5 Ultimate Tips On How To Train For a Marathon
Depending on your running experience, it can take you from ten to thirty weeks of training to prepare for a marathon. Even if you start from the couch, you can become a marathoner within 30 weeks with proper determination and a reasonable training plan. These 5 valuable training tips will help you to better understand how to train for a marathon.
To make it clear, these training tips don’t necessarily apply to marathon training only. They are rather general principles of running for long distances that apply for all, no matter the level of experience. So if you train for a half marathon, your first marathon or you are an ultra runner, you should be aware of them.
1. Get a good marathon training plan
Marathon training is one of the toughest physical challenges to experience for non-professional runners. If you are serious about reaching the finish line, you will need a well-structured training schedule that will guide you through the process.
A proper marathon training plan is an absolute must. In order to prepare yourself properly, you should plan your weekly runs and calculate your running mileage. A good training plan will ensure that you are running enough miles each week while keeping injury risks low.
Marathon training program
Proper marathon training plans incorporate different types of training runs such as recovery runs, long runs, marathon pace runs, tempo runs or interval runs. Running a marathon doesn’t mean training distance running only. Speed workouts are equally important for your muscles and bones to prepare for the upcoming event.
Most of the marathon training programs also include strength training, core work, or cross-training into your running routine.
This is especially important for first-time marathon runners. Planning at least one cross-training day and one strength training day weekly is highly advised.
Lastly, we cannot forget rest days and the tapering period. Your body will need those free days to recover and slowly adjust to the body changes that running causes. You will need to taper prior to your race day to get in proper running shape.
Training plan helps with motivation
The marathon training program helps you with motivation too. When you see yourself going according to it day by day, you will feel positive and motivated about what you do, highly increasing your chances you will actually reach your goal and successfully achieve your marathon plan.
A4M marathon training plan
You do not need to pay hundreds of dollars for a training plan. There are plenty of free marathon training plans available out there. Such as our free A4M marathon training plan.
2. Build up your mileage slowly
The single most important idea behind every marathon training plan is gradually increasing your mileage. Your body needs time to develop basic running fitness and slowly prepare for longer distances.
Of course skill level plays a major role here. The slow increase of weekly mileage is especially important for beginner runners.
How the body reacts to running
When you start training, your cardiovascular system, circulatory system, joints, and muscles get under a lot of physical stress. Your heartbeat skyrockets, you hardly catch your breath, your legs feel sore. No wonder. You haven’t really used them for a while.
Many runners wrongly read these warning signs and give up on their goal. Actually, you will need to accept certain levels of pain, mostly at the beginning. Training for a marathon will hurt. Not always though.
Your body usually needs two or three weeks to accommodate and adapt to new running stress levels. If you keep running the same distances for a couple of weeks, your muscles will become more perfused, muscle cells will learn to process more oxygen and the whole motoric system will become more effective. The pain will retreat. At least until you increase the mileage again.
You need to start your marathon training program with shorter distances. Let’s say your overall mileage during the first week will be 6 miles. 1,5 miles 4 times a week.
You will give your body 2 weeks not increasing this mileage. When you feel that you start to run comfortably, move to the next level.
Risks of early mileage increase
The rate at which you increase your running mileage is equally important. Make sure you increase it maximum by the number of miles that equals the number of your running sessions per week. In this particular case, you would increase from 6 to 10 miles.
If you are an injury-prone runner (and everybody who starts running is), this strategy will prevent early running injuries that could compromise your marathon goals.
Increase your mileage too quickly, your running muscles won’t have enough time to adapt and will probably collapse. You will hurt yourself and get injured.
Check Daniels’ Running Formula in order to better understand and plan your weekly mileage increase.
3. Measure your step cadence (stride rate)
To put it in simple talk, you should make shorter steps when running. This is a crucial piece of advice to avoid knee or hip injury early on. Almost all beginner runners make this mistake. By making too long steps, we put too much stress on our ankles, knees, and hips.
You definitely want to measure your step cadence and keep it at an average level of 180 steps per minute.
Why cadence is important
The main problem associated with the low cadence of steps (low amount of steps per minute due to long strides) is that the longer steps you take, the longer time you spend in the air, the higher you displace your body mass, and the harder you hit the ground on landing.
You can limit the impact of hitting the ground hard with the proper choice of quality running shoes. In order to measure your step cadence, choose some of the currently popular fitness trackers.
4. Stretch regularly
Yeah, yeah, you have heard about this one right?
Most people heard about the importance of stretching. It helps to increase general muscle flexibility or get rid of back pain that is often a result of a too sedentary lifestyle.
But stretching is absolutely critical for runners. Especially to avoid potential injuries. You should practice it before and after every training unit. Many non-experienced runners make mistakes in the way they stretch though.
Static vs dynamic
In general, there are two types of stretching: static and dynamic. You want to understand the difference and apply it to your exercise routine.
According to the research, dynamic stretching is ideal before your exercise. It warms up the muscles and leads to higher performance, while static stretching is more useful after the training.
5. Plan your race day
If this is your first marathon, note that there is a number of things you should think of ahead of the race day. These details will increase your chances of success.
You should set your goal marathon pace not long after you actually start to train for a marathon. If you aim to run a marathon in less than 4 hours, your mile split should be under 9 minutes 10 seconds. Aiming at certain split times will help you to better plan your training runs.
Marathon is a hell of a long run and you will definitely need a strategy. You don’t want to give all you have at the beginning. If your goal marathon pace is 9 minutes 10 seconds, run about 10-15 seconds slower first half marathon. Then, if you feel good, increase your pace. This will increase your chances of reaching the finish line.
Discover the track
Go and check how the track looks like. If not possible in person, give it a look online. Make sure you know where is the starting line, finish line, what is track surface, and elevation. Based on this information, adjust your running gear selection.
Positioning of aid stations is equally important. If you plan your fluid intake properly on the way, you can leave your hydration pack at home.
Also, find out how many fellow runners will run the marathon with you to have an approximate idea how it will look like on race day.
Try a race prior to your marathon
Participating in an official running event is a whole different thing than going for a training run. Before you will actually run a marathon, it is advised to take part in some kind of running competition such as a 10k or half marathon.
You want to know how it feels to compete with other runners. Having lots of people looking at you while you run may also be challenging for someone. Better to try and know. This experience will help you to better prepare for your marathon race day and fully focus on yourself and your pace strategy.