Many people take on the goal of running a marathon, but not many understand the commitment that it takes. For a runner at heart, running just a little farther may not seem like such a big deal. What those who have made a lifetime out of running, and those who just start when they make the decision, find out quickly is that it is going to be the challenge of a lifetime.
When you are training for a marathon, it isn’t a hobby, it becomes an entirely new way of life that takes sacrifice, dedication, and perseverance. If you are ready to begin on your journey, there are good ways to begin, and then there are ways that are self-defeating. Depending on where you are from the beginning, you are going to have to go at your own pace, be patient with yourself, and start making good choices and listening to what your body is telling you.
What is your starting point
If you are someone who is physical fit and already incorporates running into their life, the beginning of the training process may not be such a shock. If you are already running 15 miles or more a week, consider yourself an intermediate runner. For this segment of the running population, the training is going to be more about building up your stamina and endurance. You will want to increase your mileage, but don’t let go of the other types of training that will maintain your core musculature and cross train your body.
The problem that most intermediate runners have is that they want to increase their mileage so they leave out the other components of training and hit the pavement. It is important to increase the amount you can run, but not at the sacrifice of training the other parts of your body. As a runner, you know that when you over due it, or you run too many miles without incorporating other forms of exercise, you are going to create imbalances and excessive stress on specific joints. If you want to train for a marathon it is about being balanced. Focusing on running is a must, being obsessed with mileage may sabotage your training.
Where to begin training for an intermediate runner
For an advanced runner you are going to want to start by increasing your mileage slowly. You need a minimum of 45-60 days to train for a marathon. The best way to increase your runs is by starting out slowly. For an intermediate runner you should set your goals at running about 50 miles per week at the top of your training. The best way to train is by taking a day, or two, off in between your running days. Ideally you want to alter long running days with shorter running days. A good schedule would be to run a short mileage like 5 miles, take the day off of running then the next day run 7, take a day off and the following run a long distance run like 10 miles. Each week you will want to increase the mileage by one mile on all ends. Many people think that you have to run a marathon to prove that you can run a marathon. That is not the case. If you can clock in 20 miles in one run, you are ready to run a marathon. When you begin you will want to shoot for running 4 times a week, increasing your mileage until the 2 weeks before when you will begin to taper your running.
Where to begin for a beginner
For the novice runner it is going to take far longer to train for a marathon. If you aren’t a runner, or you aren’t in shape for running, you should plan on training for a minimum of 20 weeks. It is going to take your body time to get into shape first and then you have to worry about being in shape enough to run a marathon. You should look at them like separate entities. It is always best to break up the goal into smaller components to tackle them.
We are defining a beginning runner as anyone who runs less than 15 miles per week. Alternating days of running with other forms of training is the best way to condition the body. You should start with running three days a week and increase to four. Running days should start weekly with a short run, followed by an intermediate run, followed by a long run with a day in-between each. Each week you should increase the number of miles by one on all ends.
Realistically, to run your first marathon you should build up to a minimum of 30 miles weekly. It is important to remember that the more mileage you can build up to pre-race day, the more mileage you should be able to run during the actual race.
The goal for both groups is to be able to go for a long run every 7-10 days, each long run to be one mile longer each week. Ideally you should have enough time during your training to back off the mileage a week so that you aren’t putting too much tax on your body. Sort of like a reprieve, back off every three weeks by a mile or two on your long run.
LSD training…what is it, why do you need it?
During the long runs the most important thing to learn is to slow down and be consistent. The key to any marathon is to have the endurance to run the entire thing. That can only be done if you are able to build up to it, and learn how to expend your energy appropriately so that you don’t burn out at the end, and end up not finishing. The term “LSD” stands of long slow distance. It is learning to run slow and increase as your body learns to adjust to the longer distances. It is a way of teaching the body to target fat stores to burn for energy when your immediate stores are empty. Most runners will peak their runs at 20 miles.
During the days that you are recouping you will want to incorporate a training program that consists of overall functional training, strength training and endurance training. Choosing activities such as yoga or Pilates are a great addition to your routine. They will keep you limber and prevent you from getting injured. It is very important to always give your body a day to recoup in-between your runs. If you don’t allow the body time to repair itself you may over train. That is a condition where the body ceases to heal itself. Not only will you be sabotaging your training, you can run the risk of getting sick, or even injuring yourself to the point of halting your training. Make sure to listen to your body. You have to challenge and push yourself, but never past the point of exhaustion. The training is not where you are supposed to go beyond your limits. It is a place where you are training your body for a time when you have to.
Eating and drinking
As your activity level increases you will want to increase your vitamin, mineral and protein intake to compensate. It is also important to re-hydrate after your run, especially during the long runs. You are going to be depleting a lot of the nutrients that your body needs. It may be necessary to supplement what is being lost to prevent burn out or over training.
Lastly, although you don’t want to sprint your way, or is it probably physically possible to through the marathon, sprinting and speed work may be useful to teach your body how to ramp up that last ditch energy store to push you father than you think you are able to go. It is a way to signal the body to go from fast twitch muscles to slow twitch muscles. It is also something that is good for mental training. Visualizing that little bit of energy as being in the bottom of the jar, can increase the amount of time you can continue to keep going.