A Beginner's Guide to Marathon Training
Research collected from Runners World
A marathon, huh? I'll be the first to tell you, completing 26.2 miles is no easy feat, but with the proper training, determined mindset, and eye-of-the-tiger mentality, it's absolutely possible. And I'm here to cheer you on every step of the way! (Also, it's pretty cool to say that you're part of the 0.5% of the US population that has completed a marathon...just sayin).
In a general sense, it's recommended for most athletes to train for 16-20 weeks. Most training plans will incorporate 3-5 runs per week, with your weekly mileage gradually increasing as you get closer to race day. But before diving face first into marathon training, most professionals will additionally recommend that you already have 3-6 months worth of running 4 times per week under your belt. You should be able to comfortably complete a run of 6 miles. This is not to deter runners from beginning the training process for their marathon, but rather to decrease the chance of injury/having a less-than-enjoyable experience.
What To Expect
The key to this process is consistency. Your body must gradually become accustomed to running for long periods of time, so in order to do this, consistently putting in enough weekly mileage is crucial. Since all runners start at different endurance levels, it is suggested for newer runners to start with 15-20 miles per week, and then gradually build to a peak week of 35-40 miles. Runners with more training and racing experience may start somewhere around 35 or more miles per week, and peak at 50 or more miles.
There are many factors that go into a successful training plan, but the most important element is a weekly run at a "conversational" pace (a pace that you can still manage to talk or hold a conversation) that gradually increases in distance, week by week, to build both strength and endurance. Also, it's very important to keep in mind that most coaches do NOT recommend completing the full marathon distance in training because they believe the risk of injury outweighs any potential benefits. With that being said, most plans will gradually increase mileage of that weekly run until it peaks at 18-22 miles (depending on the runner).
What About Speedwork?
While marathons are undoubtedly an endurance event, speed also plays a role! Especially if you're attempting to drop your time or hit a qualifying mark. Because of this, it is recommended to incorporate weekly or biweekly speedwork into your training. One of the most common speed workouts for marathoners is mile repeats - usually being completed on a track at a 10K pace. To give an idea of what this workout would look like, I've included a sample below:
- Run 1 mile at about 10 to 15 seconds faster than your realistic goal marathon pace
- Recover for 2-4 minutes (recommendation: recover with a very slow walk instead of stopping or sitting down to avoid cramping or stiff muscles)
- Complete 3-5 sets
How To Fuel Yourself: Food & Drink
First, let's talk about food. Eat too little and you'll run out of energy before the finish. Eat too much and you'll find yourself running to the bathroom. Here's how to find the perfect balance!
BEFORE YOUR RUN:
For energy, it's CRUCIAL to eat something before any run lasting more than 60 minutes (and I actually recommend eating something before every run, not just the ones lasting 60 minutes or more). What you're looking for is a high-carb, low-fiber meal 3-4 hours before you plan to run. However, if you're running in the morning and it's not possible to leave that much time before you go, aim to consume about 50 grams of carbs at least an hour before your run (50g = 2 pancakes or waffles with syrup or a bagel with jam or honey). And if you're doing a really long run, adding protein will help to sustain your energy levels. Potential sources of protein could be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or scrambled/hard boiled eggs! But of course, those are not the only protein sources out there.
DURING YOUR RUN:
Fueling your body during training runs lasting more than 60 minutes will help keep your blood sugar even and your energy levels high. It is recommended for runners to consume about 30-60 grams of carbs per hour of exercise, and it's best to spread that out over time intervals of about every 20 minutes or so. You can get the right amount of carbs from a sports drink (16 ounces of Gatorade), 1-2 energy gels (GU Energy Gels), or energy chews (Clif Shot Bloks). If you prefer real foods, you can try a quarter cup of raisins or 2 tablespoons of honey.
AFTER YOUR RUN:
Go for a mix of carbs and protein within 30-60 minutes post-run. This is SO important to aid in your body's recovery. Carbs help to restock the glycogen stores that have been depleted during your run, while protein helps to repair the microscopic tears to your muscle tissue.
If you ran at a light pace for less than 60 minutes, a moderate snack is fine. If you ran hard for 60 minutes or longer, you need something much more substantial. A proper recovery meal should incorporate 15-25 grams of protein and 50-75 grams of carbs. This is a very general recommendation, so OF COURSE these amounts should be tailored to each runner's specific needs. If you're looking for a more precise amount, try to eat 0.5 grams of carbs for every pound you weigh.
Here are a few post-run recovery meal ideas:
- Breakfast: omelet with veggies and feta cheese + two slices of buttered whole grain toast and a fruit smoothie
- Lunch: turkey sandwich topped with extra veggies and avocado on a large whole grain roll + a bowl of lentil soup or side of hummus with pita chips
- Dinner: grilled salmon or flank steak + a sweet potato, sauteed spinach and fresh fruit
Now, let's talk about what to drink. Before you run, you should have 6-8 ounces of water or sports drink. While you are running, you should aim for 3-6 ounces every 15-20 minutes. Water is usually fine for runs in the 30-60 minute range, but for runs lasting longer than that, a sports drink with carbs and electrolytes should be consumed to replenish the sodium you're expending.
Last but not least, ENJOY THE PROCESS!
When it's all said and done, if you're not enjoying yourself, it's not worth it. Make the most of this process and be proud of yourself every step of the way.
If you're interested in purchasing one of my customized marathon training plans, please contact me at the email address listed below:
Good luck & happy running. YOU GOT THIS!