Training for a marathon? Here’s where to start...

Enthusiasm and motivation will be high at the start but quickly become unsustainable

Runners at the 22-mile mark at Heartbreak Hill, Roebuck, during the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Runners at the 22-mile mark at Heartbreak Hill, Roebuck, during the SSE Airtricity Dublin marathon. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Putting on your running shoes and clocking up the miles is not the best way to kick off your marathon training. Curb your enthusiasm for an hour and instead spend this time planning your training for the months ahead.

This might not seem appealing right now as the sun shines, but the most successful runners use training plans to help them get to the start line injury free, confident and prepared for marathon day.

Why spend the time now?

All my marathon students have their full marathon training plans printed out on one page. They have a clear view of where they are going and what they need to do this week in order bring themselves closer to the marathon goal.

Ignoring a plan and running aimless miles won’t bring you any closer to marathon success. You will never know if you have done enough or too much.

Having a full view of the months ahead and what is required takes the uncertainty out of training. Rather than the marathon being a distant date, having a plan shows clearly the steps and milestones along the way and will keep you on the right track. Life will take over if a plan is not in place.

Very quickly weeks will turn into months and race day will arrive a lot sooner than expected. Having a plan in place with mini milestones along the way can help the marathon journey be more enjoyable, motivating and, most importantly, structured to help avoid injury and burnout.

It’s all in the plan

There is no shortage of marathon-training plans available from coaches, books and running websites. Finding the right training plan is key to making your marathon a success. With endless resources online it can be overwhelming deciding on the right way to train for such an endurance event.

Some plans suggest running three days per week while others promote up to six days running. Some plans are extremely complicated while others seem very simplistic.

Some plans build mileage gradually while others have lots of focus on variety and speed. There is no right plan for everyone.

The right plan for you is one that fits in with your lifestyle, fitness level and your marathon goal.

Set yourself up for success

Committing to a plan that is unrealistic from the start is setting yourself up for failure. Aiming to run six days per week when you currently run three is a huge change in routine. It can be compared to a crash diet.

Enthusiasm and motivation will be high at the start but quickly become unsustainable. This can then make you become demoralised, burned out or injured.

A solid four-day a week training plan is practical, possible and achievable for most runners. There is time for recovery between runs. It’s better to be fresh and motivated for each run rather than feeling tired and guilty for missing extra runs.

Structuring your training

Every training run should have a purpose. The weekly long run will build endurance, a hill run builds strength and confidence over different gradients, a speed run adds variety and fitness while the recovery run is a perfect opportunity to focus on technique and relaxation.

Spacing these runs out across the week allows for best performance and recovery.

Training for a marathon is more than just clocking up miles. Allow time in your training plan for strength and conditioning, flexibility work and recovery.

These are often overlooked as many runners measure their training success in miles rather than focusing on how their body is adapting to the mileage. Aim to increase your long run distance by one mile (1.6km) per week.

Gradual progress is the key to avoiding injury. Include a few shorter distance races over the months also to help with race practise and motivation.

More to life than running

The marathon doesn’t have to take over your life, but it certainly helps if you can prioritise it. Running should not be adding stress to your life, instead it should be bringing energy and positivity to your days.

Make sure you include space in your training plan for events outside of running. Factor in holidays, exams, weddings and other family commitments.

By including these events upfront, you can schedule your training around them rather than stress yourself and your family by not having time for commitments outside of running. Be sensible and structured yet flexible in your training.

It is normal for there to be unforeseen events which will impact your plan. From illness to injury, unexpected nights out to family commitments, there will be a time when your plan will need to adapt. Being flexible is key.

One week at a time

Treat the whole plan as the marathon and avoid placing all the pressure on race day. Every week completed is a mini milestone worth celebrating. Take the time to appreciate all these long-distance achievements.

Focus only on the current week of the plan. Many of the marathon memories and lessons learned happen on training runs, not just on race day.

Race day is your celebration for the work put into the training plan. Treating the marathon as a series of milestones helps the runner respect and enjoy each run, each week and each challenge along the way.

Keep the plan alive

The marathon plan will work best if you adapt it to your lifestyle, fitness level and marathon goals. Take the time now to get your life, your training and all other commitments on this one page.

You can then print it out, post it somewhere you cannot avoid seeing every day and tick off the sessions as you complete them.

Keep the plan at the forefront of your mind and you will never “forget” to go for a run.

Many people enjoy ticking off the sessions as they are complete. Maybe it’s time to invest in some gold star stickers for yourself. There is a lot of comfort and satisfaction in knowing every day you are getting one step closer to your marathon medal.

Need support with marathon training? Contact Mary to join her 16-week Dublin Marathon coaching programme. See ForgetTheGym.ie

We will publish more marathon training articles on irishtimes.com/health in the coming months. Share your questions with us on Facebook – Irish Times Running.

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