How soon should I start training for the Dublin Marathon?

It’s never too early to get on the right track in your training

If your training for this year's KBC Dublin Marathon has so far consisted only of succeeding in getting your hands on one of the highly coveted places, it's now time to start thinking about the practicalities.

It may be eight months away and the big day may seem far into the distant future, but it’s never too early to get started on the right track. Training for an October marathon doesn’t require you clocking up long distances this early in the year. Instead, now is the time to start preparing your body for the months ahead and setting yourself up for the best possible year of running.

I count the weeks back from my marathon day to work out when I need to start building my mileage

From years of working in project planning, I love to set out my running year in colour on paper and view my whole year of training (and life) on one page. With a blank calendar sheet I start by including any non-running commitments first. Exams, work events, weddings, holidays and anything else that is already in my future become the foundation of the plan. From there I add in any races that I am keen to include along the way. I highlight any weeks that I know that running won’t be a priority and finally I count the weeks back from my marathon day to work out when I need to start building my mileage.

Everyone’s marathon training build-up will be different based on the specific training plan they are following, so if you haven’t got a plan, your first point should be to find one that suits your fitness level, your marathon goal and your lifestyle. Personally, I like to increase my 10km distance by one mile per week starting 16-18 weeks before the marathon day. For those of you who haven’t worked it out already, that’s some time in mid-June. Prior to this I keep my long runs at 10km and focus on building strength, speed and a good weekly running routine. Some people choose to train for a spring half-marathon to give them a taster of the long distance so consider that as an option for you as a way of getting focused in the early months.

With a clear path ahead, you might be content to work independently on your weekly training. But if you feel the need for extra support along the way, consider joining a local running club or finding a running buddy. Training with like-minded people can be a great source of motivation. Even if you cannot find any local runners to share the miles, online running forums can be very encouraging, but be careful not to get carried away with trying to do everything.

There are many ways to train for a marathon so commit to one training plan and try not to get distracted by what others are doing. Being accountable to a coach or a marathon training group can be a great support particularly if you struggle to stay motivated yourself or indeed if you are guilty of over-training or getting distracted by other commitments.

Break up the year into sections of two months and focus on more short-term goals

It is hard to stay focused on one day eight months away and the pressure on only one race can be very stressful. I prefer to break up the year into sections of two months and focus on more short-term goals. You have four blocks now of training between now and race day and each one of these two-month blocks can have a different emphasis.

Concentrate only on successfully ticking off each of those blocks and you will find a gradual increase in your confidence, strength and fitness. Find a few races or events in each of these windows and the race day build-up and the buzz of each of these events will keep you motivated.

These extra days out may even allow you to make a few race day mistakes early in the year from which you can learn. The long term can seem very daunting right now so thinking of what you can achieve only in the short term can seem a little more achievable and realistic.

Writing down thoughts, worries and lessons learned in training will  help you feel more in control of the marathon distance

Commit now to keeping track of your journey to the marathon day. It will be a lovely story to look back over closer to the big day when these early months of the year are a distant memory and you may start to doubt that you have done enough. Writing down thoughts, worries and lessons learned in training will all help you feel more in control of the marathon distance when the time comes. Over the next eight months there will be good and bad training days, many humbling lessons to be learned and many wonderful days out. Keeping account of each of these experiences, either in pictures or words, will also make these amazing memories last a lot longer into the future.

This might be the last time you get the opportunity to train for a marathon. We never know what lies ahead in our future. So treat this year as a privilege. It’s up to you to make the most of every day of training, not just the big day itself. The more you choose to enjoy each run, the more you will appreciate every milestone along the way, including the hiccups and setbacks that are normal along this wonderful path of adventure.

You are so lucky to be in a position to have a race number for this wonderful event and so many runners would love to be in your shoes. Give the distance the respect it deserves, get your head in the right place now and the body will follow in the weeks and months ahead.

Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with Her new book is Get Running, published by Gill Books.

Sign up for one of The Irish Times' Get Running programmes (it is free!). 
First, pick the eight-week programme that suits you.
- Beginner Course: A course to take you from inactivity to running for 30 minutes.
- Stay On Track: For those who can squeeze in a run a few times a week.
- 10km Course: Designed for those who want to move up to the 10km mark.
Best of luck!

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