How to train for a marathon?

How to train for a marathon

Now you’ve signed up for your marathon, it’s time to get down to the business of training. Training can be tough, especially if you’re a beginner, and it can be difficult to know what kind of training – and how much of it – to do. Victoria Brown is a personal trainer and hardened long distance runner. Here she explains the nitty-gritty of marathon training, and shares her top tips to get you going on your programme.  

The training challenge
It is often said that it is not the marathon itself which is difficult, but the training that is the real challenge. Marathon training can mean different things to different people, but whether you are a beginner or a seasoned runner you are signing up to a minimum of 16 weeks. Whether you are running the minimum of 3 or the maximum of 6 times a week, your training schedule will become a significant part of your life and the lives of those around you. Here are some essential sessions you should include.

Going the distance
The most important session of the week is the long run, which will get your legs and mind used to the 26.2 miles on the day.  You should build up your training gradually, starting around 10-12 miles with your longest run being around 20-22 miles. Regulate your training by making sure to include an easier week every 4 weeks. Your longest run should be done at a pace slower than you want to run the actual marathon, so hold back on the temptation to run it at your race pace – you are just risking injury. To be race ready you should ideally complete 3 or 4 runs of over 18 miles or over 3 hours depending on your pace.  

Taking it easy
Depending on how many runs you are scheduling each week, one or two of them should be easy ranging from 4 miles to 8 miles.  These should be run faster than your long run but be slower than race pace.  If in any doubt of the pace invoke the talk test – you should be able to hold a conversation whilst running.

Speeding up
If you are aiming just to complete your first marathon, speed work is not going to be essential. But if you are trying to improve your time or strength in running, one or two speed sessions a week is vital.  There are many different options for speed training, including intervals, tempo sessions or race pace sessions which can all be alternated over the weeks. .  Speed sessions should include a good warm up then a session where you push yourself to either your marathon race pace or a faster pace if doing tempo or intervals (around 5 or 10 KM pace, not a sprint). Don’t forget a cool down to finish off your session.  

Keeping it varied
Your training should ideally include around 3-5 runs a week, but you can supplement it with other forms of cardio. Cycling, swimming, elliptical trainers and stepping are all popular cross-training options as they are low or non-impact, and can provide you with a valuable aerobic workout if you keep your heart rate about 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate.  Just remember though, cross-training should not replace your running sessions. To prepare your body for a long run it has to get used to running.  

Sticking to it
There are many training schedules to be found online, which suit different fitness levels and lifestyles. Whichever you decide to follow, do not cheat yourself and try to keep a log of all the sessions you do. You want to hit marathon day with the confidence that only hard work and training can inspire.

You might also be interested in the other blog post in the marathon training series: What does it take to run a marathon?

About the Author
Victoria Brown has been offering her expertise as a qualified personal trainer on the YMCA Club floor since 2007. Victoria specialises in long-distance running, endurance and Exercise Referral. She caught the marathon bug in 2003 and since then has gone on to complete over 25 marathons all over Europe. In 2013 she completed 6 marathons in 7 months for a charity event and last year ran marathons in London, Zermatt and Luzern.

ymca | 17 October 2014