Nine Marathon Training Tips - The Marathon Guide That Will Help You Succeed
Planning to run a marathon?
Then you'd better get some marathon training tips!
And training for it is a demanding challenge, that is not always well understood by non-runners.
I know it is not always easy to explain to non-running colleagues that when they are having a sleep-in on the Sunday morning, I am doing my weekly long run. And that it lasts 2-3 hours. And that I enjoy doing it.
But when you are a marathon runner, you know there is a lot of satisfaction in both the training and the marathon itself.
Because let's face it. An accomplishment is not nearly as satisfying if you don't have to work hard for it. Completing your marathon after a long period of training is incredibly satisfying.
Training for a marathon requires a great deal of commitment and preparation. It's not something you just do or can easily take shortcuts in.
Reasonably trained, fit people can complete a 10k or even a half marathon with relatively minimal training. Maybe not race it, but covering the distance is doable. Not so with the marathon. You can't just "wing it" and see how it goes on the day.
Even seasoned runners look for marathon training tips that will make it easier to prepare and do the marathon.
So, I have tried to list, what I think are the most important marathon training tips on this page. I hope this marathon guide will help you get ready for your marathon!
By the way... can you answer "yes" to the questions in this video? Then you are probably ready to hit that goal time in your next marathon.
WARNING: This video focuses on trying to hit a specific goal time and is aimed at more experienced runners.
It assumes you regularly run 13-16 miles long runs already, before you start training for your marathon.
You don't need to be able to answer "yes" to all these questions in order to finish a marathon. And there are multiple recognised ways to run a fast marathon. But if you want to race your marathon, then you'd better answer "yes" to the majority of these questions!
Marathon Training Tip #1: Be Realistic
When you start training for a marathon, you first need to assess your current running abilities.
Have you been running a long time or are you a beginner?
Do you run 25-30 miles each week? Or much more? Or less?
Do you take the time to track your mileage?
The first marathon training tip is to be realistic. When you are very new to running, I can recommend training for at least twelve months before even thinking about doing a marathon. Also check out this article:
How to Run a Marathon - The Six Things I Thought You Should Know
Sure, you can do a marathon with less preparation time. You can go from zero training to a marathon in as much as 3-4 months. Depends on your goals. Do you just want to complete a marathon, do you want to run one or do you want to race one?
As I said before, you can get from zero to hero in three or four months. Many go this route. But many don't run ever after. For long-term health and fitness it is much better to first run for a year and do some shorter races. Then, after that, get ready for your marathon.
The marathon is a tough event. Marathon training is tough as well. You need to do regular long runs. If you start marathon training without a good running base and with a time goal in mind you are very likely to end up injured.
In addition to a realistic training timeframe, you also need to make sure you have got realistic time goals in mind. Use my marathon calculator page. It has got some useful marathon calculators which will help a lot in determining a reasonable goal.
Marathon Training Tip #2: Long Runs
Let's first get into the why a bit more and let's then focus on how long and how often.
Why do a consistent long run?
Well, in short: the best way to prepare for a super long event like that is to spend a lot of time on your feet!
The marathon is tough. Pounding the roads for miles on end is tough. On your feet. On your legs. On every part of your body. Part of the purpose of the long run is to be able to deal with the demands of road running. With the pounding your feet and legs have to endure by running on the road.
Additionally, we want our bodies to get really good at burning energy. Running lots of long runs at a slower, easy pace will make your fuel burning processes a lot more efficient. You may have heard of The Wall that many marathon runners hit at about mile 20 or earlier? It's when their body runs out of glycogen and they need to move to fat burning, which is much harder.
How long should my long run be?
There are different training approaches out there. I have seen the best results when runners run about 3-6 runs of 20 miles. Supported by a consistent long run of 13-19 miles across the training cycle. You basically want to have a long run that is 2+ hours pretty much every week of your training!
