely important in training. Expect to add one long run to your schedule each week to become accustomed to being on your feet for three to four hours or more. Decide on a day that works best with your schedule to devote a good amount of time for running and recovery. In the beginning, your long run days should be six to eight miles, but three months into training your runs should consistently be more than 18 miles. Some experts advise not to train more than 22 miles at a time to better avoid burnout, while others advise going longer—up to 25 miles—by including walk breaks. You’ll have to find out what works best for you, but be sure your body is ready for it.
Run At Marathon Pace
Some people say a marathon is a 20-mile warm-up and a 6.2-mile race. You want to find a good pace to settle into for the first half, then steadily increase your pace until you reach your goal pace to finish strong. During your training, incorporate “progressive marathon pace” to your long runs to familiarize yourself to higher intensities during long runs. After a few miles of warming up, slowly begin to pick up your pace to reach your marathon goal pace during the last quarter of your run. Don't forget to slowly decline your intensity and weekly mileage about two to three weeks out from your marathon. This rest and recovery stage allows you to maximize your potential for the race.
Carbs ARE Good
You won’t see any marathoner on the Atkins diet. To stay healthy and fueled up for your runs, you’ll need to nourish your body efficiently with healthy carbs, fats and protein. For your long runs, you’ll want to eat before, during and after. During training you will figure out which foods work for you and which don’t. Before a run, eat a light breakfast (e.g. eggs and an apple, toast with almond butter), but don’t over indulge. Typically runners stay away from dairy as it is hard to digest and more likely to promote phlegm and mucus when running. During your long runs, familiarize yourself and stomach with eating and drinking during the run. You burn through carbs before fats while running so be sure the food you consume has simple carbs (e.g. gels, sport chews, sports drinks) to quickly replenish what gets lost. Eat and/or consume a recovery beverage within 20 minutes post-run with plenty of carbs to replenish the glycogen level and protein to repair your muscles.
Get The ZZZs
Marathon training in itself is draining both physically and mentally, but add on things like school, work and family, and you got yourself a crazy schedule. Sleep is the best form of recovery so be sure to stay on top of your sleep schedule, aiming for at least seven hours a night. Lack of sleep can affect your immune system, which is already vulnerable during marathon training. If you find yourself lethargic and more tired than normal it might be a good idea to check your iron level. Running increases iron loss through sweating and foot strikes, but it’s a key nutrient for energy levels and endurance. Consume iron-rich foods like red meat, dark leafy greens and apples, as well as fruits rich in vitamin C, which increases the body's iron absorption.
Training for a marathon is an opportunity to test your mental and physical strength, not to mention a humbling learning experience in testing the human body. Be proud when standing on that start line and know the hard work is all done once it’s race time!