Marathon Train­ing Guide

Ex­pert Advice + Your Per­fect Plan

Runner's World (UK) - - Front Page -

In some ways, 1980 was a lot like 2016 – there was a con­tentious US elec­tion, a no­tably left-wing and di­vi­sive Labour leader in the UK and a new Star­wars film. But in the world of marathons, the now-and-then fin­ish-line photographs look very dif­fer­ent. Back then, marathons were largely re­served for the speedy, mostly male, elite. In 1980, only 1,145 UK run­ners crossed the fin­ish line of a 26.2-mile race, in me­dian fin­ish­ing times of 3:32 for men and 4:19 for women. To­day, well over 100,000 Bri­tish run­ners com­plete a marathon each year. Many are older, far more are women and the fin­ish­ing times re­flect the broader ap­peal (and more in­clu­sive na­ture) of the event. By 2015, me­dian times had in­creased to 4:03 for men and 4:44 for women. Nearly one third of RW read­ers plan to tackle a 26.2 race in the year ahead, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey. But you prob­a­bly have no plans to log 70-100-mile weeks, as many marathon­ers of the past did; in fact, the typ­i­cal RW reader runs about 20 miles week. For­tu­nately, a decade and a half into the sec­ond run­ning boom, coaches have adapted the train­ing meth­ods of elites into plans that will fit the sched­ules of av­er­age ath­letes. We asked the ex­perts who’ve ap­peared in th­ese pages over the years to spell out the best strate­gies for run­ners with full lives. Here’s their advice.


Speed­work has a place in marathon train­ing, but it’s a small piece of a big puz­zle. On most runs – es­pe­cially the long ones – re­sist the urge to push your speed; in­stead, travel at a slow, steady pace, ad­vises run­ning coach Janet Hamilton. You should be able to have con­ver­sa­tions with your run­ning part­ners (an un­der­rated perk of marathon train­ing is the friend­ships that can be forged over the miles).

Easy run­ning re­duces the impact on your body and staves off fa­tigue, en­abling you to log more miles with less risk of in­jury. What’s more, it ac­tu­ally pre­pares you bet­ter for the dis­tance. When you run a marathon, most of your body’s fuel comes from your aer­o­bic sys­tem – your hard­work­ing mus­cles need oxy­gen-rich blood to power each con­trac­tion. Your body adapts to easy miles by strength­en­ing your heart, sprout­ing more cap­il­lar­ies to in­fuse oxy­gen into mus­cles, and build­ing more mi­to­chon­dria, the fac­to­ries within cells that pro­duce en­ergy. ‘You’re get­ting the foun­da­tion, all of the horse­power,’ says Mcmil­lan. ‘Then later, when you want to go fast, you’ve got a big­ger en­gine.’


Run­ners of the past may have scoffed at the idea of us­ing valu­able train­ing time for any­thing other than even more mileage, but mod­ern marathon run­ners know bet­ter – and are health­ier, more well-rounded ath­letes be­cause of it. A good strength-train­ing pro­gramme will help to coun­ter­act the harm­ful ef­fects of our seden­tary lifestyles, as well as the repet­i­tive mo­tion and impact stresses of run­ning, strength­en­ing weak links and en­sur­ing that joints move through their full range of mo­tion.

Many run­ners have weak hip and glute mus­cles, which can drive your knees out of align­ment and cause mus­cle im­bal­ance, tight­ness and pain from your hips to your knees, says coach Jenny Hadfield. And if you don’t have the core strength to make it through 15 se­conds of planks on each side, then you’re not durable enough to main­tain your form through­out a 26-mile run.

Coun­ter­act th­ese de­fi­cien­cies and build a solid strength-train­ing habit by do­ing three or four tar­geted ex­er­cises af­ter your runs at least three times per week. Smart op­tions in­clude planks and side planks, squats (work­ing up to sin­gle-leg ver­sions), lunges, clamshells and glute bridges. On your long runs, move at a slow, steady pace to re­duce in­jury risk and fa­tigue.


