How to Prepare for a Marathon
Most runners consider marathons the most challenging endurance race there is. It’s 26.2 miles of you when the road. The distance is gruelling and the injury risks are real if you haven’t prepared properly. But the satisfaction that comes with completing your first marathon is like few things in life.
This article will help provide first time runners with the guidance they need to train for a marathon.
Before You Begin
The distance of a marathon puts you at a significantly higher risk for injury than your typical run would. It’s not a race you can jump into without training beforehand. Marathons take dedication and a certain level of physical fitness. Before you commit to running a marathon and engaging in a training program, consult with your doctor to ensure your body can handle the rigors ahead of you.
Building Your Way to a Marathon
Most runners will tell you that it’s a good idea to run a consistent base mileage for at least a year before beginning to train for a marathon. Building mileage too fast is one of the most common causes of running injuries. Before you start training for your first marathon, look to come up with a running plan to build up to running 20 to 30 miles every week. Once you can do that consistently, you’re ready to start your training program.
Most marathon training programs consist of four elements:
Let’s take a look at how to incorporate each of these elements into a training program.
Marathon training programs typically last 12 to 20 weeks. Make it your goal to build up to running 50 miles every week during this time. This will help you build the confidence and endurance you’ll need to cross the finish line on race day.
Set a goal of running 3 to 5 days each week at a pace that allows you to carry on a conversation. The old school of thought stated that you should follow the 10% rule, meaning that you never increase your added miles by more than 10% from one week to the next. However, more and more research is showing that the 10% rule is more myth than solid advice.
A 2007 research study that was published in BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders used a two armed randomized controlled trial involving 532 novice runners looking to train for a four mile running event. The study wanted to look at the effects of two training programs, one of which was the 10 percent rule, while the other program was a more aggressive training regimen. Regardless of the training regimen, runners followed the same warmup process and the overall structure of the training was the same — the major difference was the training volumes.
The final results? The injury rate was the same for both groups - approximately 1 in 5 runners - just one of many recent studies showing that the 10% rule may not be the most efficient way for you to add miles on a week-to-week basis while building up your base mileage.
So what is the best way to add base mileage while minimizing your injury risk? The answer is to customize it individually but if you're a running beginner, look to consistently run 1 - 4 miles a day, 2 -3 times a week for a few weeks until you feel that your body is comfortable with the current load. You can then look to increase the number of miles per week as you see fit though you probably won't want to add more than 1 - 3 miles per week.
The key to increasing your weekly mileage in preparation for training for a marathon is to build slowly and steadily. Listen to your body and make sure to take a break if you feel that your legs are hurting more than they should after a run. Doing so will help you avoid injuries that could slow your training and cause you to miss your race.
Long runs are an important part of your training as they help build the endurance and mental toughness you’ll need to push through points in the race when you don’t think you can take another strike.
Build up to one long run per week. Long runs should be spaced 7 to 10 days apart and you should look to increase your mileage to the run each successive week. You may also want to consider backing off your long run mileage every so often. For example:
Week 1 – 10 miles
Week 2 – 12 miles
Week 3 – 14 miles
Week 4 – 10 miles
Week 5 – 16 miles
Dropping the distance of your long run every three or four weeks will help you avoid overtraining and reduce your risk of injury.
You should run your long runs at a slower than normal pace. This helps your body adjusts to the longer distance and teaches you how to burn fuel efficiently.
You can cap your long runs at 20 to 22 miles. Running more than that puts you at additional risk for injury. On race day the crowd, the excitement and adrenaline will help carry you the extra four or so miles to the finish line.
The first goal of a marathon is to finish the race. Covering 26.2 miles is a big accomplishment in its own right and offers a serious challenge for even veteran marathoners. That said, we all have a time goal that we keep tucked away in the back of our heads, even if we won’t admit to it. Speed work can help you reach that goal.
The easiest way to incorporate speed work into your marathon training is with interval and tempo runs. Here’s how they work:
Intervals – Intervals are runs of a specific distance performed at a significantly faster pace than normal. Short recovery jogs are completed between each interval. 4x1s are common interval for marathoners. You run 1 mile at a rapid pace followed by a five-minute recovery jog. Repeat this pattern for a total of four intervals.
Shorter races like 5Ks and 10Ks are another good way to add speed work into your training.
Don’t forget to rest and give your body time to recover between training sessions. You don’t need to rest a day in between every session, but schedule at least a day or two of rest into your week. You’ll be fresher on the days you do train and you’ll avoid overtraining to the point of injuring yourself.
Resting means that you don’t run on that day. You could take the entire day off, or you could engage in walking, hiking, swimming, yoga, weight training, or any other activity that doesn’t involve running.
As you get closer to your marathon date, it will be important to increase the amount of rest you get. Run fewer miles at a lower intensity during the two weeks immediately prior to your race. Runners call this tapering. It helps ensure that your body is rested and healed for the many miles you’ll face on race day.
The picture above is my smile crossing the finish line at my first marathon. I was seriously out of fuel for the last couple miles and was so happy to see that finish line.
If you combine these tips with proper hydration and nutrition, you’ll be crossing the finish line of your first marathon before you know it.
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