Your First 30 Days of Marathon Training
Congratulations, if you’ve just registered for a marathon. This time of year, runners are registering for June, early July, or Fall marathons, such as New York or Chicago. If your plans are for a Fall marathon, you should work on building your base with 4 – 5 runs per week of varying mileage of 5 – 7 miles. If you are signed up for a race that’s in next 14-20 weeks, you need to start training now.
The challenge for many runners is that they’re not sure where to start. They may purchase or download a free marathon training plan, but the problem is many plans only provide what looks like a spreadsheet of mileage and workouts for each day of the 16-20 week plan. This is simply not enough information to ensure your success, especially if you’re a beginner marathoner. Training for a marathon puts much more strain on your body compared to training for a 5 or 10k. The purpose of this article is to help “kick start” your training over the next 30 days with some smart training and nutrition habits. Subsequent articles in this series will discuss specific workouts and training strategies you use during your marathon training.
Running is more intense than most regular fitness activities. Prior to starting a marathon training program, you should check with your doctor to ensure it’s safe for you to take up a 16 – 20 week program that will involve some high-mileage runs. If you’re over 40, have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 35 or higher, or have a family history of heart disease or any other health problems, get clearance from a medical doctor before you start your marathon training. As a rule throughout your training, don't attempt to train through an athletic injury. Little aches and pains may not seem like a big deal at first, but they can lead to injuries that can sideline you for months. Visit a doctor to get a diagnosis for any prolonged pain you may be suffering.
Have a base before marathon training
Prior to starting your marathon training program, it's important to have a base of at least 100 miles. For a beginner it may take 3-4 months. In fact, some experts recommend regular running for up to a year prior to starting a marathon training plan. My rule of thumb is that athletes should be running approximately 20 miles per week and be able to complete 6 miles at once comfortably when they start a marathon training program.
During your first 30 days you must get into a daily routine of running and conditioning workouts at varying intensity levels. Your diet may have to change because you must now eat the best foods to fuel your body and aid in muscle recovery. Proper nutrition will be essential to your success.
Ensure you have the right running gear
As you start your program, ensure you have good gear. Don’t run in old, worn down sneakers that you purchased 5 years ago. Worn out shoes that don’t fit well are the most common cause of injury. Go to a specialty running store and get fitted for a pair of running shoes that fit your running style, body size and mileage goals. I have written a detailed post on how to buy new running shoes. Ensure that you are running in shorts, shirts, and apparel that are made from materials that wick sweat. These “technical” materials don’t soak up moisture like cotton.
Stay motivated to train
Make a plan to exercise with a group or at a certain time per day. Hold yourself accountable to this plan by writing it out and posting it where you can see it every day. Keep your running regular. Whether it’s every day at the same time or every other day, be consistent. Get yourself into a routine. Finally, I recommend that you build a support network. Meet with friends once or twice a week to complete your track workouts or long run.
Learn how to run slowly
It’s important that you train at varying speeds. Runners often focus on getting faster, but if you’re new to running or training for a marathon, you need to learn to run slower. Completing some of your weekly runs at a slower pace allows you to run farther and helps you recover from the previous days’ hard workout. You essentially need a few speeds or “gears.” One of the things that runners don’t do well is vary their workout intensity. You must be able to run slow, medium, and fast speeds to get the most out of the different workouts you will be completing in your marathon training. Although it takes time, if you have patience and continue to put different workouts together, you’ll eventually see progress.
Practice the following secrets to success
Sometimes you may not want to run. Try a shorter run than what you had planned. A short run is always better than no run at all.
Don’t rush your training. It’s better to build your distance gradually, so your body gets used to the extra load.
Eat well and get plenty of sleep. Successful runners have a nutrition plan. Just because you’re training for a marathon and getting a lot of exercise doesn’t mean that you can eat whatever you want. If you want to get ahead of the pack you need to watch what you eat and drink throughout the entire training plan. Consuming the right foods at the right times will allow your body to both recover and perform the way you expect.
Avoid the injury bug by combining your running with other forms of cardio and cross-fit type exercises. The stationary bike, elliptical, swimming, stair climber and rowing machine all work great. When using these pieces of equipment, ensure you push yourself so your heart rate increases and you’re in a sweat. Also incorporate 20-30 minutes of strength training/body weight exercises into these workouts to build strength.
Complete 1-2 conditioning/circuit training workouts per week
Marathon runners need strong and injury-resistant muscles. This is particularly important, not just for the race, but during your training, so you can prevent injury. Circuit training is an excellent way to improve strength, because it allows you to combine a number of strength exercises into one training session. The great thing about circuit training is that you don’t need to belong to a gym to perform these exercises. I recommend completing conditioning exercises on days when you don’t run or days when your plan only calls for 4-5 miles of easy running.
Complete runner's stretches
Nothing slows your marathon training like an injury. Running with muscles that are cold and not properly stretched can result in muscle strains. Both my primary physician and my physical therapist confirm that one of the best ways to slow the rate at which you experience ligament and tendon degeneration is to regularly stretch and strengthen your muscles and tendons. Stretching speeds up the recovery after workout thanks to the increased blood flow to the muscles.
I advise beginning each run with 5 - 10 minutes of easy jogging. Next, if possible, stretch your slightly warm muscles sufficiently so they’re primed for your run. Focus on stretching the major muscle groups used in running -- the quadriceps, calves, hamstrings, glutes and hip flexors.
Use a foam roller
In my opinion, a foam roller is one of the best tools for both injury prevention and performance enhancement. This is based on my experience, as well as input from my physical therapist. Foam rollers are the poor man’s massage therapist. Foam rollers can provide soft tissue work to help many athletes, in any setting. Foam rollers have been essential to my marathon training.
Stay tuned for additional marathon training tips. In my next post I’ll cover specific workouts and mileage milestones you should be achieving in weeks 5-8 of your marathon training plan.
Author Bio: Dan Lyne is a long distance runner from Camas, WA. With over 36 years of running experience, he specializes in coaching long distance runners and helping them achieve their half and full marathon goals through his website, middleagemarathoner.com.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is based on the author’s personal experience and thorough personal studies. The information provided here is designed to help you make informed decisions about your health. It is not intended as a substitute for any treatment that may have been prescribed by your doctor or physical therapist. All forms of exercise pose some inherent risks. The author advises readers to take full responsibility for their safety and know their limits. There is no guarantee that you will experience the same results & benefits as presented and you accept the risk that the results can differ by individual.