Ten Marathon Training Tips


1. Training Plan and Rest

Training for a single event such as the marathon can involve several phases of different types of running. Just as each week is comprised of different workouts, each phase is also somewhat different. A common fault to marathon training is not planning adequate rest. Many runners train too hard when they should be recovering from workouts, thereby not allowing for good quality training later in the training phase. Physical training stresses the body, and during recovery it adapts. Without rest and recovery, there can be no adaptation. The definition of rest is different for every runner. For the highly trained, it may be simply 30 minutes of easy running. For others, it may be a day completely off from training. All athletes need a day of complete rest (zero or very little exercise) regularly. This may be every week, ten days, or every two weeks. Nevertheless, it should be programmed into a training plan and adhered to. This allows the athlete to recover completely from workouts, and to train hard when it is time to train hard.

2. Weekly Mileage

Almost every runner gauges his or her training by weekly mileage. It’s useful for getting an idea of the volume of training, but too many runners feel it is the only measuring stick. How much one is training is a combination of volume and intensity. Don’t get hung up on logging a set number of weekly miles. If a day or two of training is missed due to injury or illness or other reason, don’t try to cram two days of training into one. Just pick-up the program and continue. Lost days are simply lost.

3. Marathon Tempo Running

One of the most important factors in marathon training is tempo running, which is defined as + 10 seconds per mile from your projected marathon pace. If you’re planning on running 26.2 miles at 7:00 per mile, then do lots of training at or near this pace. This is one of the major differences between elite runners’ marathon training and others training for the event. Most runners or joggers are simply trying to finish the event in halfway decent condition. Elite runners are essentially “racing” the event. That is, they will attempt to run 26.2 miles at a pace faster than their everyday run pace. Nearly everyone else is running marathons slower than their everyday pace. Marathon race pace for elite runners is at an interesting point, physiologically speaking. Many terms are used to describe this level, such as “threshold” and “capacity.” They all describe the same thing. Marathon pace usually uses most of the capacity of the aerobic energy system and very little of the anaerobic energy systems. Traditional road race and track training tends to ignore this marathon pace. Most training is done well above or below it. But the marathon is a unique event, and one of the limiting factors to performance is fuel economy, and training at projected marathon tempo trains your body to use fuel (specifically carbohydrate) efficiently.

4. Simulate Race Conditions In Training

To a large degree, simulate race conditions as much as possible during training. Don’t go out and race a marathon daily, but every facet of the race needs to be practiced. This training program includes tempo running toward the end of long runs, allowing your body to maintain your marathon race pace beyond 20 miles. Runners should also practice water stops and drinking large volumes of water and/or carbohydrate solutions during training. If you are training for a marathon such as Boston, then some downhill running needs to be incorporated. Try to train at the time of the day the race starts and in the predicted weather conditions as much as possible. Do a “dress rehearsal” several weeks prior to the event in a race or long run. This is the time to try out all racing clothing, shoes, socks, and pre-race meals. You want to do this far enough in advance to allow for changes to take place – and your blisters to heal.

5. Train the Long Runs

The long training runs of over 18 miles are the most important workouts in any training program. Every coach has a different philosophy on the long runs. Every week for 16 weeks is not required. Vary the long runs, mixing in some marathon tempo running. Much of a long training run is generally done at 30-45 seconds per mile slower than projected marathon race pace. Depending upon what training was completed in the previous few days, it may even be as slow as 1:30 per mile slower than projected race pace. Many runners get caught up in trying to run too much of a long run too hard. All too often, someone has a great workout of 18 miles at marathon pace three weeks before the main event, only to have a poor result.

6. Train and Compete with a Group

Running with a group is one of the most effective things an athlete can do to help his or her training. Everyone has a day when they are sluggish and needs the encouragement of a friend during a workout. At some point in time you will likely repay the favor by helping out that friend. Team running is great race strategy, but be careful that the group does not get too competitive and all of a sudden is racing the workout. Sometimes it is essential to select a person who is a good judge of pace and effort to control the tempo of a run, especially a long run. Don’t race the workouts.

7. Planned Racing

“How much” and “which” preparatory races are important questions. Much depends on the particular marathon and race schedule. It is easy to race too much leading to a major marathon. Since races typically fall on weekends, it usually means missing a long run or trying to do a long run the day after a race (generally not a good idea). Some runners like to do a couple of long races as long tempo runs a month or so prior to a targeted marathon. It is a good idea if you can go to a race and run at marathon pace. Be warned, however, most marathoners can’t do this; they are simply too competitive and run too hard. A limited number of races within a marathon training program (perhaps three over a 12 week period) to assess the progress of a program is sufficient.

8. Strides, Drills, and Stretching

This is another component that can make a big difference on race day. Doing a complete set of strides, 6-8 x 100-meter efforts at mile race pace (not sprints), two to three times per week is enough to maintain leg turnover by stimulating certain neural pathways and fast-twitch muscle fibers. And some days it just makes your legs feel better. Drills focus on a small aspect of the running stride and exaggerate it. Drills always pay off in the latter miles of the marathon when the major muscles are failing and the accessory muscles are called upon to help maintain running form. A brief stretching session done regularly will help improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury. (The debate of whether to stretch before or after running is hotly contested, so try both and see what works for you.) The total routine need not last for more than 15 minutes. Muscle groups to stretch include the quads, hamstrings, Achilles tendons, calves, back, and the upper body. Stretch according to need, depending on soreness, tightness or the upcoming workout. Some tips for stretching are: warm-up for at least 5 minutes with light jogging; perform stretches in a controlled and smooth manner; hold each stretch for at least 15-25 seconds; and, don’t strain, bounce or force a stretch. For more on stretching click here

9. Be Flexible with Your Workouts

Always be willing to adjust and adapt a workout to the conditions. In New England the winter weather can vary from Arctic-like conditions to mild Spring days. If it is an exceptionally poor day, then adjust the workout by cutting down the distance or intensity, decrease the number of reps, or increase the rest time. Expect that in cold weather you will run slower, have a higher heart rate, and feel worse than you would in good conditions. Adjust the workout accordingly so the physical stress is not going to ruin your training for the remainder of the week.

10. Listen to Your Body

Pay close attention to what your body tells you. Listen to yourself honestly. If you’ve been fatigued for several days in a row, then you may need to schedule in some rest and recovery time. Persistent foot pain for several weeks usually doesn’t just go away. Usually, it gets worse. It is always better to deal with these types of problems as early as possible, rather than wait until they grow into something serious.