Have you ever thought of running a marathon? We did too! The problem we’ve found with that thought, however, is that it often leads to more negative thoughts than hopeful ones, as well as doubts about why I’ll never be able to run a marathon. “You’re too slow”, “you won’t finish”, and the most common and most truthful one, “you’re not fit enough”. The desire to run a marathon may very well be there, but if you’re not fit enough to run the marathon, then you won’t be able to. That is, unfortunately, how our bodies work. So, the question then becomes, how do I get fit? More specifically, how do I get marathon fit?
Before We Begin
So, you want to get marathon fit, but you’re not sure where to start. That’s okay, we’ve all been there. The best thing to remember during this process is exactly that, this is a process. You’re not going to magically become the best marathon runner overnight, so don’t be too hard on yourself, okay? Having said that, there will be work to do. While there’s quite a lot out there about how to become marathon fit, we’ve condensed some overall key points into a palatable, easy to follow marathon training plan that we believe will help you on your journey to running your first one.
For the rest of our time together, we’re going to take you through what we think are the four most important elements for anybody wanting to train for their first marathon. Call it a mini-marathon training plan, if you like. These elements are base training, long runs, diet, and rest and recovery.
- Base Training
As tempting as it may be to just jump into a marathon after a couple of light runs, if you’ve not formed a foundation or ‘base’ from your body to work from then odds are you will not get very far. Base training is essentially the steady conditioning of your body to adapt and perform at higher levels as you continue to grow. It’s important to increase your body’s running capacity before you start any intense training, especially if you’ve not done any kind of marathon training before. This is done by consistently running about two to three times a week and gradually upping the intensity each week. This will build your endurance and get your body familiar with this type of exercise and movement.
- Long Runs
The classic long run is well-known to the experienced marathon runner. It’s the most important part of your marathon training as this is the part where you experience the marathon feeling of running a long distance. Long runs build up your bones, muscles, lungs, and heart to get used to the further distances required for a marathon. You should do one long run per week, making sure you’re running at a ‘conversational pace’, while gradually increasing the distance over time (but never the actual marathon distance, we don’t want you getting an injury!). When starting, we’d suggest beginning with a 5km long run and increasing over time to around 21km.
Maintaining a correct and healthy diet while training for a marathon should be a high priority for you as this will lead to an increase in your performance and will help make training easier. As your activity increases, your calorie intake needs to increase to support the level of new activity in your body. Sticking to three meals per day with a few snacks in between is your best, most solid option if you want to meet your calorie requirements. These calories should include nutrient-filled foods and not junk food. Focusing on carbohydrates and proteins is also important as you get marathon fit. Carbohydrates will fuel your body to reach the finish line, while proteins will help with your recovery and muscle support.
- Rest and Recovery
This will most likely be your favourite part of your marathon training program. There’s nothing quite like a good rest day after a few intense training sessions. Rest days only have upsides for your body. It needs to recover from the taxing running sessions you’ve been doing, and to avoid injuring yourself you need to stop running and rest for a day. This may seem counter-productive but it is in fact the complete opposite. Your muscles will recover and become stronger when you allow them to rest, meaning the next time you run you’ll feel the positive difference that a rest day makes. The mind, too, needs a break to avoid a complete mental burnout, so make sure you’re giving yourself at least two full days of rest in the beginning. As you gradually increase your workload, you may find you don’t need as much rest anymore. If the itch to be active is there when you’re supposed to be resting, a bit of cross-training is a good option to keep yourself active while not running. This can include walking, hiking, swimming, or anything that’s not as high-intensity as running.
As you begin your training, whether it’s a full marathon training plan or a half marathon training plan, remember to pace yourself and take it slow, especially in the beginning. Be patient and diligent and you’ll see the results in time. Good luck!