Running a fall marathon? Now is the time to kick your training into high gear if you want to have a successful and healthy marathon experience. The first month of marathon training usually isn’t too challenging, but I want to share my experience to help you train better and safer as your training gets more serious.
The heart of the physical marathon-training program is the long run. Gradually lengthening your long run volume will improve your cardiovascular fitness, strengthen your musculoskeletal system to support the physical stress of running for multiple hours, and develop the mental fortitude to handle the discomfort of ‘running out of gas’.
To prepare for 26.2 miles, you can simply add one to two miles to your weekly long run, but I believe an undulating pattern of progressing long runs leads to better results. Specifically, CARA’s undulating long run progression advances in three-week cycles (e.g. 12-13-11 miles and 15-16-14 miles). Incorporating ‘cut-back’ weeks helps your body and mind adapt to your hard work and avoid the risk of overtraining. Our body doesn’t grow and repair in a linear fashion, so our training should reflect that undulating pattern as well.
While I believe most people can complete a marathon, it is definitely challenging and following a well-established training plan is key. Your training plan will help you safely progress through training and help you reach peak readiness at the appropriate time. Your plan will also keep you motivated and accountable to your goals when the going gets tough.
However, most of my runners realize their best results when they have the confidence to adjust their runs based on their own sensory feedback. For instance, if your shin is hurting prior to a scheduled long run, consider going for a long bike ride instead. If you get sick, focus on recovering completely from your illness and gradually transitioning back to your training plan. I would rather be 90 percent prepared on race day than injured and unable to run!
As your training picks up, you will need to give your body additional care to facilitate proper recovery and to avoid injury. While I would love to get a full body massage on a weekly basis during marathon training, incorporating ten minutes of self-myofascial release work (i.e. foam rolling) is also very effective. Scan your body for problem areas and address issues while they are minor.
Nutritionally, you need to increase your protein consumption to help repair muscle tissue damage, which will occur after long runs and hard workouts. Limit your consumption of alcohol because it can interfere with the physiological adaptation that you want from your hard training. Drink no more than one beer or glass of wine daily, and try cutting out alcohol during the week completely. Also, you are going to feel tired during high mileage weeks, so don’t confuse the natural feeling of being tired with hunger. Some marathoners actually gain weight during marathon training because they mistakenly increase their calorie intake more than needed. Substitute your evening nightcap or dessert with some stretching or rolling to help you unwind.
Most people say finishing a marathon is as much mental as physical, but how much time do you put into mental training? The last 10k of the marathon is difficult for everyone; your mind is going to tell you to slow down or even to stop. Prepare your mind for this challenge throughout marathon training, while running and in everyday life.
In training, simulate some common race day problems such as a missed water station or an overly ambitious starting pace. Outside of training, focus on taking the path of greater resistance to increase your mental toughness. For instance, take the stairs up to your office, pass on dessert or alcohol, walk instead of drive, or give up any other number of vices. The more you get used to not giving in and taking the easy route, the tougher you will be when you run out of gas in the closing miles of the marathon.
Finally, surround yourself with people who support your marathon goals. Write down the names of two people who will provide you with positive feedback when you’re struggling to meet your training goals. These may even be the people who will cheer you on during the race. Give them a call when you need a boost and use their positive energy to refocus your efforts. Good luck!