Marathon Training Plan: Your Ultimate Guide to Crafting the Perfect Running Strategy
There's no hiding the fact that marathon training is hard. In fact, I personally think it's the hardest distance to train for!! It requires long hours of training, plenty of rest, and the right fuel to optimise performance. In this blog post, we'll walk you through the most important considerations you should make when planning your marathon training plan. From how long to train to how to manage injuries, this blog has it all! So, start planning your marathon training today and get over that finish line strong!
How long should you train for a marathon?
Marathon training is an arduous task, and those long miles can take their toll if not planned for properly or you try cramming in by starting too late! Beginners running their first marathon should aim to run a minimum of 16 weeks, while more experienced runners can train for as long as 26 weeks but equally an experienced runner may already have a strong base and pivot to taking a previous training block and doing anything as short as 12 weeks.
However, it is important to keep in mind that marathon training cannot simply be thrown in at the last minute – you must gradually increase mileage and intensity over the first few months until your body is ready.
There's no one answer when it comes to how long someone should train for a marathon- everyone is different! Start with a plan that feels comfortable for you and work your way up from there.
How to fuel your marathon training and the race itself
Marathon training is a long and strenuous journey that requires plenty of preparation. Before beginning the training, be sure to consult with a physician to ensure your fitness level and running schedule are safe. Additionally, it's important to know how much fuel you'll need to reach your training goals, and what foods will help you perform at your best. For long-distance running on varied terrain, it can be helpful to adapt your feeling plan accordingly. For example, if you're running on trail, you may need to eat more carbs than if you're running on a paved path. Following a proper fuelling plan is key to success! For more info, read my blog on nutrition before a long run
How to Hydrate during your marathon race
While many runners plan to drink ample water during a marathon, it's important to remember that fluid intake is just one aspect of preparing for race day. Make sure you're also hydrating properly with other electrolytes and fluids such as sports drinks or GU hydration packs. Always consult your race organisers' website about what beverages are available on course - some races offer water stations while others have specialized endurance-oriented drinks like Powerade, Lucozade, Endurance Blast or Tailwind... the list goes on! Drinking plenty of fluids is essential to avoiding dehydration and possible health problems later in the race, but also ensure not to take massive gulps, you don't want a load of liquid sloshing around in your tummy as you run!
How long should my longest run be during my marathon training plan
The length of your longest run should gradually increase over the first few weeks of training. As long as you're gradually increasing mileage, don't worry about running too long right away: in fact, taking it easy in the first few weeks can help avoid injury and make sure that your body is ready to handle the additional stressors associated with marathon training later on.
If you want an actual number, I never give my athletes any more than 20-22 miles. A single long run does not define marathon success, you should ensure you have done enough TOTAL miles across the training plan, rather than focusing on a single long run!
How many days per week should I train for my marathon?
It depends!! I often see people trying to follow plans that are designed for advanced and experienced marathoners, but those plans are often too hard for those just starting out. Start by training two or three days per week, gradually increasing the mileage and intensity as you become more comfortable. Be sure to listen to your body - if it feels like you're pushing too hard then back off a bit! Don't forget to take your daily stressors into account too, they do matter! Things like jobs, kids, etc are hard on us and can add up over time to wear our bodies down - make sure you're taking the time to rest and recover as needed.
What should I eat on the morning of the race?
Before the race, eat what you normally eat before your long runs! Don't be tempted to try something new on race day as this can lead to stomach upset and other issues. The key thing to consider here is that food is so personal and whilst a lovely bowl of porridge and a banana might work for me, it might not be the same for you! Experiment a little and see what works best for you. Try to get in some carbohydrate before long runs as this will help fuel your training and help you recover better too
How should I carb load?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question as every person's body metabolises food differently, but I would suggest (based on the evidence) to starting by eating around 7-12 grams of carbohydrate per kg of lean bodyweight per day for the prior 3 days before the race. Don't go crazy on the pasta and rice the day before either (those stories of "pasta parties" are just silly!), you can and should be topping up with simple carbohydrate sources such as sweets/candy, chocolate, bananas, and even sipping on your sports drink throughout the day before the race.
What should I drink before the race?
Again, this varies from person to person as everyone's body responds differently to fluids, but generally speaking you want to aim for 8-10 glasses of water throughout the day before race day. This will help flush out any waste and toxins that might have accumulated over the course of training leading up to race day - a key reason why taking on marathon training is so important! Remember not only do you need plenty of clean drinking water but also electrolytes (such as sodium)
Should I get a running coach or follow a free plan off the internet?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as everyone's training plan will be different. Ultimately it depends on your level of experience and how comfortable you feel following a plan without direct feedback. If you're just starting out however, I would recommend speaking to a running coach about marathon training plans that might work best for you. Feel free to reach out to me or ask me any questions about training plans!
What are some of the most common mistakes that runners make when training for a marathon?
