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How should beginners train for a marathon?

In our experience, the post London Marathon ballot day leaves us either feeling totally amped to get training or seriously disappointed about missing out. If you’re in the disappointed camp, time to set your sights on something else.

For those raring to go ahead of marathon day, this post will give you the lowdown on everything you need to get through your marathon-whether it’s your first or you’re prepping for a PB.

So, how long does it take to train for a marathon?

Generally speaking it can take anywhere between 12 to 24 weeks to train for a marathon–depending on your fitness level and how regularly you already run. 

There are plenty of marathon training plans out there, but to begin with it can all seem very overwhelming. 

Your first step is to decide on your goals and work out whether they are attainable. Do you currently run 3 days a week? Then don’t choose a training plan that wants you to be running 6 days a week–your body will be overwhelmed with all the extra mileage and you’ll most likely get injured. 

While you’ll be excited to start running further distances, try to trust the process and listen to your body. The risks of not increasing your mileage sensibly could end in a trip to the physio and your marathon plans in the balance. 

To avoid this, make sure to book your marathon well in advance and set aside a good few weeks of light, easy running to begin to increase your mileage before starting your training plan. 

TOP TIP:  When building up your mileage you should be increasing it by 10% each week at the very most. This is so your body can acclimate to the extra strain of the added distance.  If you’re a complete beginner, try to book your marathon 6 months to a year in advance to ensure you have plenty of time to prepare. 

Do I need to run the marathon distance before I run a marathon? 

This one’s completely up to you, but most coaches and training plans strongly advise against it. If you’re aiming for a specific time (especially if it’s not your first marathon), the most you may want to run in training is around 22-24 miles.

How to pace for a marathon 

One thing you definitely should be doing is running at your marathon goal pace.

For example, if you want to run the marathon in 4 hours, you should be adding marathon pace mileage into your runs in accordance to that time. 

A good way of doing this is to add pacing into your longer runs. For example you could run 1 hour at an easy pace with the last 30 minutes at your goal marathon pace. This type of run is a great way to prepare your body and acclimatise to the pace that you’ll be aiming for during the race. 

Do I need to be running races in the lead up to a marathon?

It’s a great idea to get a feel for racing before you tackle a marathon race.

If you’re following a 16 week training plan, it’s worth racing once a month as you slowly increase your distance. The week of your races you should be aiming to run less distance to ensure you’re ready for the higher intensity of the race..

For example after the first 4 weeks, you could try your local park run or a 5k race. Experiencing multiple race days will help get your legs prepared for running longer distances at your goal marathon pace (or faster if you’re having a good day!) and your mind prepped for dealing with the excitement of the day. 

After your 5k race you can then begin to increase your mileage further for 3 weeks and then tackle a 10k race

You can treat these races as a rehearsal for your marathon in more ways than just aiming for a higher intensity workout. You’ll get used to running in a crowd, pick up tricks for establishing your toilet routine, work out how your body functions on long and exciting runs, and learn what pre-race fuel works well for you.

Half marathon training runs

A perfect way to test out your fueling is by doing a half marathon. A half marathon is the perfect distance and duration for testing out how to fuel well during a race, as most guidance suggests that you should be eating on any run above 12k.

What fuel do I need to use during a marathon?

During a marathon, nutrition is key. You should be practicing fuelling correctly on training runs as well as in your races leading up to the marathon

A general rule of thumb in a marathon is to start fueling 1 hour into your race, and then every half an hour after the first hour. Remember everyone is different and it is up to you to decide how much fuel you need.

What to eat during a half marathon

Many runners use electrolyte gels. Gels contain a high concentration of carbohydrates and sugars to keep you going. There are plenty of brands out there to try, and best of all you can fit two or three in a running bum bag or a zipped pocket in your running shorts. 

If you don’t like gels there are plenty of alternatives, such as sweets as well as nutritional snacks like nuts that work in the same way. Ultimately, everyone is different, so it’s essential to make sure you test out your fuel to see what works. 

Ultimately, whether you’re taking on your first or fiftieth marathon, it’s an incredible achievement and a truly memorable experience. By preparing and thinking about your mileage, training plans, nutrition and race technique, you’ll help to make sure you can get the most out of your marathon experience.

Happy training!

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Freya is a full-time word person and a part-time plodder. Though she has a couple of half marathons under her belt but isn't in it for the PBs. Loving nothing more than a sweet 6k sweat around the park, it's running's mood-boosting properties that get her out the door, rain or shine – no fair weather runners here!

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