‘If the fur­nace was hot enough, any­thing would burn, even Big Macs.’ This quote from John L Parker Jr's 1978 novel Once a Run­ner makes in­ter­est­ing prose but ter­ri­ble nu­tri­tional advice. Clean­ing up your diet early in a marathon-train­ing pro­gramme helps you shed ex­tra weight and ease stress on your joints without de­priv­ing your­self of calo­ries you need dur­ing the heav­i­est weeks of train­ing, says Mcmil­lan. To do it, swap re­fined sug­ars and carbs, as well as fried and overly pro­cessed op­tions, for whole­foods such as veg­eta­bles, whole­grains, fruits and lean pro­teins. Th­ese healthy-eat­ing habits sup­port your train­ing through­out the cy­cle, pro­vid­ing the en­ergy and nu­tri­ents your body needs to cope with the de­mands of higher mileage. When it

comes to fu­elling each run, you can power through short ef­forts on water alone. For runs last­ing 60 min­utes or longer, sup­ple­ment with 30-60g of carbs per hour from sports drinks, gels, or ev­ery­day foods such as pret­zels or jelly­beans, says Hadfield. Af­ter­wards, re­fuel with a healthy snack or meal con­tain­ing pro­tein and carbs – for in­stance, a tur­key and avo­cado wrap, or cho­co­late milk – to jump-start mus­cle re­pair and tamp down the ‘runger’ that might oth­er­wise strike with a vengeance. And what­ever you do, prac­tise your night-be­fore, morn­ing-of and mid-race fu­elling plans on every long run. Make notes in your train­ing log about what works and what leaves you feel­ing bloated, nau­seous or lack­ing in en­ergy so you’ll know ex­actly how to make your body happy on race day.

4/ SIT LESS Time and again, we’ve heard that ‘sit­ting is the new smok­ing’, rais­ing the risk for obe­sity, heart dis­ease and early death. And if that’s not enough to scare you into stand­ing, run­ners face ad­di­tional dam­ag­ing con­se­quences from stay­ing seated. ‘Sit­ting puts your hips in the ab­so­lute worst po­si­tion for what you want to do when you’re run­ning,’ says Mcmil­lan. Your hip flex­ors tighten and your ham­strings shorten, clip­ping the back­ward ex­ten­sion of your leg that makes for a healthy stride. Plus, your shoul­ders tend to hunch over, trig­ger­ing back pain and con­strict­ing your breath­ing, says Hadfield.

Stand­ing desks can help, but a re­cent re­search re­view in Medicine & Sci­ence in Sports & Ex­er­cise sug­gests work­ing up­right alone can’t coun­ter­act all the da­m­age sit­ting causes to phys­i­cally ac­tive peo­ple. Take at least one break an hour to get up and walk around your build­ing or even head out­side for a few min­utes. And if you have the space and the pri­vacy, do a few of­fice-friendly moves to bring your body back to equi­lib­rium. Hadfield sug­gests walk­ing or lung­ing back­wards to open your hips, or drop­ping down to all fours to do cat-and-cow stretches, which will ease strain on your back.

5/ SLEEP WELL So many good things hap­pen when run­ners turn out the lights at night: your mus­cles re­pair them­selves, your hunger hor­mones re­set, your brain makes new mo­tor con­nec­tions and you awake re­stored, re­freshed and ready to run again. In one study, the num­ber of hours of sleep per night was found to be the num­ber-one pre­dic­tor of sports in­juries in teenage ath­letes, and ex­perts sus­pect that sim­i­lar find­ings ap­ply to grown-ups. The Amer­i­can Academy of Sleep Medicine ad­vises healthy adults to get at least seven hours of sleep per night, and while every ath­lete dif­fers, most run­ners need even more sleep as their mileage in­creases, notes Mcmil­lan.

