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How to Train for a Marathon

On the road to a successful marathon
by Gemma Carter

Regardless of whether you complete the 26.2 miles as a beginner or you are a professional to the sport, marathons take immense determination and effort, in training as well as on the race day. This article looks over the important stages in training for a marathon primarily for beginners but also anyone looking to complete a marathon successfully.

1) Baby steps - Getting into the habit

One of the most important parts to training is making running a regular habit. Find a time each day to exercise, whether it's before work, during your lunch hour or after your working day is done. Making a pact to train with a fellow running partner can help keep you on target and sustained through your training.

Having a regular running routine should be the basics of your training and something which you should follow for at least 3 months before you start the specifics of a marathon training program. This gives your body time to adjust physically to the demands placed on it and psychologically to your new routine.

2) Structure your training

Unless you are a regular marathon runner, you will need to educate yourself on how to structure your running for a marathon. Start off by getting used to making one of your weekly runs (usually the weekend run as you have more time) to last for at least an hour. By your first month of training you should have built up your weekly running to 2 hours and over the next coming month aim to increase this slowly (no more than a 10 percent increase per week to prevent injury).

A good way to structure your overall training year is to divide your training into quarters (3 months each) and aim for a goal at the end of each quarter. This way the target isn't so far in the distance, and by involving short term and medium term goals into your training it keeps you motivated and enthusiastic.

3) Listening to your body

After a few good solid months in training you should feel noticeably stronger in your legs and core strength. You will be more toned and find that your cardiovascular endurance is increasing- brilliant! However, this is a great time to keep an eye out for any warning signs your body is giving you of possible future injuries. This could be anything from a knee ache that won't go away, back pain or an aching toe. Although you may think it's nothing big- it could turn worse as your training mileage increases and put you out of training for months.

Remember- stretch regularly, especially areas prone to tightness, drink plenty of fluids and keep your vitamin and mineral intake up. Exercise depletes the body of its natural nutrients so it is important for recovery to replenish these and give your body sufficient time to recover.

4) Running your first race

Although the word 'race' or 'competition' can fill new runners and beginners with fear and dread preaching 'but I'm not ready!' it is an important step in progressing to your marathon goal. The best place to start is by entering a local 5km race, where you are familiar with the area and the distance is not too long. Here you can focus on such components as controlling you emotions, running in a large group and learning from any race day mishaps that could wreck your marathon on the day.

Think of it as a great way to meet, socialize and learn from other experienced runners. You can analyze their runner styles, adopt tips and strategies as well as just getting used to the feeling of competition.

5) The marathon build up

By now you should have been training for at least a good 6 months, the longer runs are getting longer, you are feeling more confident in your own ability and competitively. Here is the stage where you should be considering completing a half marathon, 12 miles in the right direction towards your marathon goal.

Even the most experienced runners find this is the toughest stage of training as you increase the intensity of your mileage and take on more demanding schedules. The half marathon race is a great way to test your long distance race capabilities and your mental endurance. This is a great way to see whether your mind as well as your body are prepared for the marathon. If you find this race difficult it's a good time to reassess your training, how much more you need to invest and any strategies you might need to adopt to make your marathon more manageable.

Monitoring and modifying training throughout this stage is also fruitful. Correct any nagging problems and keep an eye out once again for areas prone to injury.

Remember- sometimes when you are in the middle of a heavy training load you may start to loose focus on why you are running, and what is motivating you. Here is a great time to re-evaluate what your goals, drives and reasons for running are. Keep it in mind and remind yourself of this whenever it gets tough.

6) Nearly there

The marathon is approaching, it's a month away, and you've successfully completed your half marathon and have been upping your mileage. Now here comes the last test before the marathon itself.

The longest training run. This run should occur about a month before the marathon itself in order to give you plenty of recovery time. Aim for about 3 hours (which depending on your speed should be about 18-22 miles) and schedule it for the weekend. Get up early, eat a good breakfast and set off on your mapped out long run. This is the real tester- can I stand the distance? Focus, relax and keep reminding yourself of your motivations.

Over the last weeks you should focus your training on building up your endurance, possibly incorporating strength training into your routine.

7) Ready to race

Finally, all your hard work is done, you completed your long runs, and you are injury free and strong. Here it comes.

In the last 2 weeks before the race you should have tapered your training, reduce the running load and given your body time to charge up and be ready for race day. Most athletes agree 2 weeks is the optimum time to taper before the marathon, giving your body enough time to recover but not losing valuable training time.

By now you should be completely focused on the race day itself. If you haven't already it's a great idea to prepare your race plan- how will you tackle the race? Think carefully. It's also a good time now to assess your race day preparations:

  • How early do I need to get up to leave?
  • How will I get there?
  • Who will be there to support me?
  • How will I get home?
  • What do I need to pack?
  • What food should I bring?
  • Will I need a change of clothes?

Tip- if you are worried about pacing yourself, keep with the 'marked pacemaker' (this is someone who runs a certain pace e.g. 8 minute miles ensuring you the correct pace throughout the race)

Once all your preparations are done you are nearly ready to race. All you need to do now is go out there are show people how all that hard work has paid off!

Good luck my fellow runners!

Gemma Carter is a fully trained fitness and life coach. Visit her website at http://www.cartercoaching.co.uk

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