Marathon training starts here

Marathon training starts here

Got a place in a spring marathon? Then let the training begin! If you start laying the foundations now, you give yourself the greatest chance of making it to the finish line in one piece, in a time that you’re proud of and with a big smile on your face. Read on to find out how...

Whether it's London, Paris, Boston or the inaugural Brighton event, if you've just landed yourself a place on a spring marathon start line, your journey is about to begin. Start training now and you give yourself the greatest chance of making it to the finish line in one piece, in a time that you're proud of and with a big smile on your face. Presumably, you are already doing some regular running - but now is the time to add some structure and progression to those runs, to ensure that you keep improving your running fitness, rather than becoming stuck in a rut, and that you increase your training 'workload' at a sensible rate, so that you don't end up exhausted, disillusioned or injured.

There are many methods of marathon training. Some people advocate the high volume, 6-days a week approach - others believe it is quality, not quantity, of running that counts. There is no single right or wrong way to train, and what works for one person may not necessarily work for another. It's up to you to find out what works best for you, but there are some key principles that any good running programme should factor in.

Build the base
Stamina, or endurance, is the base on which you build the rest of your fitness. Hopefully, you have already created a decent 'aerobic' base on which to build. The comfortable-paced 'steady' runs you've already been doing SteaStare aare fantastic for the heart, circulatory system and lungs - they improve muscular endurance and fat utilisation, too. These will still be a mainstay of your training, but as time goes on you'll be introducing some other types of sessions, which will help you improve your running technique, your economy (the amount of energy you use to run at any given pace), your strength and speed.

Ring the changes
If they aren't already, terms such as fartlek, hill reps and lactate threshold will soon be part of your vocabulary - not to mention your training regime. You might be wondering why you need to do different types of runs in training when on the day itself you'll be running at a comfortable, steady pace. Well, research shows that varying the intensity and distance of your sessions reaps the widest range of benefits for the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Shorter, sharper runs help increase such things as your leg turnover (the number of steps you take per minute), your ability to run at a higher heart rate and your average speed, while hills develop more robust muscles and connective tissues and greater power output (particularly beneficial for women, who start off with less muscle mass than men). All these benefits spill over into your normal running pace, nudging the speedometer upwards. Variety also makes your training far more interesting (which you'll thank me for, come mid February). But the secret is knowing how much to do of what - and getting the right balance between working hard, working steady and not working at all.

Give it a rest
Yes, rest days are just as integral to your training as those long runs. Without them, you'll be going nowhere fast, as you simply won't be allowing your body to make the necessary adaptations to cope with the training you've been doing. It can take up to 72 hours to recover fully from a hard training session or race. That's not to say you should take 3 days off a week - but it does demonstrate the importance of scheduling in rest and recovery - and of alternating hard and easy sessions throughout the week.

Putting the plan into action
So, steady runs, hills, speed training and sofa-lolling all have a place in your marathon training programme. You also need to vary the length and intensity of specific sessions changes as the weeks go by. That's because as you get fitter, you'll need more challenging sessions in order to keep making progress. This is called the principle of 'progressive overload' and it underpins successful training in any sport or activity. You could carry on doing what you're doing now for the next two months, but it would soon become too easy and you wouldn't be enabling your fitness to improve. Equally, you could plunge straight in with 2-hour runs and a punishing track regime - but taking away the steady progression and recovery time of those intervening weeks may leave you vulnerable to injury or overtraining syndrome.

Marathon training is a long haul, and to be successful, you need to train consistently. That doesn't mean you're never allowed to miss a session, but it does mean that when unavoidable setbacks do occur, they won't make much of a dent in your overall progress.

Winning ways
I've found three qualities come in very handy in adhering to training: focus, organisation and commitment. If you are focused, you won't end up singing karaoke with a pint of wine on a Friday night, when you'd planned to do a long run in the morning. If you are organised, you won't discover that your water bottle is growing mould just before you head off to a race, or that all your running kit is in the laundry basket. If you are committed, you won't peek at the rain from under the duvet and switch the alarm off, or stuff your face with fish and chips after you've just done a great interval session.

It is a good idea to keep track of your progress using a training journal or online log. Not only does this help you stick with your programme, but it also reminds you how far you've come since those first wheezing shuffles around the block! And nothing's more motivating than seeing your progress in black and white. Good luck...

 You can check out my marathon training programmes for beginners and more experienced runners in my new book Marathon and Half Marathon From Start to Finish (A&C Black). These are based on how much time and inclination you have to train, rather than 'finish time' goals, so they can work for everyone from the most committed to those hoping to get by on the bare minimum...



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