A marathon is 20 miles of pain and 6.1 miles of reality
Long distance running is hard. It’s hard to technically do well, It’s hard work, it’s hard impact on your joints and muscles, it hard to train for as it takes so much time, it’s hard mentally to stay focused for such a duration at a high intensity. Essentially it’s just a hard sport.
But because it’s hard it’s also fun and rewarding and that is why it attracts so many people each year and motivates them to sign up for a marathon or half marathon, especially as these events are on everyone’s ‘athletic bucket list’.
The major concern of signing up for such grueling events is that most people really don’t have the athletic background to run the race well. I’ve heard a phrase used ‘the marathon is the worlds most participated running race, yet it the is the worlds most under trained.’ which indicates most people who turn up at the start line aren’t properly prepared to take on the distance.
To put into context its popularity, more people run the London marathon in one day, than the number of people who compete in an official 10,000m (10Km) race in a whole year. that means it’s more than likely people are turning up to the start of a 26mile course not only as their first marathon but possibly their first running/endurance event ever.
This is not to say people shouldn’t participate in these event’s its more to say they should be aware of their athletic experience and prepare for the race according to their ability and not what training program they found online.
If the goal is to train and complete your first half or full marathon below are some methods you can adopt to ensure your make the correct physical and anatomical adaption without running the risk of burning out or injury.
- Start training as early as possible– Your success is dictated by how big of a foundation you can lay before you begin race specific training. If you can have an entire winter slowly building up your ability to run steady distance’s, it will pay dividends when the spring comes and you start some faster more intense runs as you will have a solid endurance base. If you’re really new to running I would recommend a season training for and racing shorter races like 5-10Km so you can get used to a) regular training and b) learn what a running race feels like, before you jump into the longer distance events. This season would also lay a fantastic foundation before you start doing long runs that are multiple hours in length.
- Don’t run too often- Although instinct is to run every or most day’s. In order to avoid overtraining and burnout you would be better off focusing on 3 really specific good runs that help you prepare. (Long run, Hills runs, Tempo runs). Then use the other days to continue building your endurance and aerobic fitness but not through running. This could mean swimming, rowing or cycling.It would preferable be non weight-bearing as this way you can recover from the impact of the runs but still continue to progress your aerobic capacity.
- Don’t inflate your goals If it’s your first marathon your goal should be to finish (it’s that tough). Once your training gets underway and you begin to see progress in your fitness, it is easy to inflate your goals. i.e. a goal of finishing a marathon soon becomes running it in sub 4 hours. This is not only an error as it can take your focus off what was initially important (to finish) it can possible make you try to run faster than your ability and ruin the whole race.
- Your weekly long run is the most important session. If your training on a regular basis then you will no doubt be progressing your aerobic endurance. However once a week you should be doing a ‘slow’ (slower than race pace) steady (no changes in speed) long (building up to 75% of race distance) run. This long run serves two purposes. 1) its is a good barometer to see how long you are comfortable running for long periods of time and how you are progressing as your training develops. 2) It prepares you to be comfortable on your feet moving at a failry high intensity for the duration or close to the duration of the race.
- Time on feet in training is more important than distance. You shouldn’t be aiming to run a marathon in training, however if you think the marathon is going to take 4 or 4.5 hours you should definitely prepare yourself to be on your feet for this amount of time. This is because it is too taxing on the body trying to complete a marathon length training run and will take weeks to recover from. However a low intensity training run of the same duration (can include breaks and walks) would not break you down as much but would have a positive training effect and be a great confidence boost. For example you may run 75% of the distance in your target race time as your longest run.
- Make your tempo run’s fast and your long runs slow– Most people run their easy runs too fast and their hard runs too slow and just end up running all the time at a moderate pace which won’t develop or progress them. To get the most out of your sessions focus the race pace training runs (tempo runs) on quality rather than quantity and spend progressivly longer at these higher speeds. Then focus the long steady runs on acheiveing volume goals (quantity) and worry less about the pace (quality).
- Train your gut for race day nutrition If your planning on fuelling your race with gels and sports drinks (or some of your race) then you have to be prepared to have up to 3x gels per hour, which could mean upwards of 12 gels over the course. This isn’t an optimum way to get nutrition normally but for race days you should stick to the simplest method that your body can handle. If using gels is the case then you need to train your gut to withstand this amount of sugar and electrolytes, other wise you run the risk of stomach cramps or digestion issues during the race. The weekly long run is the perfect time to trial your nutrition strategy and adjust the amount of sports gels and drinks you take on based on trial and error.