o you’ve got your marathon place, what now?

The idea of training your body and mind to run a full 26.2 miles probably feels overwhelming right now, particularly if it’s the first time you’ve attempted it.

Don’t know where to start? To help you on your way, we asked some seasoned runners for their pro tips on how to nail your training.

Play the long game (obvs)

Natasha Cockram, 2020 British Marathon Champion and professional marathon runner for Asics, says you should ideally allow yourself at least 18 weeks. “Give yourself plenty of time. It’s obviously better both mentally and physically to build gradually rather than dive in at the deep end a few weeks out (especially if you’re a beginner)” she says.

Create a week-by-week plan

Creating a plan will make you feel in control of your training. “Getting into a weekly routine always helps,” says Cockram. “Knowing exactly what day and when you will run means you will more likely be consistent and confident with your training.

Being organised more generally will help make the whole thing feel more achievable. “Even things like setting your training clothes out the night before or putting your recovery drink next to your keys can go a long way. Staying on top of the little things will also help make sure you’re fuelling and hydrating.”

But, she adds, that while following a plan will help keep you on track, “everyone responds differently to training and people face different barriers, for example injury or illness, so it’s essential to listen to your body and adjust the plan when needed.”

Find your rhythm

How often should you run each week? It’s about finding the rhythm, that works for you. “Pick a realistic number of times you can train in a week and stick to it,” suggests Omar Mansour (@mromg), Under Armour athlete and co-founder of Track Life LDN run club. “Many of us overlook the power of being consistent with our training. Master this fundamental step before even thinking about progressing your mileage or pace.”

In terms of how often this is “there really isn’t a one size fits all when it comes to taking on a marathon training plan,” he adds. “Factors such as exercise history, previous injuries, current fitness levels, lifestyle and more all play a part.

“However, most people want to build up to running between three and five times per week. The majority of runs want to be at a relaxed pace. As a minimum, I would suggest aiming for one longer run a week, one shorter, faster tempo run, and one medium distanced relaxed pace run. Around that, I recommend some strength training to bullet-proof your body.

Cockram agrees, adding: “Some people will run every day and some will even do double days, while others might only run three days a week. It’s completely dependent on the person, their goals and other life commitments.

“With the marathon being 26.2 miles, at the peak of your training you would ideally want to have at least done one 20-mile long run.”

Keep a training diary

Rory Knight (@roryknightfitness), fellow Under Armour Runner and creator of Track Life LDN, recommends keeping a weekly training log. “It’s a fantastic way to monitor and track your progress on your marathon training journey. Note down as much information as you can, such as what you ate that day and how you felt before and after the run. This will help you analyse and adjust your training if needed.

“Having a monthly plan will give your structure and purpose to your training and really help with motivation on those harder days. Commit pen to paper and visually have your training plan somewhere where you can see it each day,” he adds.

Expect some sacrifices

When it comes to your social life, it’s natural to have to make some sacrifices along the way. “That could be getting an early night in order to be fresh for your longer run or missing a social occasion due to training,” says Knight. “Ultimately you decide what you can realistically commit to. Manage people’s expectations by communicating how you feel and explain the demands of the challenge that you’re taking on.

“Remember just because you’re experiencing it, it doesn’t mean other people will understand it. Remember why you have committed to the goal and do what’s right for you,” he adds.

Sign up to a shorter race

A good way to measure your marathon training progress is by signing up for some form of shorter race, points out Cockram. “I always think signing up for a shorter race as part of your marathon build is a great way to keep you motivated and help you maintain your focus, and also get used to racing and going through your race day routine.”

“Shorter races can act as great checkpoints along the way for your fitness and give you something shorter term to aim for,” Mansour adds. “If you train predominately by yourself, it’s also a good way for you to experience running with people around you to prepare you for race day.”

In practical terms, these races are the ideal opportunity to thoroughly test your race kit and preparation out ahead of the big day, “practise what you will wear on race day on your longer runs and make any adjustments if needed.”

Add in cross training

Low impact forms of cardio like cycling, elliptical training and swimming are great ways to cross train to support your running, particular on days you want to work on your fitness without impact.

“Yoga is also great as it not only helps keep your body supple, and can also help with breathing by opening up your lungs and stride when you run,” Cockram says. “In terms of strength training, I believe if you are a beginner, bodyweight exercises are sufficient. I think for the marathon lower weight and higher reps is more important.”

Set yourself a time goal (but don’t stress over it)

“Setting yourself a time goal helps you to plan your training better,” says Cockram. “Quite often I find someone will set a goal and follow a training plan geared towards achieving that time but several weeks in, they realise they can set a faster time goal.

But she adds that while time goals can undeniably be motivating, “you need to be realistic on race day and know it’s not the be all and end all. “If the weather is terrible and the course hilly, for example, you need to take this into consideration.”

Eat enough and sleep well

Fuelling yourself sufficiently for your runs is crucial to both your performance and recovery, points out Mansour. “Make sure you’re getting all of your macronutrients. Before a run you will want to have a good source of carbohydrates, as that’s your main fuel, with a smaller amount of protein and healthy fats a few hours before you run. Being hydrated before and during a long run is also so important and you should practice this in your training runs.”

Cockram likes to keep her diet relatively simple “so that it’s easier for me to know I’m getting what I need. I have three meals every day: two pieces of toast, an avocado, three eggs and a coffee for breakfast, chicken, rice and greens for lunch, and something different each night for dinner so it doesn’t get too boring (but it will always consist of a protein and carb source). Then I’ll snack on fruit, yogurt, cereal, and will always have a protein drink after a hard or long workout.”

“Sleep is another important factor — eight hours as a minimum is important!”

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