Marathon Training Top Tips
Running a marathon sits at the top of many a person's bucket list. It often comes in the form of a New Year’s resolution to lose weight, eat more healthily and in the process, get fit. It’s a win, win, win. And there’s no better way to do this than setting yourself a goal that requires discipline and dedication - two important elements you’ll need to successfully train for and run 26.2 miles.
However, once you’ve taken the plunge and actually entered a marathon, often committing yourself to raising vast sums of money for charity, the next stage is to actually start running. This can be a daunting prospect for the uninitiated. Here are a few things you’ll need to consider.
Follow a marathon training plan
Whether you’re doing your first or fiftieth marathon, following a training plan definitely helps. It keeps you on track, ensuring that you build up the distance gradually, so by the time you hit the start line, you’ll be in peak condition.
There are loads of marathon books and online training plans to choose from. Whatever you do, make sure you choose one that is based on the finish time you’re hoping for. One important element to consider is whether the plan gives time (1.5hrs run) or distance (seven miles, easy) targets. It really depends on what works for you, but I find time on your feet is better than chasing mileage.
Get running shoes that fit
26.2 miles is a long way to run. But you’ll be running even further in training. Therefore, it’s important you choose the right running shoes, whether they're for trail or road. It’s also worth popping into your local running store and doing a gait analysis. It might be that a simple pair of custom orthotics will make a world of difference to your running and may even prevent injury.
If minimalist running shoes are your thing, then make sure you learn how to run in them properly, otherwise there’s a chance you could get injured. Initially, your calves will be screaming for a massage, but if you’re patient and slowly increase the mileage, you’ll be OK.
It’s important you use shoes that work for you and correspond with your gait. From our own Merrell range, we'd recommend the All Out Fuse or Mix Master Trail shoes - both great for long distance running.
I love being outdoors, so the idea of being stuck in a gym isn’t one that fills me with pleasure. Still, gyms are extremely useful for providing the tools for strength and conditioning. By working on your legs, core and glutes, you’ll become a much better runner and once again, be less prone to injury. If you can’t justify expensive gym membership fees, there are plenty of exercises you can do at home: squats, lunges, sit ups, press ups, etc. Trust me - they really help!
Key training sessions not to miss
Any good training program will have a number of core sessions. There’s usually two long runs - one midweek and one at the weekend. There’s also the speed session and perhaps some hill work.
From my experience of long distance running, if there are three sessions that you want to ensure you don’t miss, they are speed work (usually Tuesdays), hills (Thursdays) and a long run (Saturday or Sunday). So, if you’re short on time - these key sessions will transform your running and get you a faster marathon time.
Don’t try anything new on race day
Race day is not the time to test out those brand new socks that you decided to buy at the expo the day day before. Nor is it time to try an energy gel saying ‘boost your speed’, if you’ve never used them before.
Think of it like a theatre rehearsal. You are trying to mimic exactly what you’ll do on the day of the performance - from your breakfast in the morning to the running apparel you’ll be wearing. Nothing should be left to chance.
DON’T go too fast at the start
Whether you’re running your first marathon or your hundredth, there’s a good chance you’ll set off too fast. You often hear people talking about aiming for a negative split, where the second half is faster than the first - but statistically, only a few will actually achieve this.
We always feel fresh and strong at the start of a race, which is why we tend to run quicker in the first half, hanging on for as long as possible until we eventually succumb to cramp or our glycogen stores run out - the point at which we hit the ‘Wall’. A slower start will help delay this.
Our bodies are incredible machines, capable of extraordinary - almost superhuman - tasks that defy the imagination. However, our bodies are limited if we don’t feed them and keep them hydrated.
With limited amounts of glycogen in your energy stores, if you’re to avoid ‘hitting the wall’, you’ll need to regularly take on extra carbs (up to 60g per hour) - usually in the form of energy gels. But like anything, make sure you practice taking on gels during your long runs. You wouldn’t want any nasty surprises on race day. For more information, see our guide on how to fuel yourself for a marathon.