10 Top Tips for Marathon Training
With our October marathons fast approaching, I'd love to share my top ten tips on marathon training. Having run two marathons previously, and being currently in training for a third in October, I feel I am right in the thick of understanding what works and what is not so beneficial when training. Essentially, I'd like to use my experiences and shortcomings to offer my best advice to make your life a little easier. It's important to point out at this point that i've tried to generalise these tips to apply to all runners, whether you're new to running or you're looking to smash that sweet, sweet PB. The tips are split in that the first five are relatively general, and the second five regard your actual runs themselves. So, let's jump right into it.
1. Pace Yourself.
It might seem obvious, but its a marathon, not a sprint. If you're new to running, be sure you ease into your plan without any undue mental or physical stress, which may be negatively impactful in the long-term and lead to injury. Remember that only 0.5% of people will run a marathon in their lifetime, so you're already very much stepping outside of the average person's comfort zone. For top tips on how to avoid injury, check out our blog here.
2. Don't Be Afraid to Miss a Run.
Similar to the above, always keep on top of your physical and mental health. The worst feeling in the world is feeling completely knackered but forcing yourself to get out there and as a result getting injured. Trust me, missing your daily runs when you know you can't run (due to injury) is a whole lot worse than knowing that you should be (due to effort). The important thing here is getting to know your body and where your limits lie by, as mentioned above, easing into it.
3. Become Accountable.
For me, this is one of the most, if not the most important tip. Integrate a system into your training by which others know when you should be running, who with, and your general pace. One of the easiest ways to do this is join a community on a running app. I like using Strava because you can compete with others on certain routes (segments) and give "kudos" on others runs and general activity. It's the most social running app out there and that without doubt makes it a great motivator. Doing this is great because it provides a mixture of positive and negative reinforcement for completing (or not completing) your runs. If you don't want to use a running app, keep tabs of your times and tell your friends and family how your training is going.
4. Have Fun.
It sounds super generic but it's critical to enjoy what you're doing. Don't feel like you have to limit your social life to the point where you can't go out and have fun to avoid feeling drowsy for certain runs. Although with that in mind, if you're an experienced runner trying to hit a PB you probably shouldn't be going out until 4am if you've got a long run in the morning. Your head won't be best pleased. Of course, moderation is key.
I was always that kid in school that would be overly excited to get working with my newly purchased set of pens or Helix maths kit. The same applies with running kit (or any kit for that matter). If you're in a bit of a running trough one of the best ways to get back in the saddle is investing in something that will make your running life easier. For example, a new phone arm band, running shoes, wireless headphones, knee support bands. All of the above helped me get back in the swing of things after a week or so out. For advice on the best running trainers, check out our blog here.
6. Variety is Key.
Down to the nitty gritty running stuff now. It's important to change three main things week-to-week with your running: location, distance, and type of run. Otherwise, it's easy to get bored with your schedule, leading to missed runs, etc. Location of your run can mean changing your route of simply changing your start point, maybe climb those stairs that have been daunting you or take that track you've never been down? With distance, add or take away around 10% of your run which helps with conditioning your muscles, among other things. Types of run can include long-runs, interval and hill-runs. They are mutually beneficial in that, for example, interval runs will increase your long-run speed and vice-versa.
7. Break Your Distance Up, and Always Count Down.
Running is certainly considered a mental exercise as much as it is physical, especially on your long-runs. When running long-runs, try to break your distance up into manageable chunks. After all, four 5Ks sounds a lot easier than a half-marathon. With this system in place, always count down from your target distance. So, if you have 12K to go, you actually have two 5Ks and less than 2K, which sounds a lot more manageable. Basically, the more you can do to occupy your mind on things other than the unbearable pain in your legs, the better.
8. Race Yourself.
Always bear in mind your personal best of the run you're about to set off on. If you can get a good start on the run then it's worth pushing yourself to beat that PB (given it's not a recovery run). Developing that mentality to always beat your own times really pushes your fitness to the next level. Start by setting one day a week to beat your PBs, then once you get more comfortable try to include more days into your PB-pushing schedule. For those who aren't so used to running, beating your previously set best-distances are as much of a challenge.
9. Maintain Posture and Breath.
It's very beneficial to have what I call a "crisis-motivator" in times where you are completely flagging and feel like you have nothing left, AKA "hitting the wall". Paula Radcliffe would repetitively count to 100, I find looking at an object in the distance, checking my posture and concentrating on my breathing just as good. If you find yourself daydreaming, you've on the right track.
10. Tunes, Tunes, Tunes.
Another massive one. For me, music can dictate whether or not a run goes well or badly. Whilst it's important to run without music in the lead-up to a competitive race such as a marathon, it's vital that you utilise the benefits of playing music (or podcasts) whenever you possibly can. Find new music and add it to your playlist. If you can get new music in there for every run, great; more variety makes for less boring runs. Finally, ALWAYS shuffle your playlist. There's not a lot of things worse than always knowing what song is coming up next on your playlist.
And that's it! With all these in mind you should be set to smash your upcoming marathon. Best of luck to those running in October!