Have you been thinking about running a marathon- you know, that big, 26.2 mile race? Maybe it is a dream of yours to do one day, like a bucket list item that needs to be checked off, or maybe you are an avid runner and want prove to yourself that you can do this. Or, maybe you are a competitive runner looking to compete in the greatest race that has been established since 1908.
Whether you are a beginner or an expert, it is easy to have a misstep in your marathon preparation. We want to address some of the basics here and help you have a better chance at having a healthy, injury-free experience while preparing for a marathon!
How Long is Training? (When should I start training for a marathon?
When you should start training for a marathon is completely dependent upon you! If you are not a runner and you are setting out to run a marathon for the first time, you should allow an entire year for proper training. If you consider yourself a beginner (say you’ve been running for 6 months to a year), you should allow for at least 4 months of training. And, if you are an experienced marathon runner who is constantly running, you should give yourself about 12 weeks to train.
You want to be honest with yourself about where you currently are at with your experience, condition and physical abilities. It is simply smart to play it smart. Pushing your body too hard increases the risk of injury that could even completely disable you from being able to race. Give your body time to adjust, build endurance, speed and strength!
Get Checked Out.
First and foremost, when you make the decision to prepare for a marathon, you should get clearance from you doctor. Not everyone is healthy enough to be training for a marathon, or racing in one. There are many health factors that can play into this like pre-existing heart conditions, previous injuries, etc.
Another way to properly prepare yourself for training is to visit a Physical Therapist to evaluate any aches, pains, discomforts, or to pinpoint any particular muscle weakness that should be worked on and strengthened during training. They can also guide you on proper running form, further decreasing your chances of becoming injured during training & your marathon!
Next, you need to look at what marathon you are running. Do you need to make travel arrangements to reach your marathon location on race day? Are you running a local marathon that requires no travel? Are you running in a higher elevation, up and down hills, flat roads, at sea level, in the snow, in the desert during the dead of summer, in the rainy north west, or in the humid south?
You need to prepare and train for the proper conditions in which you will be racing in. If you live in an entirely different environment than where your race is, you need to train for the environment that your marathon will be taking place in. It may seem difficult but it is possible to recreate most conditions. For example, you can take a short trip to change your elevation, crank up the heater or air conditioner while on the treadmill, or practice on the exact path of the marathon.
Get with the program!
You can work with a trainer or even use an app to train on your own. One great app to us is from Runner’s World. It gives you an option for classic plans to follow or a customized one that is malleable to your day-to-day. We will address the basics that should be part of all marathon training programs.
Base mileage is a fundamental foundation to all races of any distance especially a marathon. Most injuries in training occur because people increase their mileage too quickly. A good benchmark is to never increase mileage by more than 10% in a week. Ideally, you are running 20-30 miles on a weekly basis and, when you hone in on the marathon training, you build to running 50 miles a week. Most of these runs should be done at a easy going pace where you can still carry a conversation.
Long runs are part of your training, but not the bulk of it. Typically, you are building up to a point where you can incorporate a long run in your training every 10 days, or so. These runs can range from 12 to 15 miles. You should not be doing a long run that exceeds 20 miles. If training properly and receiving proper nutrition, your body should be able to kick in with proper endurance for those extra 6 miles on race day.
Interval and tempo runs are the core of speed training. The exact timing and speed of these intervals and tempos vary from program-to-program. It is important to remember your condition and abilities at the time you start will create variances in this. For example, intervals can be 30 seconds of running fast, switching to 5 minutes of walking, to 3 minutes of jogging, then repeat the cycle. Again, the paces and times vary. In contrast, a tempo run could be 4 miles of one pace, switching to 2 miles of a different pace. These tempo runs are different paces that last longer based on the respective distances.
A great way to simulate an actual race day is to run a race. If, you are prepping for a marathon, sign up to run a 5k, 10k, or even a half marathon. This way you can get a feel for what to expect, build your confidence, work out any kinks, figure out some do’s and don’ts, and mentally get set. From parking, to checking-in, having your friends and family there, bathroom breaks, the adrenaline, nutrition, hydration, gear and more, a lot can go wrong on race day. If, you have experience with these factors beforehand, the better off you will be for your big day!
Throughout your training, make sure you are properly stretching, strengthening, and not overdoing how much you run. Your body is the greatest instrument you'll ever have and you need to take care of it. This means taking a break, giving yourself time to heal and recover. You do not need to be running more than 3-5 days a week. You can incorporate cross-training on your off days (i.e. walking, hiking, yoga, swimming, etc.), but it is smart to take time off to rest & let your body recover.
As suggested by our Physical Therapists, working on glute strength, hip flexor strength, strengthening the gastrocnemius muscles in the calves, upper trunk flexibility, a proper warm-up of dynamic stretching and a post run static stretch session are all components to a solid training regimen. The 2-3 weeks prior to your marathon you drastically cut back on your mileage and how hard you are running. This is crucial for your body to be successful on race day.