So you’ve decided to train for a marathon! Excellent decision, as training for and running this type of race can offer numerous benefits for the body, mind, and soul. But before you set off on the journey, you’ll need to be prepared and that’s what I am here discuss with you. Read on for some extra valuable tips I like to give my clients on marathon preparation.
Practice Correct Mileage Progression
Without question, the most important area one should focus upon prior to beginning marathon training is have a plan to safely build a mileage base. Every runner is slightly different and being an amateur or recreational runner, we have to fit training in around the rest of our life schedule. At a minimum, we want to start running about 3 to 5 days a week with minimum mileage totals of 20 miles per week for our marathon training. It doesn't have to be fast or slow if you are a beginner, but as long as you start...you are already in a good place!!!
From that point, adding in at least one long run, an interval (fartlek or speed/track work) and easy additional mileage for the rest of the week can be added in small increments as we continue to train.
When increasing mileage during a training plan, the 10% rule is the general rule of thumb but it is not the end all, be all style of rule. The 10% rule states that you will increase either the intensity or the duration of your training bout by about 10% every week in order to get to your goal "safely. " The problem with this rule is there is not significant, solid evidence to back it up. Some runners who can tolerate more than 10% bumps in their training will end up being undertrained and those who need less than 10% increases in their training load can become overtrained (resulting in pain or sometimes injury).
We do not want to derail our training at all during the season, so the best rule of thumb us to first pay attention to your body (whether you are following a training plan you found online or are working with a coach). Increasing volume gradually over time before increasing intensity will keep you fighting fit as you advance over your training plan. If you do develop pain or injury during training, do something about it sooner than later. And if you are working with a coach, work with them to adjust your plan to fit your new needs.
Lastly, another key to building mileage safely is to give your body a “down week" periodically throughout the training schedule to allow your body to recover. In the same way that you shouldn’t run hard every day, you shouldn’t try to up your mileage every week. I recommend increasing mileage for three weeks, and then taking the fourth week “down,” by running a lower weekly mileage and more easier runs than the week before. Again, this is a another generalist rule and should be taken lightly, If you feel like your body needs rest....TAKE A REST (Day or Week). As long as you are still on a positive trend towards your goal, you will smash it out of the park.
Know Your Goal
Training, and eventually running a marathon, is no easy feat. Whenever I hear a client wishing to set out on the journey, I always advise them to “know your goal”. When I say goal, I don’t necessarily mean marathon-specific goals, like your overall time to complete the race. What I do mean is know the reason WHY you are going through this grueling process. What’s your motivation? Is it to lose weight, feel better about yourself, raise money for charity, make new friends, and/or reduce stress? Whatever the reason, be sure to have the goal in mind and be sure to constantly remember it, because you’ll need to rely on that motivation.
Running a marathon is a huge undertaking that needs to be planned carefully. Many runners end up giving up halfway through their training because they didn’t take the time to really understand why they were running. This is really a shame because picking the right marathon goals doesn’t take very long and doesn’t need to be complicated.
To set goals for running a marathon, you need to consider your timeframe, skill level, and overall passion for running the race. Marathon goal setting is a mix of physical self-awareness and mindset readjustment. Mental preparation is a huge part that sometimes gets overlooked so please be sure to know your goal!
Incorporate Strength Training
If the only form of exercise you're getting is running, you're missing out on a variety of benefits that could help you achieve your marathon goals. Strength training (with resistance) and core exercises are the perfect complement to running. I’m constantly reminding my clients that incorporating just 20-30 minutes a couple times a week of strength training into their training plan will help them achieve their race goals more easily. There is simply no better investment in your training.
When I say “core”, I’m not only referring to just your abdominal muscles. The core includes your hamstrings, quads, hips, glutes, hip flexors, obliques, and lower back. Basically, the core includes every muscle between your knees and nipples.
So why is strength training so important? As I’ve touched on before in other blogs, strength and core exercises have the power to strengthen your body and thereby preventing injury. Because core strength plays a vital role in stabilizing your entire body during running by maintaining a neutral pelvis, it delays the breakdown in your form when you're fatigued and gives your body a stable platform to work from. This can be a huge benefit during all the grueling training needed to prepare for a marathon.
