Training For Your First Marathon (Part 1)

Congrats on your decision to train for 26.2 miles! If you haven’t trained for your first marathon yet, it is about to change your life! It might seem a little bit impossible now, but the amazing part is your body will change. You will conquer something that was once thought impossible. That act will change your life forever!

What is a prerequisite for marathon training?

There is no ‘one sized fits all’ answer here, but we generally like to see a few key boxes checked before athletes make the plunge to train for 26.2 to set you up for the best possible training and success rate. Can you train without these things, YES!

  • Running 20+ miles a week consistently for 4-6 months
  • Comfortable running 8-10 mile long runs without feeling destroyed after
  • 4-6 months to commit to a training schedule increasing mileage & long runs

When should you train for a marathon?

Marathon training is really hard, so it great to wait until you personally are really excited and motivated to run 26.2 miles! You want to have good intentions going into the training. It will be easier to get through the training if it is something you really want to do instead of doing a marathon to ‘check the box’ as a runner. There is no right or wrong reason to train for a marathon, but having a good reason helps you enjoy it!

  • When you are excited about seeing how far your body can go!
  • When you are curious and self motivated to run 26.2 miles
  • When you have the time commitment and not a lot of other life stress going on

 

How can you ensure you don’t burn out or get injured?

4-6 months is a long time to train for an event. It is very important that we don’t do too much too soon. We need to stay healthy & motivated to get through the entire training cycle. Too often we see athletes get very excited in the beginning or middle of training to do ‘more’ than they should or run ‘faster’ than they should. It will come back to bite you on race day or later in the training cycle. We like to use the progressive overload principle and do just enough stress to cause progressive change in the body. Once your body response to the stimuli, we add a new stress or increase the load.

  • Only increase 1 variable at a time: variables that are at play during marathon training are long run distance, weekly mileage, duration/intensity of workouts
  • Working first on increasing mileage
  • Working next on increasing long runs
  • Ensure you take recovery weeks & recovery days!
  • Recovery weeks every 2-4 weeks during training reducing 20-30% of weekly mileage AND reducing workouts/long runs to be less intense and shorter

 

Can you run a marathon off 3-4 days of running per week?

Yes! Is it ideal to run 3 days per week, not really! We would recommend 4-5 days per week running. We understand that you may not have the time commitment to do more than 3 days per week, but it is usually ideal when we see athletes running 4+ days per week. If you can add in aerobic cross training like biking or elliptical in there, that works great too! The marathon is aerobic. The best thing we can do when training for a marathon is stress the aerobic system. The more specific we can get with that stress, the better you will be prepared for the marathon! More miles behind an athlete usually do result in better race experiences. Each athlete is different, and it is important to take into consideration of other factors too.

  • Minimum is 3 days of running per week
  • Ideal to run 4+ days per week during marathon training
  • If you don’t have time, prioritize running exercises
  • If you have extra time, but you cannot increase running mileage/time then increase aerobic cross training

Example of 3 days per week 2.5 months out from goal race:

Day 1- 6 miles easy with 6x 20 seconds HILL strides (20 seconds hard with 90 seconds recovery)

Day 2- 8 mile tempo workout 2 mi easy warm up 2 x 2 miles @ Threshold Pace with 2 min jog between + 2 mile cool down

Day 3- 16 mile long run at an EASY pace

Weekly mileage is 30 miles per week

Your long run is going to be 50%+ of your weekly mileage which does increase your risk for injury, but there is not a great way to frame up 3 days or running per week without having long run be a shorter % of weekly mileage.

Example of 4 days per week 2.5 months out from goal race:

Day 1- 6 miles easy with 6x 20 seconds HILL strides (20 seconds hard with 90 seconds recovery)

Day 2- 8 mile tempo workout 2 mi easy warm up 2 x 2 miles @ Threshold Pace with 2 min jog between + 2 mile cool down

Day 4- 7 miles easy

Day 5 – 16 mile long run with last 2-4 miles fast finish!

Weekly mileage: 37

 

What if you are just getting over an injury or just did a big training cycle?

It is really important that you set yourself up for success. We would want to see an athlete come into a 4-6 month marathon training block feeling good for months leading up to that point. If you are injured now, your top priority should be to get healthy! You have to be 100% healthy to make it through this cycle. Start your training off on the right foot. Have a flexible timeline for recovery and training by shifting your focus from a goal marathon to running 100% pain free

  • Wait 3-4 months after your injury is 100% healed and you are running pain free before you commit to a 4-6 months training cycle.
  • Give yourself 2 months easy/off to recover after a big training cycle/goal race. The off season is very important. Even if you feel good it is important to give your body and mind time to heal from the months of training you just had

Just like you take vacations from work, it is important to take a vacation from running! You WILL comeback stronger!

  • What if you are ‘injury prone’?

You need to see a physical therapist to ensure there are not underlying imbalances that need to be addressed. Often injuries are related and can pop up one after another because of 1 or 2 underlying imbalances in the body. When you get to the root cause of the problem, you will be able to finally get stronger. Often athletes think resting for 2-4 weeks will solve the injury problems, but this is not always the case with all injuries. Other factors to consider

  • lower weekly mileage
  • no workouts/hard runs
  • very conservative approach to training
  • more cross training
  • regular PT visits

Why is nutrition important during the marathon?

Have you heard of ‘the wall’ that happens during the marathon? This is usually around mile 18-20 most runner experience a slow down. Why? Because glycogen runs out in the body.

Your body needs energy to run. When you do shorter distance races or run for less than 90 min, your body has enough fuel to make it through. When you start to do runs/races or 90-120 min, your body starts to use up those glycogen stores VERY quickly.

What about your body using fat stores?

Your body WILL use those, but studies show that your pace will drop 15-20 seconds per mile when using fat stores over readily available glycogen or carbohydrates in the body.

During a marathon, we can use the fuel that is going to give us the fastest pace and be easiest for our body to process. It is important to fuel DURING the marathon with carbohydrates. You must start fueling early in the race. The sooner you can start fueling, the better you off you will be.

If you want to fuel until the end of the race, you may be in trouble! Your body actually starts to slow down digestion as you near the end of the race. Your body goes into preservation mode because of the stress. Often athletes have no appetite or the thought of fueling at mile 20, makes them feel sick. You will be kicking yourself for not fueling sooner! If you fuel early at mile 4-5 of the race, your body can preserve your glycogen for longer/later in the race when you might not be able to stomach the gels.

 

How to start fueling:

  • If you have never eaten before a run, start by having a breakfast that is 1/4-1/3 the size that you normally would. Eat this 60-90 min before you plan to go on a run
  • Start practicing the breakfast and fueling on shorter/easier runs so there is not as much stress
  • Try out different gels, blocks, beans, etc to find what works for you & your stomach the best
  • There is no ‘best’ fuel. The best fuel is what works for your body! Find something that sits well with your stomach and stick with it
  • Start building a fueling plan 4+ months out from your race! Start NOW! You want to practice this so there is no stress on race day!
  • Add in water every 20-30 min and gels every 4-5 miles

 

 

 

 

 

 

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