Running a marathon is a big commitment – especially if you're chasing a personal best time. But the achievement when you cross the finish line after everything has gone to plan is worth all the hard work.
"There’s no hard and fast rule as to how many miles you should run each week for a successful marathon," says Fountain. "While the elites might peak at more than 100 miles per week, for most people, the reality is that, even if the body could tolerate such volume, normal day-to-day lives wouldn’t allow us the time to fit all of those miles in.
"Be realistic about how much time you can devote to training and what your body can handle before you commit to a plan. Your mileage and frequency in week one of the plan shouldn’t be a big step up from what you’re doing right now.
"If you’re only managing to fit in three runs of five miles each, jumping into a training plan with five runs totalling 30 miles in its first week isn’t going to end well. You might be able to cope with this for a few weeks, but it’s likely to do you more harm than good in the long run. Add a few weeks of ‘base training’ before your plan starts so that you can build up your mileage to closer to where it needs to be.
"Amateur runners often look to the professionals for training inspiration. But they often neglect to take rest and recovery as seriously as the pros do. Rest days are as much a part of your training as your runs, and rest should mean no running at all.
"Athletes build strength by challenging the muscles and causing them to break down a little, and then providing them with enough rest that they can rebuild stronger. The rest and recovery is where the adaptations happen. If you don’t give your body the right conditions for recovery, you're not going to gain the full benefits of training.
"Runners are becoming more aware of the need to work on their strength instead of just running. Stronger muscles can deliver more power to your stride, and working on core and upper-body strength can help you maintain good form when you start to tire in the second half of the race.
"As running is an unilateral movement – we move one leg and then the other – incorporating unilateral exercises, such as lunges and single-leg deadlifts, into your routine is key. They’ll help improve your balance and stability while also helping you get stronger.
"Threshold sessions are a great addition to your marathon training. This is a type of tempo run, working at your threshold pace to improve your speed over longer distances.
"Your lactate threshold is the point at which lactic acid is produced in the muscles faster than it’s able to be used for fuel and therefore begins to build up, causing you to slow down. For experienced runners, it’s somewhere around 10km and half-marathon pace. Add 10-15 seconds per mile to your (current) 10km pace, or 20-30 seconds per mile to your 5km pace, and you'll be close enough.
"Begin with a session such as 2x 8mins at your threshold pace with 3mins recovery. Over the weeks you can build this up to 2x 15 mins at threshold pace.
"While you should be doing your long runs slower than your goal marathon pace by as much as one minute per mile, it’s important to train at your goal pace for a few shorter sessions. This will not only improve your running efficiency at goal pace but also make it easier to judge your speed.
"Try adding in some goal paced tempo runs. Four to five miles of marathon pace should feel fairly comfortable, but it will still deliver benefits. If you can get a good sense of what your goal pace feels like, you’ll be more likely to run an evenly paced race and be less reliant on your GPS watch. Working at a goal race pace in training will also give you a good idea of how realistic that pace is.
"Over the weeks you can increase your goal paced tempo runs up to 10 miles, or add a couple of miles at marathon pace to the end of your long run.
"After months of training, you want to avoid any common mistakes that could jeopardise your race. The biggest mistake of all is to go off too fast. Your legs will be feeling fresh from your taper and marathon pace will feel pretty easy for the first couple of miles, which can lead you into thinking you’re invincible. But 26.2 miles is a long way to hold onto a pace that’s too fast for you. Keep your cool and ignore what the runners around you are doing.
"You might want to try running with a pace group if they have these at your race. They’ll be led by an experienced marathon runner who is running at what is a comfortable pace for themselves.
"Get in the right starting pen for your predicted finish time. That will mean getting to the start in plenty of time so you can position yourself where you need to be. Position yourself correctly at the start and you’ll be able to set your pace straight from the off.
Work on your mindset
"Your training plan isn’t just helping to train your body, it’s working on your mind too. Each long run you tick off will build your confidence for race day. Those miles spent at race pace will help you to believe that your goal is within reach, while having to dig deep in an interval session will build the grit you’ll need in the final miles of your marathon.
"Building confidence doesn’t just come from what goes well in your training, but from overcoming what goes wrong. If you’ve had a disastrous long run where you stopped short, or a tempo run where you failed to hit your mile splits, but you went back out the following week to try again, that’s the mindset you need to succeed in a marathon."
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