Not only does core work strengthen your body and prevent injuries, but it also helps improve your running efficiency. Stronger muscles, specifically in the legs, can help you run faster and use less energy at the same time. Sounds nice, doesn't it?
Core workouts do this by allowing your body to use more muscle fibers for longer during any given workout. Each muscle has different muscle fiber types and energy factories within each one called mitochondria that break down glucose (sugar) to keep that muscle firing. By using more muscle fibers and having greater levels of these energy factories, you will have a much better ability to perform at a higher level before fatigue sets in. Overall, this will result in better running economy and an improvement in running time to exhaustion. Put simply, you’ll be able to run faster, longer and stronger.
Core workouts might be the missing link in your training that can help you become a more consistent, injury-proof, efficient runner!
Maintain your Recovery Days, Sleep & Diet
Training for a marathon can be quite thrilling: the health benefits are undeniable, training is fun, and competing is a thrill. Many new runners find themselves becoming addicted to training and ignoring all else. But in life, there needs to be balance and marathon prep is no different. While training is incredibly important, so too are recovery days, quality and quantity of sleep, and diet maintenance.
I touched on the importance of recovery days a couple of months back (click here to view). And believe me, rest days are especially needed when training for a marathon. Failing to give yourself needed recovery days can lead to increased chance of injury, mental exhaustion, and poor sleep quality, just to name a few. This is why I usually recommend AT LEAST 1 DAY OF NO TRAINING WHATSOEVER to my clients. They really notice a difference!
Sleep Quality and Quantity
Not only are recovery days needed, but ensuring you get enough quality sleep during training will greatly impact your performance. Now I get that it may be hard sleep well during training season, especially when most runners get up extra early to fit in the miles and labor through spurts of training when tired. But without placing the same emphasis on sleep as you do on training, all those hours spent running will be in vain.
Now you might be thinking, “Is sleep really that important, Dr. Rob?” YES! Sleep is when your body produces growth hormone which stimulates muscle growth and repair. When you deprive your body of sleep, you produce less HGH and your muscles pay the price (think slower progress).
Sleep is also when your body synthesizes protein, creates new cells and repairs tissue, and boosts your immune system. If you’re not getting the needed amount of sleep, and you’re exerting yourself more than usually, you’re most likely to get sick and/or injured/overtrained.
So how much sleep do runners need? The general rule is to add 1 minute per mile extra sleep you are running per week. This comes a shock to many runners, but it makes sense; you ask more of your body, you need to give it more time to recover. For example, if you need 8 hours of QUALUTY sleep to feel well rested when you aren’t training and are now doing 40 miles a week, aim for 8 hours and 40 minutes.
What runners tend to overlook (and has to potential to catapult them to the next level) is their nutrition. Yup, believe it or not - what you eat throughout your training, and especially on race day, can greatly impact your personal marathon goals. The amount of water you drink, the number and type of calories you ingest, and even the timing of when you eat all have an impact on your performance. Because of the importance of diet during marathon training, I will dedicate one of my next blogs exclusively to this top (so stay tuned!).
(And last but not least) …..Have Fun!
Grueling runs at the crack of dawn, body aches, blistered toes – these are just a few of the “joys” runners subject themselves to when training for a marathon. And yet, time and time again, I’ve seen clients who’ve barely finished running a marathon already gearing up for the next one. Why would someone in their right mind continue to run marathons if they are so taxing on mind and body?
What my clients, and millions of marathoners, all know is how to have fun while training. Yes, you can greatly enjoy the training season too. One way to ensure a good time is to find training buddies to help keep you motivated. Look for local training groups, like Road Runners Club of America, New York Road Runners, or even one through your town’s athletic shop. I find the best cheerleaders are those athletes going through the same exact training plan as yourself. Not only will you make new friends, but you’ll learn new running techniques and strategies.
So there you have it folks! I hope this was helpful to you and gave some useful tips on how to properly prepare for a marathon. If you have any questions, please reach out to your favorite Doctor of Physical Therapy (hopefully that's me) and call 516-387-0053 or visit www.ascentptny.com today for more info about how we can help you!