I know that is a lot. Again, it is not needed when you are "just" there to finish a marathon. But when you have time goals in mind, it's important to have a consistent lengthy long run in your schedule. Clearly, this is not possible when you are new to running and want to do a marathon 4-6 months from now. You'll need to build up to that. That's why the 6-12 months before your marathon training program is so important! That's where you build the capability to run 2 hours at a time. And if you are able to do that, then going a bit longer isn't that much of a jump anymore. It becomes quite doable.
Marathon Training Tip #3: Use a Good Marathon Running Program
Long runs will get you to the starting line
Do you know? Can you tell a good running program from a mediocre one?
When you are training for a marathon, you'd better use the best marathon running program available. Just think about it. You are spending an awful lot of time preparing for your marathon.
Months and months and months.
With all that time invested, you owe it to yourself to pick a great marathon running program.
What are the ingredients to a good marathon running program?
Well, it builds up your training in training blocks, also known as periodization.
It builds up your mileage, but not so much that you are tired by the time race day comes along.
I hope your marathon program serves you well. No longer sure after reading this page? Then check in with me and see if my running coaching service can help you out.
Marathon Training Tip #4: Middle - Long Run
Now, I am not going to deal with all the specifics and the science around it. Not in this article.
But I told you about The Wall before.
Basically your body runs on different types of fuel.
One is a fast-burning fuel which gives you a lot of quick energy, but you can run out of quickly (glycogen).
The other fuel is a slow-burning one (fat).
You can run on it for a long time, but it is harder to burn it.
When your body has to change fuel types... That's that moment that people meet "the man with the hammer" or "run into the marathon wall".
Suddenly they have run out of the fast-burning fuel and need to transition to the slow-burning fuel. And their bodies go through a lot of pain doing it.
Basically everytime you go longer than 90 minutes or so is a time you condition your body a little bit better to burning the slow-burning fuel.
Do it often enough and using the slow-burning fuel becomes easier and easier for your body! So, don't just do a weekend long run, add in a mid-week mid-long run as well!
Marathon Training Tip #5: Be Consistent
Get yourself a good marathon training schedule, or set one up yourself. But whatever you do, try to stick to it. Don't skip too many workouts.
You do need uninterrupted training. I am not talking about having to run every day of the week. I mean run four or five times a week. Every week. For months. The best results really come from consistency.
So, have you got a baby on the way? Are you moving house? Changed jobs or got a promotion? Any other big events in your life? Then take into account that this may well eat into your marathon training schedule.
Don't think you're superhuman.
I moved house three times in the last fifteen years. Every time I found that my running needed to be put on the back-burner. I still was able to run occassionally (once or twice a week). But every time it was just too busy to be doing much more running training.
The last thing you want to be thinking of is a marathon training program!
Especially when you are waking up multiple times during the night!
Just don't do it to yourself.
Do your marathon in a more stable period.
Of course, we are all busy all the time. But generally we can fit marathon training into our lives. Marathon training does require some careful planning and some sacrifices along the way. But in the case of big life events coming up or happening... my advice would be to reconsider your marathon training plans.
Marathon Training Tip #6: Taper
Marathon training gets you very tired. That's why it is absolutely essential that you taper to get your body fresh and fully prepared for race-day. When you do traditional high-mileage marathon training your last 20-miler should be at least 3 weeks out from the big day.
Those last 3 weeks you should cut back your mileage considerably. Any last-minute hard push to get extra mileage in will back-fire because it will only get you more tired on the day of the race.
Many of us, for whatever reason, run out of time. We didn't get that last 20-miler in at the right time. Many of us make the mistake of then doing it two weeks out, or even one week out from the race. Don't ever think it is better to do the very long run, than to do a proper taper!
Nothing is further from the truth. Do your taper properly. Only then will you get to the big day well-rested. It's no use dolng that extra long run if it gets you to the starting line tired.
Also check out the marathon taper page which provides what I think is a pretty complete guide on marathon tapering.
Marathon Training Tip #7: Marathon Diet
A healthy diet is critical for marathon training. Eat plenty of carbs, especially complex carbs.
