Training for a marathon can be one of the most difficult, but rewarding things you’ve ever done. My first marathon was one of my first road races and the feeling I had when I crossed the finish line I’ll remember forever: I did something that once seemed impossible to me. Through the years, I’ve taken my marathon time from 4:11 to 3:25, using everything I learned as a RRCA and USATF running coach to create a plan for myself that would move me forward towards my goal of a Boston Qualifying time with each training cycle. I’ve compiled ten tips that applied to my own training and am sharing them here.
If you are looking to better your time or qualify for Boston these ten tips will help you.
1. Build a Strong Base.
Building mileage and a solid base of 6-8 weeks of running prior to staring your training cycle is really key. Having a solid base will prepare your body for the demands of rigorous training like intervals, two runs in a day and multiple 20 milers, if you’re planning to run for a PR or BQ. For the first few weeks of your dedicated marathon training focus on increasing your weekly mileage by 2-3 miles per week, before adding in interval training.
2. Run 3 or more runs over 20 miles.
If you really want to race 26.2 I think it is essential that you run 20+ miles more than once or twice. Ideally three or four 20 milers will train your body to really perform at the longer distance. Adding in fast finishes (running marathon pace instead of long run pace for the last 3-5 miles) to two of the 20 milers will also help you body adapt and ensure that you’re ready to perform on race day.
3. Higher Mileage.
Focusing on higher weekly mileage will really prepare your body to race the marathon distance. The increased training volume will cause adaptation on the cellular level, meaning you’ll be fitter and faster simply by running more. Gradually building over time will help you avoid injury, add just a few miles per week. It’s important to also incorporate some “step back” weeks where you drop mileage or training volume by 10-20% to allow your body to recover and adapt to the new load.
A great way to increase your training volume without running increasingly longer distances (although this may also be necessary depending on the weekly mileage you’re shooting for) is to run multiple times a day. One of my best training days was a twenty mile day (counted as one of my 20 milers) that included a 7 mile morning run, a five mile race pacing a friend with a mile warm up and a second seven mile run in the afternoon. By the time I got to that third run my legs didn’t want to go, much like the feeling at mile 23 in the marathon. Running multiple times a day can help you learn to run on tired legs.
5. Don’t Forget to Crosstrain.
As you weekly mileage increases it can be easy to start to leave out cross training. But focusing on strengthening your core, hips and glutes can be an important factor in keeping you healthy through your training and on race day.
Need cross training ideas? Check out this quick cross training for runners:
6. Race Less.
When you build your training plan around four, 20 mile runs it doesn’t leave you with many weekends for racing. So if you really want to perform at your best on marathon morning it may be advantageous to avoid racing frequently during your training cycle. Instead focus on your training effort and if you do find a race that you want to do, make it part of a day of multiple runs. Run before the race and after the race to round out you miles. Your race might not be a PR, but you’ll be building the endurance necessary to get that PR in the marathon.
7. Don’t be afraid to get outside.
Do your best to get outside, if you’re training for a spring marathon chances are you’ll be running through cold and snowy weather. And if you’ve got a fall marathon on the docket then warm summer temps will be the norm. Whatever the conditions, try to get outside even though weather conditions can slow you down, mastering the mental challenge of adverse circumstances you cannot control can better prepare you for race day. You never know what race day will bring.
8. Interval training.
Getting to the track during your training cycle is essential to rounding out your marathon training. Repeats of 800m are a good place to start, but don’t be afraid to go shorter or longer. Getting faster at 200s and 400m repeats means your 800m repeats will become faster. And 1000m, 1600m (mile) and 2000m repeats can be equally beneficial. Try to incorporate interval training once a week. Everyone loves a classic Yasso workout (repeats of 800m with 400m recovery), but try mixing up 1K and 2K intervals. For example, try a few miles to warm up, 2x1k with 400m jog recovery, 1x2K with 400m recovery, 2x1K with 400m recovery cool down for a few miles.
Your form won’t improve while your running, but it can improve and become more efficient when you practice drills. Form drills such as high knees, butt kicks and toe taps will help improve efficiency and turn over. Skipping and bounding drills can also be a huge help to your overall running form. Another trick is to run with a metronome set to a higher cadence of 175 beats per min or 180 beats per minute, these are optimal cadences for running. Click HERE for drill ideas.
10. Mental training.
There’s so much focus on the physical preparation for a marathon that often times we leave out the mental aspect of the performance. Spend time exploring your goals and motivations, confronting doubt head on and finally visualize the race and your performance during the race. Take the time to imagine yourself not only triumphant at the finish, but also feeling sluggish and worn out but overcoming that feeling to run harder. Try to picture every possible scenario: running in good weather conditions and bad. Often times the best physical preparation can be laid waste by negative self talk. If you struggle with fear and doubt on race day, check out my Race Day Mental Training Workbook which provides a place for you to write down your goals, work through fear and doubt and focus in on your strengths.
Are you training for a marathon? What do you think will be the key to a standout performance?
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
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