For your first marathon, the most important target of your marathon training program is to ensure that you get round the course comfortably and that you remain motivated to run after you have completed the 26.2 miles.
You will certainly need to be running 10K comfortably before you start following a marathon training program, so if you are not yet at the stage where you can run for 10K, then it is worth following a 10K training program first. At the least, you should have been running for at least six months prior to taking up the challenge of a marathon.
Following a marathon training program will involve making some lifestyle changes and, if you forsee any problems with these, you should talk the challenge through with your family. The biggest change will be the amount of time you will be training. Although you will probably be running the same amount of times a week (four days a week), the time spent running for will be much more.
Towards the end of the marathon training program, at least one day a week you will probably find you are out running for two-three hours. This is something that may impinge on weekend activities with your family and, if you have not warned them about the commitment, they might resent the time you spend running.
Another lifestyle change will be the amount of food you will be eating. If you took up running specifically to lose weight, you will probably be alarmed at the way your appetite increases as you get into your marathon training program. As an average, you will be burning 100 calories every mile you run, and your weekly mileage is likely to be much higher than anything you have done before. If you are following a marathon training program then you will not want to combine your training with a weight loss diet – that is the quickest route to failing in your quest to running a marathon.
And not only will you need to eat more, you will also need to practice eating on the run. This is more difficult than it sounds as you will need to experiment to discover the foods you can digest on the go, and the amount of energy you need to consume to complete the race. Start building eating on the go into your marathon training program in the last two months before the event.
Marathon training programs can follow a number of patterns. It is up to you to match the training program to your needs. Some programs will involve a straightforward steady increase in mileage at a pace that will get you around the course. Other programs will introduce you to new concepts such as tempo runs, speed training, Fartlek and interval running. These are briefly explained below and will add variety to your training.
Tempo runs – this is a run that is shorter than the distance you are training for but at a faster pace. For example, you might run for 20 minutes at a pace you would describe as ‘comfortably hard’ before reverting to the pace at which you would run the marathon.
Speed training – this involves a series of leg exercises designed to develop your speed. Kicking your heels up to your buttocks, knee lifts, bounding and jumping activities are all methods you might encounter to develop speed.
Fartlek – Swedish for speed play, this training method involves changing the speed you are working at during the course of a run. You might walk for a set time, then jog, then sprint, before slowing back to a walk.
Interval training – this is a simpler and more formal form of Fartlek. You would do a set number of sprints over a set distance with a recovery period. For example: 5 x 100metres with a 2-minute recovery period.
Most marathon training programs last from 4-6 months but you should be prepared to build in some extra time to account for time lost for injury or illness. And injury is something you must be prepared for – repetitive running over longer than usual distances will put a strain on your limbs so do not be alarmed if you pick up a few injuries along the way. The important thing is to get injuries treated promptly and don’t try to ‘run through it.’
Active recovery and cross training will prove invaluable during your marathon training program. Core stability work, yoga, cycling, swimming and using a cross trainer will work other muscles and give your ‘marathon running’ muscles a break. These activities will also leave your body more balanced and hence stronger and better able to deal with injury.
Finally a word about clothing. You will be running much longer distances during your marathon training program, and in order to get all your runs completed you will be less able to be choosy about when you run. If it is raining or cold you will still need to get that long run done, so wearing light-weight layers of clothing which can be easily removed and carried will be invaluable for keeping you warm and dry(ish). And, most essential of all, check that your running shoes are suitable for your gait and in a good state throughout your marathon training program.