Training for a marathon can seem quite overwhelming.
Not just because of the distance (although, running 26 miles in a row can be quite daunting).
It’s also because of the million different things (well, it seems like a million) that you’re supposed to do and/or know as part of your training.
There’s interval runs, tempo runs, long runs… and that’s just for the running. And there’s stretching. And foam rolling. And conditioning. And don’t forget about nutrition, or you will DEFINITELY be hitting the wall…
How are you supposed to fit all that in around, you know, a life, and a job, and possibly a family or partner or friends?
This new year, as your mind turns from Christmas to prepping for whatever marathon you’ll be running, we thought we’d create a helpful (and free!) little series that gives you the basics in quite manageable chunks.
Each week we’ll look at a different aspect of marathon training, why it’s important for successful marathon training, and an action step for you.
Want to make sure you never miss a post? Click here to sign up for our marathon series and you’ll get an email each week to go through the series.
This post is a big picture overview, with a summary of each of the main points. Then each upcoming post will go into more detail on one of these important points.
We’ll finish with one action you can apply to your training now.
If you’d like to watch the complete compressed guide to marathon training, vs read the next section, here’s a slightly different version from our YouTube channel:
Marathon Training – The Big Picture
At risk of stating the obvious, the point of marathon training is to prepare your body for running a marathon.
While it is obvious, it’s easy to forget that it’s a cumulative change that happens over time. Your body changes as it responds to whatever stimulus you provide it.
That’s why consistency is so important in marathon training. Each time you run, or train, or refuel, you’re one step closer to a body that will get you through your marathon; hopefully without hitting the wall or seriously injuring yourself.
It’s not a case of run, run, run, run, run (this is what Michel Glendinning, who helped me write the 3m2m guide series, calls ‘junk miles’).
It’s a case of doing the right things at the right time, with the right rest, so your body can increase its VO2 max, lactate threshold, aerobic endurance, and running efficiency and economy and become a lean, mean, running machine.
That said, here’s what you need to consistently be doing…
The Running: 3 Times a Week
Your runs every week should include one interval, one tempo, and one long run.
The interval runs improve the oxygen delivery to your muscles.
The tempo runs increase your lactate threshold so you can burn a higher proportion of fat at higher intensities.
The long run improves your aerobic and physical endurance.
Pacing is super important for all three of these runs. If you’re not running at the right speed and/or intensity, you aren’t working in the right zone or developing the right physical capacity.
To be able to work hard during these sessions, you have to rest between them, so you can go all-out when you do run.
You wouldn’t go hard on weights on the same muscles two days in a row. The same logic applies to running.
If your brain is screaming at the idea of not running six days a week, you may want to look at cross-training.
Cross-training is a great way to improve your cardiovascular capacity while you’re trying to give your muscles and joints a break from running wear-and-tear. It’s especially recommended if you’re trying to improve a previous marathon time.
If this is your first marathon, though, cross-training is totally optional. You may feel it’s more important for you to rest, and if that’s the case, listen to your body.
Cross-training usually involves interval or tempo-paced sessions on an elliptical, rower, or bike.
If you want to save time, you can pair cross-training with conditioning, which brings us to…
Conditioning: The Unsung Hero
Conditioning is almost more ignored than stretching by our marathon clients, but it is so important!
Conditioning helps you run as efficiently and economically as possible and gives you more power in your run, for less effort.
It can seem complicated and time-consuming to add yet another thing to your training, especially if you have no experience with weight or resistance training or if you hate gyms.
BUT – would it surprise you to learn you could get the benefits of resistance training in as little as 2 x 20 minute sessions per week?
Even if you hadn’t considered including conditioning before, I challenge you to find 2 x 20 minute slots a week to do some strength training – you’ll be surprised at the benefits.
We’ll be talking about what to include in your resistance sessions in a future post, and we also have a full routine (with variations to avoid boredom) in our 3m2m Conditioning Guide.
Stretching & Foam Rolling
There’s a lot of confusion around stretching.
Stretching, as in dynamic stretching, as in, an active warm-up, is extremely important to help prevent injury and get your muscles firing correctly before a training session.
Static stretching and foam rolling, on the other hand, do not belong in a warm-up. They should be completed after your training. They help with muscle soreness and tension that can slow you down in future runs.
When you’re scheduling your training, include time to stretch and/or foam roll the main muscles you’ve been working afterwards, or plan to do a bit before bed each evening.
Here’s where massage therapy can be a good tool in your recovery and/or training process. A good sports massage therapist will not only help to release any overly-tight muscles, he/she will also be able to give you an overview of where you may be over-working or under-recruiting. This information will help you train more effectively and help you know what to focus on at home.
Another oft-overlooked but very, very important piece of the training puzzle is nutrition.
How much do you think about your nutrition around running?
You may not have thought much about nutrition if you’ve been a regular runner up to this point. If you’re about to embark on marathon training, however, it’s something you should probably consider.
Whether or not you replenish your carbs and have enough protein and nutrients will make a huge difference to your endurance while you’re running, your energy levels in the days after your runs (especially after your long run) and your body’s ability to repair.
What you eat will literally be the difference between enjoying your marathon training and suffering your way through, dragging your unwilling body through your training runs.
In Summary – Your Checklist
Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?
On the one hand, for many people it may be more thought than they’ve had to put into running before.
On the other, now you have a handy checklist of training elements – it’s just a matter of scheduling them in.
Here’s your checklist:
Interval Run (1/week)
Tempo Run (1/week)
Long Run (1/week)
Conditioning (2/week, 20-30 min each)
Nutrition (try to plan your nutrition in a way that maximises your body’s natural replenishment cycle)
Stretching/Foam Rolling/Massage/Recovery – after training
Your Action Item
Now that you know what you should be including, schedule it into your life.
Sit down and look at your marathon training for the next 3-4 months (or however long you have left).
Schedule time for your runs (with a warm-up before and stretching time after) and conditioning.
Make a list of a few snacks you can have on hand after you train to replenish after a session.
By scheduling these into your life, you’re less likely to miss them and realise you’ve had a whole week without, say, an interval or conditioning session.
Coming up… in the next post we’ll talk about conditioning, why it’s so important, and what you should include in your conditioning routine to get the most benefit.
This post is part of our 3m2m marathon training series. If you’d like to receive these straight to your inbox, click here to sign up and you’ll get an email every week with a new piece on a different aspect of marathon training.
The articles in this series are all drawn from the 3 Months to Marathon guides, written by Katherine with help from Michel Glendinning of Thrive Fitness.