Drinking plenty of fluids is very important. Not only during training, also in the last few days prior to the race and during the race itself.
In essence, make sure you eat healthy. Your training is a real assault on your body. In order to arm your body better, you need to take in healthy foods.
Still you may experience feelings of lethargy and tiredness during your demanding marathon training. I have found that extra sleep and recovery can help to an extent. But I have also made sure to check in with my doctor and get some bloodtests done, to ensure I am not running low on minerals like iron.
Make sure you don't use the marathon as an opportunity to lose weight. Well, let me re-phrase that. It is very likely that you will lose weight when doing your marathon training. Running very long distances will do that to you! But don't go on a "starve myself"-diet and do demanding marathon training. Your body needs the nutrients to keep itself going. Otherwise your running will suffer.
During the week before the race, you should increase your carbohydrate and fluid intake. This is known as carbo-loading and another important component of optimal preparation for your marathon.
Eat a good meal the night before the race without overstuffing yourself. Eat carbohydrates along with some protein. You want to be light on your feet with plenty of energy.
Also check out some marathon training nutrition tips.
Marathon Training Tip #8: Train Eating While Running
Coming to tip #8 in your marathon guide, let's talk about eating while running. When you run the marathon you need to replenish during the race. It is best to practice eating while running during your long training runs.
Experiment with gels and chews. Or real food likes bananas or raisins. Maybe you like sports bars during your run. Maybe sports drinks. Many options available. Experiment!
My own experience has been that I am ok with energy gels and chews for about 3-4 hours. Energy bars not so much, too much chewing going on. So, the gels and chews get me through a marathon. But, during a number of ultra marathons I have done I found that at some point even the thought of another gel was giving me nausea. Having a 'real food' alternative at hand at that point is a life saver!
Whatever you do, do all the experimenting before your marathon, not during! Don't let all that hard work go to waste because you decided to get adventurous on race day with some food that you had not had experience with before that gives you amazing stomach cramps!!!
Marathon Training Tip #9: Believe in Yourself
Possibly the most important marathon training tip to remember is to believe in yourself. Prepare yourself mentally. A positive mental attitude is as important as many other factors.
Clearly, you will want to have option 2 running through your head. And I am convinced that you can actually choose what is going on in your head. You can influence this. Expect that this moment will come. And be very deliberate at that point about choosing option 2. It will make all the difference!
I hope the marathon training tips on this page helped you.
The marathon requires serious commitment. Just think of all the time you will be spending training for it.
So, make sure you read up on marathoning as much as you can.
Below are a bunch of recommended pages that will help you further!
Other Pages In This Section
Check out this page if you need to pick up information about how to optimally feed yourself while in marathon training.
This article helps you determine what pace and time to shoot for during your marathon.
With a slightly different angle than the previous article, this one talks to you about the pacing strategy to use during your marathon race, given you know your goal time.
A useful page with three calculators that help you determine your marathon time, your marathon training paces and your marathon pace chart.
A page devoted to the Yasso 800, a marathon workout designed by Bart Yasso. Check it out to make sure you use it to your full advantage.
Have a Question about Running a Marathon?
Do you have a question about running a marathon?
Ask it and I can give you advice!
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The more information you provide, the better answer you get.
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Home > Marathon Training Tips
Are you a beginning runner? Then this is your best starting point. Many tips and running programs on offer, dedicated to you.
Aiming to lose a few pounds? Get into the Running for Weight Loss section for tips and advice.
The Running Training section of the site has got the most articles. It is constantly getting updated with new tips and information. A must-visit if you are serious about improving your running performance.
The 5k is a great distance to run and train for. The great thing is that you can do it quite often and see big improvements.
The 10k is a real challenge. You need to run fast for an uncomfortably long time! Check out this section if you are strong of mind and legs!
The marathon is a massive challenge. Proper training is so important! Make sure to check out this section if you have got your mind set on the marathon!