It’s OK to miss a few runs – es­pe­cially if you’re sick, tired or stressed. ‘I al­ways tell ath­letes in train­ing – as soon as you can go to bed, you should to go to bed,’ Mcmil­lan says – no ifs, buts, or more scrolling through Net­flix about it. To make sure you fall asleep quickly and sleep soundly, try to avoid all screens for at least an hour be­fore you hit the hay.


Min­i­mal­ist, max­i­mal­ist, zero-drop, sta­bil­ity – to­day’s run­ner prac­ti­cally needs a spe­cialised glos­sary to un­der­stand the types of footwear avail­able, let alone select the per­fect pair. Ex­pe­ri­enced friends, a coach or trained run­ning-shop staff can help point you in the right di­rec­tion. But the best way to find the right shoe for you is to try and try again, says Bart Yasso, chief run­ning of­fi­cer at Run­ner’s World US.

Head to a run­ning-shoe shop late in the day (your feet tend to swell as the day goes on) and test sev­eral dif­fer­ent brands and mod­els. Put them on side by side for com­par­i­son, look­ing for a pair that al­lows ad­e­quate room for your toes, sup­ports your arch in the right place, doesn’t slide off your heel and seems to move with your foot rather than push­ing it in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, says Hamilton. Con­sider ro­tat­ing sev­eral dif­fer­ent pairs (this can re­duce in­jury), and re­place them every 300-500 miles – sooner if you feel new aches and pains.


A sen­si­ble plan such as the one on page 84 (or those found at run­ner­ uk/train­ing) serves as a solid guide for your prepa­ra­tion. But don’t stress if you miss a few days. ‘If you do 85 per cent of the train­ing, you will achieve 95 per cent of the re­sults,’ says RW writ­erat-large Amby Bur­foot. ‘Ev­ery­body misses runs; just try to do most of them.’

In fact, some­times ex­tra rest days will ac­tu­ally in­crease your chances of get­ting to the start­ing line strong and healthy. Whether it’s due to a crazy day at work, ill­ness or pain that gets worse as you run, the smart run­ner is go­ing to take a few days off over the course of 16 weeks, if they’re train­ing in­tel­li­gently, says Bur­foot. On the flip side, those who stay slaves to the train­ing sched­ule and push through the miles even when they’re short on sleep, fraz­zled or in­jured put their race in peril.

8/ SET SMART GOALS If you’ve run races of other dis­tances, you can plug your times into an on­line cal­cu­la­tor to get an idea of where you might fin­ish. But Gal­loway says run­ners hung up on the num­bers are prone to train at a level that’s harder than their bodies can han­dle – even if they avoid in­jury, they tend to have a lot less fun. ‘I tell peo­ple, this ex­pe­ri­ence is go­ing to be one you’ll re­mem­ber for the rest of your life,’ he says. ‘If you want it to be one of those re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ences, don’t have a time goal.’

In fact, the wide range of mo­ti­va­tions and goals just might be the big­gest dif­fer­ence be­tween marathon­ers of to­day and those early trail­blaz­ers. ‘Forty years ago we all ran be­cause we wanted to break three hours and set a per­sonal best; it was pretty much a self­ish en­deav­our. Now, there are man­i­fold rea­sons for train­ing for and run­ning a marathon,’ says Bur­foot. You can aim to raise money for a char­ity, col­lect medals, check off an item on your bucket list or live a long, healthy life. Set­ting non-time goals can pro­voke psy­cho­log­i­cal changes that are as pro­found as the phys­i­o­log­i­cal re­sponses to run­ning, if not more so. The new def­i­ni­tion of win­ning? ‘Find your rea­son for run­ning, or your many rea­sons, and em­brace them,’ says Bur­foot.

THE RIGHT PATH Look af­ter your­self to stay on track

STAND­ING COUNTS Stay on your feet as much as you can

TAKE CARE Some runs re­ally take a toll. Make sure you re­cover prop­erly

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