Some of the most common mistakes that runners make when training for a marathon include not training enough but more often than that it's a problem of training too much!!! Trying to do too much at once, running TOO HARD TOO OFTEN and eating poorly and the "I'll just burn it off" attitude. Don't neglect the benefits of easy runs! Make sure that you train for both your short and long distances is key to preventing injuries during marathon training. Endurance, speed, strength, and flexibility are all important facets of marathon training, and it's crucial to focus on each part gradually in order to avoid injury. Also, runners who don't take care of their bodies by eating junk food or not drinking enough water during their training breaks are likely to suffer from fatigue and other health complications later on. Oh... and SLEEEEEEEEEP!!! Sleep is so important that you have this as a real focus area!
Do interval runs work well as part of my marathon training schedule?
Interval training is a great way to boost your endurance, your overall speed and help you improve your running form whilst training for a marathon. You can do interval runs in many ways: timed intervals, repeated strides, progression runs, hills. Timed intervals are the better option if you want to increase your speed and improve your time for running a marathon, and as you get closer to race day, you should be putting more emphasis on practising your goal race pace over longer intervals.
Should you do strength training for a marathon?
YES YES YES!!! Strength training is VERY beneficial for marathon training, but it's important to start with some light weightlifting first if you are new to lifting. This will help you build up endurance and stamina while also preventing injuries. As you progress, you can then start incorporating heavier exercises into your routine. Make sure to gradually increase the amount of strength training as your fitness levels progress in order to avoid overtraining or injuring yourself in the long run. If you want one of the very best strength training for runners plan programmes aimed at runners specifically then follow the link.
What types of runs should I include in my marathon training plan?
First and foremost, plenty of EASY running! Around 80% of your week should be made up of easy runs. The rest of your marathon training plan should include long runs, tempo runs, and hill sprints. Long runs are the best way to improve your endurance the longest and can also help you build up a tolerance for fatigue resistance. Tempo runs are good for building speed and strength while marathon training. Hill running training will help you improve your aerobic capacity (the ability of your body to use oxygen) while training for a marathon. But ultimately, overall consistency is the key!
Should you do cross training such as cycling when training for your marathon?
There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to cross training while marathon training. Some people find that cross training helps them build endurance and stamina, while others feel that it doesn't have a significant impact on their race time. Personally, if you can run more, then great, but a cycle or cross trainer once a week won't hurt!
What should be your weekly mileage when training for a marathon?
Your weekly mileage should be gradually increase as your marathon training progresses. For beginners, you should aim to run around 16-20 miles per week. As you become more fit, you can gradually increase your mileage to 25-30 miles per week. For more advanced marathoners, you might be able to be pushing upwards of 50 miles per week but there comes a certain point where the gains becoming diminishing and even detrimental. More is not always necessarily better!
What are the best ways to recover during marathon training?
Before you go searching amazon for the next gadget or supplement, your BEST friend when it comes to recovery is good old-fashioned SLEEP! It drives me nuts when I see people messing around with massage guns, foam rollers, compression gadgets etc etc and then you ask them how they are sleeping and they get less than 6 hours a night! Sleep is your number 1 recovery protocol before anything else, very very very closely followed by a good diet.
To ensure that you're getting the most out of your runs, make sure to rest properly between runs and allow your body enough time to heal after workouts. You should also avoid doing too many hard workouts close together (I NEVER give my athletes two hard days back-to-back – this can lead to overtraining and worsened injury recovery. The main weapon in your arsenal is good old sleep! This is when the body repairs and rebuilds tissues. Also consider taking a hot bath or shower, eating well with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, high protein sources and, if it's your thing, practicing yoga or mobility work!
Taking on a marathon is a big commitment, and in order to ensure success and avoid injury, training will take place over a long period of time. A good plan will keep you motivated and help you fit those long training runs into your schedule. Taking on a marathon is a big commitment, and in order to ensure success and avoid injury, training will take place over a long period of time and during the winter months. A good plan will keep you motivated and help you fit those long training runs into your schedule. If you're just starting out, start by incorporating some light weightlifting into your training regimen. This will help build up endurance and stamina while also preventing injuries. As you progress, introduce heavier exercises into your routine gradually in order to avoid overtraining or injuring yourself prematurely. Don't forget to read about our tips for long distant running and also our additional tips for running a marathon from Nick who has got his time to sub 3 hours.
Author: Nick Hancock is a UESCA Certified Ultrarunning coach and UK Athletics Coach in Running Fitness (CiRF) and has coached many busy professionals and parents to achieve finishes, top-10s and podiums in events such as London Marathon, Manchester Marathon, Amsterdam Marathon, UTMB, UTS, Centurion events, Endure24, Backyards and many more. Host of the Maximum Mileage Running Podcast and author of the Ultimate Cookbook for Runners
He can be found on Instagram @runwithnick
Now go run hard! And remember, if you ever want to talk about the potential you can reach by taking on the services of a running coach then do get in touch by hitting that enquiry button