Step it up: it’s time to increase your marathon mileage

Gradually increasing the distance covered on long runs can build confidence and anchor a training plan

On training runs, aim to wear the same clothing that you plan to wear on race day so you know what is comfortable and will not chafe or irritate you over the distance of a marathon. Photograph: Thinkstock

On training runs, aim to wear the same clothing that you plan to wear on race day so you know what is comfortable and will not chafe or irritate you over the distance of a marathon. Photograph: Thinkstock


For many marathon first-timers, August is the first month in which the distance of the weekend’s long run moves into double figures. We start to think in terms of hours, rather than minutes, on our feet. Every weekend for the next two months you will run the longest run of your life. Think about it. It might sound overwhelming, but each of these runs is a huge milestone on your way to the marathon.

They will either build confidence in your training or make you doubt your ability. Approaching these long runs with a few simple tips can go a long way to making them a success. Follow a plan: With luck you have taken the time to find a training plan that suits your lifestyle, your fitness level and your marathon goal. Having the structure of a plan allows you to keep control of your training and reduce anxiety by building your confidence as you tick off each run on the training plan. One week at a time: Some of the longer training runs in your training plan will seem impossible right now. It is important to remember that you will be a different runner by the time you set out to do the longer September runs. Don’t overwhelm yourself with that detail right now. Trust your training plan and focus on getting this week’s training completed successfully.

Be practical: Treat every long run like a trial run for the marathon. Try to run your long runs in the morning at the same time as the marathon will take place. This allows you to experiment with food and hydration, working out what breakfast suits your body and how long before you start running you will need to eat.

Aim to wear the same clothing that you plan to wear on race day so you know what is comfortable and will not chafe or irritate you over the distance. Experiment this month with various drinks and food on the run in order to work out what fuel suits you best.

Pace your long runs: Pacing is key. Run your weekly long run at a pace that is at least a minute per kilometre slower than your normal 10k pace. This may feel quite comfortable, but it’s important to remember that the goal for these long runs is to train your body to spend more time on your feet and build endurance. Run these long runs at a pace where you can breathe, talk and relax. You will gain nothing by running these runs fast, other than to tire yourself out for the following week’s training.

Build mileage gradually: Be careful not to increase the mileage too quickly. Add an average of a mile a week to your long run. You will reduce the risk of injury and give your body time to adapt to the endurance training. If you miss a few long runs, be sensible with how you jump back into the schedule. Don’t run a distance just because someone else you know is running that distance at the weekend.

Ignore all distractions: Once you tell friends and family you are running the marathon, everyone will give you titbits of advice even if they don’t run. Remember to trust your training plan. Don’t change it over the summer based on what another runner or nonrunner might tell you. Combining two plans is a fast track to injury and overtraining.

There are lots of subtle differences in training plans. Don’t try to do everything; pick one plan and stick to it. I believe a training plan of four to five days a week is enough for any first-time marathoner, with one long run every week.

Track your runs: As tedious as it may sound, write down the details of each of your completed runs, including details of how it felt, where you went and anything you learned. Very soon what you consider to be a long run now will be just a short run to you. Yes, there will be days when you don’t feel like going for a run; there will be days where you make excuses and there will be days when you have a bad run and consider opting out of the marathon.

Write it all down. You learn something from every run. It will be hugely motivating, later in the autumn, to look back over your progress.

Make the most of these long runs: They will be over all too soon and be just a series of memories in your legs and in your training log. Treat each one with the respect it deserves.

For more articles about running and fitness, or to sign up to our Get Running beginner and 10k courses, see or email

Mary Jennings is a running coach. Details of her courses and workshops are at

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