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!

marathon training tips
At 26.2 miles, running a marathon is anything but a walk in the park.

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?

running quote

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.

infographic marathon training tips

Marathon Training Tip #2: Long Runs

marathon training tips
The second tip in this marathon guide concerns long runs. In order to do 26.2 miles you need to do lots of long runs. You will want to get into the habit of doing a weekly long run.

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

marathon training tips
Long runs will get you to the starting line
Is your marathon running program any good?

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

marathon training tips
If you are anything like the regular runner, you would typically do your long run (13-20 miles) in the weekend. I can highly recommend doing a second long run, slightly shorter (10-13 miles) mid-week. You need to build up that exposure to longer runs.

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.

Not pretty!

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

marathon training tips
If anything, be consistent with your training. 4-5 times per week. Each week. Every week.

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.

marathon training tips
Same happened when my kids were born.

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.

interval running

Marathon Training Tip #7: Marathon Diet

A healthy diet is critical for marathon training. Eat plenty of carbs, especially complex carbs.

marathon training tips
Lower fat diets are best, but you need to get a bit of fat in. Fat has been getting a bad rap for a long time, but as long as you get good fats from sources like olive oil, nuts and avocados you are doing well. Just stay away from the sugar and greasy, fatty foods.

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.

marathon training tips
First of all because it sometimes requires a bit of technique, second because you need to get familiar with the types of food you can and cannot handle during your run.

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.

marathon training tips
At some point in a marathon, things are going to hurt. Depending on how well you have prepared that may be closer or less close to the finish. But, the pain, the tiredness, the feeling that you don't have much energy left to give... That feeling will come. At that stage, a positive mental attitude will help see you through. You are likely going to have one of two types of thoughts going through your mind:

  • Option 1 - "Oh no, I still have another hour to go. I can't possibly sustain this.

  • Option 2 - "Only an hour to go. I always knew it was going to hurt. But I have done the training to keep going.

  • 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 and don't forget to check out the Q&A below with all kinds of practical tips and advice about marathon training!

    running tips

    Other Pages In This Section

    Marathon Training Nutrition

    Check out this page if you need to pick up information about how to optimally feed yourself while in marathon training.

    Tips for Running a Marathon

    This article provides you with practical tips to help you determine what pace and time to shoot for during your marathon.

    Marathon Pacing

    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.

    Marathon Taper

    This article describes the important do's and don'ts of taper time.

    Marathon Calculator

    A useful page with three calculators that help you determine your marathon time, your marathon training paces and your marathon pace chart.

    Yasso 800

    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.

    How to Run a Marathon

    This article covers a number of marathon training and racing tips.

    Marathon Running Tips for Beginners

    For when you are new to the marathon, maybe even new to running, and have decided to pick up the challenge of running the marathon!

    Don't Forget to Check all the Questions & Answers about Marathon Training and Running Below!!!

    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.

    Questions of only 1 or 2 lines will normally be deleted because it is simply too hard to give a good answer.

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