Long-distance running: How to train now for a big run later this year

It’s time to get started so by summer you can clearly focus on the big race

Have you got a race entry for an autumn marathon? Although it may seem far in the distant future, how you approach your running this spring sets the foundations for your marathon experience. If you want to build your enthusiasm, strength and excitement for that big day out, now is the time to think seriously about what lies ahead, plan for a great summer of training and work out exactly if, and how, the marathon will fit into your life over the next seven months.

Second thoughts

Before we get down to detail, I am aware that many runners who have a golden ticket for the Dublin marathon (and other big city marathons) signed up long before Covid arrived. Those 2020 races never happened. The delay has left many runners extra determined to train for this year's event, but also many who have a race entry are, two years on, questioning their fitness and motivation to train for a marathon. We have all been impacted by the pandemic and naturally some of our priorities and our running motivation may have changed. Just because you have the ticket doesn't mean you have to run the marathon. So before you launch into training, make sure that running a marathon this autumn is the right decision for you.

The biggest questions

Do you actually want to train for the marathon at all? Why? How does the thought of marathon training make you feel? Your “why” should excite you and maybe even scare you a little. Even if you do have a long-standing race entry, you shouldn’t just train for a marathon if your heart isn’t in it. If you don’t have a strong enough “why” you risk being disillusioned and resentful of the training and impacting your long-term relationship with running. Remember why you love running in the first place. You need to be looking forward to the summer rather than dreading the prospect of big mileage in order to experience the marathon journey in all its glory.

Why run a marathon

I certainly do not wish to turn anyone off training for a marathon. I love them and have completed more than 45 myself. Marathons are so much more than a day out and the adventure starts right from the first day of training. But so much of marathon training is about mindset. If you approach the event with the respect it deserves, it can be the most rewarding journey of learning, setbacks and celebrations. You can make great friends, see new sights, run longer than you ever dreamed of and put structure and routine to a summer that might otherwise disappear on you. It is a privilege, but not always the right distance for a runner. So work out if now is the right time for you rather than resent training and get disillusioned when you are well down the path of long distance.


Find time in the diary

Once you are clear on your enthusiasm to take on the distance, your next step is to look beyond your own goals and identify how you will make time for training. It’s important to respect the dedication involved in preparing for the big day and the impact marathon training can have on your lifestyle, work and family life. Consider your commitments outside of running. Most training plans vary, but you can assume you will need to block out a window of three-four hours one morning a week for your long run, three other short runs each week as well as allowing time for rest and recovery. Scheduling well in advance around holidays, exams and allowing for a few unpredictable events along the way will help your training go more smoothly.

Set the foundations

There is no urgency to start running long distance this early in the year. In fact spring is the perfect time to set the foundations for your summer of long-distance training. Focus on getting strong and very comfortable over 10k distance while taking the time to focus seriously on strength training, technique and mobility. The habits you develop now in looking after your body will stand to you all summer and autumn long. Address any underlying niggles and old injuries now and they will be less of an issues when the mileage increases. Consider your support network. Who will give you the pep talks along the way or get you out the door on those days when you doubt yourself? While you can indeed train alone, the camaraderie, guidance and support that comes from training with a group or a coach can help ease nerves and build confidence and performance. Take some time to research the running communities and coaches in your area or online that could help you keep you on the right track.

Start the summer fresh

Once your foundations are set in the spring, you set yourself up for a summer with your eyes clearly focused on the marathon. Most training programmes run over four or five months leading up to the marathon date. I always encourage runners who choose to train with me to start the summer feeling fresh-legged, rested, injury free and motivated to run longer. Don’t stick your head in the sand now until your official “training plan” for the marathon kicks off. Focus on what you can do to build your fitness base, confidence and running routine so the transition into a marathon training plan won’t be daunting but instead an exciting stepping stone. If the foundations are good, you will progress steadily upwards and adapt well to the extra miles in your legs.

Make the call

A marathon is so much more than a day out or something to tick off a bucket list. It is the whole experience from right now up until that wonderful moment when the medal goes around your neck. How you approach that journey is up to you. If you can imagine yourself running through a crowded finish line this autumn with a smile on your face and cheers coming from the sidelines, then the sooner you build the foundations – in your head as well as on the paths – the easier and more enjoyable the whole experience will be. It’s time to get started.

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!

– Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie. Her autumn marathon coaching programmes are now open for booking.