Marathon Training Advice

1. Spring marathon training traditionally begins on Boxing Day [a bit later if doing the Leeds one in May].

2. Plan a rest week into your schedule.  If nothing else, you’ll feel better about missing a week through illness/injury.  (There’s plenty of good schedules online, eg at Runnersworld)…/rws-basic-marathon…/

3. The most important run is the long run – build it up every other week.  “Longest 5 runs add up to 100 miles” and “longest 4 runs add up to 80 miles” are good aims.  Failing that, at least one 20-miler is a minimum (& 22 miles is generally the max).  There’s something satisfying about running the furthest you’ve ever run before, every other weekend.

4. Vary your training – “long slow runs make long slow runners” (Peter Coe).  Include some shorter, faster stuff and target some shorter PBs as “B” goals during the build-up.  Think about running on different surfaces, and plan one cross-training session a week (eg swim, bike, pilates, cross-trainer – anything that isn’t running).  Most training ends up too “beige” – your fast runs become too slow, your long runs too fast, & it all ends up at the same mono pace.

5. Run at least one race in exactly what you’ll be wearing on the day – no good finding out at mile 15 of the marathon you should have elastoplasted your nipples, or have some unexpected chafing somewhere.  Use the same drinking/fuelling strategy you’ll use on the day, and eat the same food the night before and on the morning.  You should do nothing “new” on marathon day.

6. Put weekly mileage totals on your schedule and try not to increase the mileage dramatically.  Ideally, drop the mileage back down a bit every 3rd week.  “Increase mileage by no more than 10% a week”, or be at greater risk of injury.

7. Enter one of the 20 mile road races – Spen 20 or East Hull – designed for spring marathoners & perfect for point 5 above.  Spen for hills (anyone doing Leeds marathon!), E Hull is flat.  26/03/23 for E Hull, 12/03/23 for Spen.  Do them both if you dare, they sometimes clash but are the perfect two weekends apart in 2023.

8. Do your long runs at slower-than-race-pace speed, but if you can, do the last couple of miles – even the last mile – at race pace.

9. Decide which trainers are your “best” and nurture them for marathon day – 100-200 miles on them should be nicely worn in.  If you do everything in one pair, they’ll be a bit tired come race day.

10. If (when) you get niggles/injuries, consider a sports massage. A foam roller is also a good idea to grind out muscle knots.

11. Don’t plan any races soon after the marathon, no matter how tempting – “Rest a day for each hard mile run”, and that could be 3 weeks plus.

12. A small zip-lock plastic bag stapled to outside of shorts, containing a tenner and a few tissues, stops them getting soaked in sweat. You might be glad of the tissues at the Portaloo at mile 20 that’s already had 400 people in it.

13. Think about wearing a cap if it’s going to be sunny – don’t be fooled by an early, chilly start.  Suncream’s good but not on your forehead as will sweat into your eyes.  The weather at 9am is unlikely to be the weather you’ll be running in at Noon, & be prepared for that.  

14. Have some old clothes to wear at the start to leave behind, and/or a bin bag, or even one of those disposable DIY suits.  If it’s cold I may start in an old zip top, and find a bin for it on the way round.

15. Don’t be surprised (or frustrated) if the first few miles are very congested (VLM; New York), and your pacing plans seem to be going to pot.  Don’t try to make up lost time straight away, you have hours.

16. Most major marathons have a dotted line painted on the road – this is the shortest (ie 26.2 miles) route.  26.5-27 miles is a more usual distance to end up running, and training should prepare you for that.

17. Be careful at water stations of people darting across in front of you, or clipping your heels from behind.  It happens all the time.

18. DRINK TO THIRST.  Nobody’s died during a marathon from not drinking enough, but people have died from drinking too much.  Whether the liquid is “isotonic” is irrelevant: if you’re a “salty sweater” it more likely means you eat too much salt than need to be constantly replenishing.  Don’t be fooled by the sports drink industry’s “drink before you’re thirsty” mantra & read “Waterlogged” by Tim Noakes instead.  Drinking carbs (ie just about any sports drink) will help your time, but forcing excess fluid down when not thirsty is pointless and potentially dangerous.  Drink to thirst, not to a fixed schedule.

19. Decide whether you’re running for a PB or to enjoy the day.  

20. If you think you’re going to have to walk some of the marathon, walk early.  “Run/walk” is a recognised strategy – but it involves walking in the first 2 miles, not walking all of the last 2.  If run-walk is your thing, read Jeff Galloway’s book.  

21. Tapering – some do, some don’t, really depends on how much training you’ve managed to do.  The “pro’s” will often taper for 3 weeks, running less and less up to marathon day.  Doing the same number of runs, but at lower mileage/intensity, can be an effective taper.  You certainly shouldn’t be racing hard a week before a marathon.

22. Useful marathon aphorisms:

– Half way in a marathon is 20 miles

– A marathon is a 20-mile jog to the start line of a 10k

– 10 secs a mile too fast at the start will cost 20 secs a mile at the end

– How ever slowly it feels you’re going in the first few miles, it’s probably not slowly enough

– It’s difficult to train for a marathon, but even more difficult not to be able to train for a marathon (remember this when you’re out in atrocious weather).  AKA “Nothing makes you appreciate running like not being able to run”.

23. Don’t fear “the wall” – that point at around 20 miles when some people turn into rag dolls.  As long as you’ve fuelled correctly – sports drink, gels, Jelly Babies – you’ll avoid it.

24. Cramp. It’s random, it’s crippling, it’s an unknown.  But if you raced one of the 20 milers and didn’t get it, you should be OK on race day.  But even the pro’s suffer with it from time to time.

25. If you need to know about the logistics of any particular marathon, ask around – chances are, someone at the club has run it before or knows the course (Leeds).  

26. Training schedules are mainly about getting the miles in, getting the long runs in, and conditioning yourself for 26.2.  Don’t worry about the schedules that look like full time jobs – you can succeed on far less.

0.2  Everyone has a marathon in them – whether it takes you 3 hours or 8 hours, it’s the same distance.