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How to Train for a Marathon

Marathon training

These are basic reminders to keep your marathon training on track. Many of these concepts are simple, but we just do not follow through with these fundamentals while training and consequently struggle at different points during our workouts and become frustrated with our progress and on race day.

How to train for a marathon

1. The long run/walk is one of the essential building blocks of marathon training. At this point in your training you should be comfortably running or walking for a minimum of 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Three weeks before the marathon, you should perform your last long run/walk of at least three hours and no more than four hours total.

The long run or walk prepares your body to handle the stresses of performing for longer periods of time and distance. If you do not train over two hours, your body will never have a chance to make the necessary training adaptations to keep your performance strong on race day.

Training is practice for race day. If you do not practice being on your legs for longer periods of time, race day will be much more of a struggle instead of just another training session.

2. A well rounded marathon training program contains workouts that will build not only endurance but strength and speed. All three of these elements work together to provide a solid foundation for fitness and will lead to a much stronger performance on race day. After building a substantial endurance base, each week your training should consist of the following three workouts: the long run/walk for endurance, hill work or tempo work for leg strength, and shorter, faster intervals for speed.

3. Always take one or two recovery days per week to allow your body to rest and repair, especially during the weeks of your longest and hardest workouts. Rest and recovery lead to improved performance. The days of rest following your hardest training sessions are when your body acclimates to the training stresses placed upon it. After this rest and recovery period, your body will be rejuvenated and ready for an increased workload and thus improved performance either for training or race day.

4. Practice proper hydration, especially during high heat and humidity. You should drink enough water or sports drink so that you are urinating six to eight times per day. Also, your urine should be clear. If your urine is clear and not a dark yellow, it is a great sign that you are properly hydrating.

Typically during a training session, especially in extreme heat and humidity, you want to drink every 10 to 12 minutes. You only need a few sips, but if you do not properly hydrate, your performance can become severely impaired and you are also at risk for illness.

5. Add some upper-body strength workouts to your training. Performing basic push-ups and pull-ups, or low-weight, high-repetition overhead presses or chest presses, even twice a week, will add upperbody strength. A well-conditioned upper body can help a runner or walker with increased lung capacity by keeping the body in a strong, upright position even in the last few miles of a marathon.

Also, a strong arm swing will keep a runner/walker’s stride length consistent throughout the marathon. Tired and droopy arms will shorten a runner/walker’s stride. Even if you only lose a half-inch per stride in the latter miles of the marathon, that adds up to 87 feet per mile. Now at the most grueling point of the race you have to run an extra 87 feet to complete each mile due to your shortened stride. Doing 20 to 40 push-ups every other day doesn’t seem like such a difficult task after all.

6. Always stretch after your body is sufficiently warmed up. Never stretch muscles that are cold. Never bounce while stretching. Never over stretch – if you feel pain, stop the stretch. The best way to decrease your risk of injury is to stretch gently at the end of your workout.

Basic hamstring, quadriceps and calf stretches performed for even five minutes may not only help prevent muscle soreness and injury, but may even help maintain flexibility, which will keep your stride length from shortening significantly as you age, thus maintaining your performance.

7. Never try in a marathon anything you have not practiced in your training sessions. Training is practice for the marathon. Training is where you figure out what to drink, when to drink, what running shoes work best, pacing, when to take walk breaks, etc. Try every thing out in training first, be it new sports drinks, shoes, shorts or even new foods

Marathon Training Schedule

Now you are wondering, “Do I really want to run a marathon?” Sure you do. (For those of you who do not know, a marathon is 26.2 miles. There are as many marathon training plans as there are marathoners.

To run a marathon with only reasonable discomfort (as opposed to unreasonable discomfort – there is no such thing as a comfortable marathon), you need to run 60 miles a week for six weeks, with two weeks taper. 50 miles a week may do it, but 60 is better.

Pick a race that is far enough in the future that will allow you to build up to 60 miles a week at a 10 percent per week increase, allow for six weeks of training at that level and allow for at least two weeks to taper.

The following is an idea of a marathon training schedule:

Your longest weekly run should be about two minutes slower than your 10 K pace and it should get up to 20 miles. Once a week do a tempo run (first mile easy, next four miles as fast as you can without slowing down, the rest easy). The other runs should be 1 to 1 1/2 minutes per mile slower than your 10 K pace.

Resist the temptation to put in more miles the last two weeks. This is the time to let your legs recover from all of the pounding. You will not lose any speed or endurance, but if you try to squeeze in more mileage during the taper, you will end up paying for it with a sluggish performance.

On race day, start off easy. Maybe a minute slower than 10 K pace. Resist the urge to push it. It may seem slower, but it will not seem so later. The marathon is a two-part race – the first 20 miles and the last 6.2. You will find the first 20 miles easy. You really will. You will probably find the last 6.2 miles the greatest challenge of your life. Do not fight the last miles. Accept them and just pass by them. They eventually whittle away.

Do not concern yourself with your overall time during your first marathon. Just finish it. No matter how you do, when you finish you will become the elite of road racer – a marathoner.

Marathon Tapering

A common problem experienced among distance runners or walkers during their marathon is that they “hit the wall.” What exactly does this phrase mean? “Hitting the wall” means that the glycogen stores (your body’s fuel) in your muscles are completely depleted. Successfully completing your marathon depends upon your body’s ability to conserve its energy sources and efficiently use its fuel. If your glycogen stores become depleted, your race is over, whether or not you are at the finish line.

Long, slow training run/walks teach your body how to use its fuel more efficiently. By performing your long runs or walks at a conversational pace and extending the time on your legs, “the wall” will move farther and farther away, until finally it will not appear at all during the marathon.

Consistently performing long run/walks during marathon training conditions your body for endurance. The long run/walks are not designed to be speed workouts. If you train too fast on these long runs and walks, you will most likely be too fatigued to benefit from your other training sessions during the week and also increase your risk of injury.

Training for a marathon is very hard work. Your body needs a period of reduced training before the race day to regenerate physically as well as mentally. Many people feel extremely restless during the taper period. They feel that they are not doing enough physical activity.

The beginning of the taper period is the end of marathon training. Now race preparation starts. Any intense training done during the taper period will only hinder your performance on race day, since you will not have enough time to allow your body to recover properly.

The marathon taper period should typically last two to three weeks before the race. During this time, you should only run or walk 30 to 50 percent of your regular weekly time and distance. The taper program keeps participants maintaining their training intensity while gradually reducing their training time and distance to almost nothing the last few days before the race.

Your last quality run or walk should be one week before your race. This workout should consist of no more than 90 to 100 minutes and you should try to maintain your projected race pace. Think short, quick bursts of activity for the last week before the race. Perform no run/walk over 35 to 40 minutes. Also, do not try any new cross-training activities during your taper period. The idea is to rest and recover before your race.

Weight-training workouts should consist of low-weight, higher-repetition sets. You want to minimize your risk of injury as much as possible the last few weeks of training. No type of training in the final week before the marathon will enhance your performance on race day – it will only hinder your performance.

High-quality training takes at least two weeks to improve your performance, but overtraining may affect your performance the next day as well as cause an injury. Marathoners tend to be overachievers. Rest does not come easy for these people, who enjoy the routine of training and pushing their bodies to perform for two to three hours consistently.

Do not throw away 16 to 20 weeks of solid marathon training for one last tempo run the week before the race – it will not improve your overall marathon finishing time. You have earned a break – it is part of your training program. Be a slacker that last week before the race. Relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor. Have a great week!

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