Did you know that there are 776 marathons in the United States and Canada in 2019? And in 2018, there were 503,746 finishers of marathons in these two countries. While only a very small percentage of the population participates in marathons, these numbers indicate that these long races are still vastly popular in North America.
Marathons are scheduled year-round, with the most events held in September, October and November. So if you are considering taking on a marathon this fall, now is the time to get started training if you haven’t already, and you need a plan for the best experience in marathon training.
Whether this is your first or 10th marathon, check out the following marathon training tips to help maximize your success.
Marathon Training Tips
Identify a Race
Seems obvious, right? But first consider how much time you need to prepare and then check the race calendar. First-time marathoners may need 5-6 months to prepare, whereas regular runners and former marathoners may only require 2-4 months.
Think about if you want to participate in a local race or are willing to travel to run. Many runners in the Walt Disney World Marathon are out-of-towners who want to be part of this unique course and memorable experience. Other popular races, like the New York Marathon and Chicago Marathon, sell out fairly quickly.
So plan ahead and get registered. Just researching marathons, signing up and paying the fee can help cement your resolve and drive your focus to begin the hard work of training.
Follow a Training Plan
Having a plan to guide your training in critical, especially when it comes to a race as long as the marathon. While you may be able to be more casual with training for a 5K, preparing for the marathon should be structured wisely to ensure progress and help reduce the risk of injury.
A multitude of training plans and recommendations are available for marathons. Programs typically are designed based on how much time you have before the race (such as 12 weeks or 16 weeks) and on your level (novice, experienced, elite). Ultimately, however, all programs should incorporate shorter mileage days and long runs, gradually building up mileage over the weeks. Additional plan components should be cross training, flexibility work and rest/recovery days.
When searching for plans, consult running resources such as Runner’s World and PodiumRunner, ask other runners, talk to local running clubs or running store staff and check online. Choose a plan that looks realistic for your abilities and schedule. If you only can run 3-4 days per week, for instance, don’t select a plan that requires 5-6 days of running weekly.
Running doesn’t require much, except for shorts and shoes. That said, make sure you have the best shoes you can afford. Get evaluated and fitted at a specialty running store, which can provide custom recommendations based on if you are an overpronator, have flat feet, wide feet and more.
And when you’re putting in the mileage required for a marathon, you may want a few extras to enhance your training. None of these are required, of course, but are valuable options:
- Sweat-wicking apparel – Forget cotton tees, which get heavy and wet with sweat. Lighter Dry-FIT clothes are worth it to keep you more comfortable, especially during warm weather.
- Smartwatch – If you’re tech savvy, this tool can keep track of your heart rate, pace, distance and more. Some also come with a GPS. Using an app with your smartwatch is a great way to save your data and track your progress.
- Headphones or ear buds – Music or audio books can keep you going during long runs, so make sure you have a good pair of headphones or ear buds that stay put as you sweat.
- Water bottle carrier – Unless you’ll be passing multiple functioning water fountains, you need to carry water with you on longer runs. Choose from ergonomically designed water bottles, hydration backpacks and water bottle belts. Some of these carriers also let you easily tote your keys, phone, gels, etc.
Marathon training is a big commitment that will impact those you live with. Share your plans with them and ask for their encouragement and support to help keep you thriving. You also may want to join a running club or a marathon training group, which provides coaching, education, social opportunities and accountability to help you succeed. Check online, at the health club or at a local running store for information about local options.
Incorporate Cross Training
While you should spend most of your training time running, cross training also is important to improve overall strength and flexibility, which ultimately can improve running performance. For runners, the best cross training options are low-impact or zero-impact activities, which give the body a break from all the pounding of running.
Options include strength training, cycling, swimming, elliptical exercise, rowing, yoga, Pilates, core workouts and more. Octane Fitness’ unique Zero Runner is a valuable way to continue running and logging miles without any jarring impact to the joints and muscles.
Beginning and experienced runners alike subject their bodies to tremendous stress during marathon training. While younger runners may tolerate this intensity better than older populations, the reality is that running breaks down the body, and recovery must be a priority.
Recovery can help alleviate muscular tension, improve blood flow to muscles and work out knots, in addition to reducing the risk of injuries. Methods include stretching, self-myofascial release with a foam roller, whirlpools, cryotherapy, massage, chiropractic therapy and acupuncture. Try several methods to see which works best for you.
And keep in mind that adequate sleep is necessary to improve your running performance. Adopt a sleep schedule, and incorporate naps if you can to help your body recover.
Take in Healthy Fuel
Some runners in marathon training think that they can eat whatever they want, given their high volume of exercise. And while it’s certainly acceptable to enjoy a treat periodically, you’ll feel better overall if you eat healthy choices most of the time. That means lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy products.
Proper hydration also is necessary to run your best. Choose water as much as possible, and limit intake of caffeine, alcohol, soda and juice. Smoothies can be a nutrient-rich way to rehydrate as well, serving as a snack or meal replacement.
Listen to Your Body
To train for a marathon takes discipline and an ability to tolerate discomfort. But you need to be able to discern temporary discomfort from recurring or chronic pain, which can indicate an injury. Due to their commitment, runners are known for running though pain, which ultimately can exacerbate an injury and even sideline them. When home remedies such as rest, ice, compression, elevation, stretching, hot baths, foam rolling and more don’t alleviate pain, see a doctor or athletic trainer for a professional evaluation.
Also, marathon training plans are long, and while dedication is prized, flexibility may be necessary. If you get sick or had a bad night’s sleep, you may need to adjust your scheduled miles temporarily. Your priority is your health, and you can get back on track with training once you feel better.