22 Pieces of Marathon Training Advice

By Sabrina Grotewold


The marathon is a difficult distance to master, no matter if you're a bucket-list runner whose only goal is to cross the finish line, or if you're a competitive runner on the hunt for a personal best. Everything—from an ache in your calf to a hotspot on your foot to that cup of water you missed at the last fluid station—is heightened when you cover 26.2 miles on foot, but that's part of the lure of the marathon. If it were easy, the accomplishment wouldn't be as coveted.


1.    Build your base -- Work your total weekly mileage up to 20 to 25 miles for at least a month prior to the start of your official training. If you start too soon with high intensity (pace and/or distance) before your training even begins, you're just asking for trouble. You'll either overtrain and risk injury and burnout, or you'll peak too soon. —Thad McLaurin

2.    Build core and body strength -- Strength and core exercises are the perfect complement to running. Core strength plays a vital role in stabilizing your entire body during running by maintaining a neutral pelvis, and delaying the breakdown in your form when you're fatigued. Not only does core work strengthen your body and prevent injuries, but it also helps improve your running economy.—Jason Fitzgerald

3.    Foam Roll -- If all runners would spend just 10 minutes with a foam roller or lacrosse ball performing self-myofascial release a few times a week, they would restore the structural integrity necessary for optimal performance. Massaging overactive soft tissue will reduce any inflammation in your muscles and fascial system. If you consistently make self-myofascial release a priority, your body will recover faster, and chance of injury will decrease.—Erik Taylor

4.    Move Dynamically before you run  -- For ages the typical routine involved standing and sitting passively and yanking on various limbs to lengthen stiff muscles. Today's research suggests that approach isn't just ineffective; it can actually have a negative impact on your running performance. Dynamic stretching and plyometrics are now thought to constitute the best warm-up routines for runners.—Mackenzie Lobby

5.    Define your current fitness level:  Start your new training cycle by assessing your current level of fitness. Coach Greg McMillan has his runners complete a detailed self-assessment of their strengths and weaknesses as a runner, what types of runs they do and don't enjoy, as well as previous PRs and reactions to training cycles. Look back at your training log to help complete your own self-assessment.—Sabrina Grotewold

6.    Choose a plan based on your current fitness level:  Focused running is more important than long useless mileage. Longer endurance events need more aerobic work than shorter events. The key is to not overtrain. Make sure you are logging workouts to assess your volume week-by-week, month-by-month and year-by-year. When an athlete approaches me about training for a specific event, I always lean towards the conservative end of training. —Justin Levine

7.    Set Goals—but keep them flexible:  Past marathon performances are the best source to use when setting future marathon time goals. In many cases, the most sensible goal is to beat your previous best time by a slight margin. How much of an improvement is realistic depends on how much better your fitness is during your current marathon ramp-up than it was in previous ones. —Matt Fitzgerald

8.    Balance your training with life -- No matter how well prepared you are for the training season, disruptions will occur. Illness, schedule conflicts, bad weather ... you just can't control such things, especially over a multi-month period. The key is to look at such disruptions as opportunities to enhance your training where possible or, at the least, to avoid letting them become sources of stress. —Greg Strosaker

9.    Invest time in recovery -- Every runner needs to follow the principle of progression and if you don't, you may find yourself unmotivated, overtrained and even injured. A dramatic reduction in performance with significant, lingering fatigue is a clear warning sign of overtraining. Don't treat this problem lightly or try to "run through it." Start by taking a week off and really focus on recovery: Get a lot of sleep, eat healthy, and, if possible, take a few naps. —Jason Fitzgerald

10. Learn when to take a day off or cross train -- The overwhelming volume of real-world, non-laboratory-based evidence points to three key factors for improved endurance and running performance: volume, frequency and intensity (mind you, all three stimuli should not be increased simultaneously). However, we are all mindful that many runners have limitations in terms of just how much they can run. Non-running exercise can and will improve your overall running performance. —Pete Rea

11. Make Smart Adjustments to your training plan -- The most difficult aspect of a bad workout is deciding how to proceed once you know it's not your day. The two best options: slow the pace, and if that doesn't work, stop the workout entirely. When you're struggling this much to hit times for a workout, it's better to regroup, put the workout behind you, and just move forward with the training. It's important that you do not try to make up a workout the next day. This throws off the balance of the training program. —Jeff Gaudette

12. Complete Marathon Specific workouts -- Too many runners focus on a weekly tempo and long run as their only tough workouts before their marathon. These types of workouts can provide a good backbone to your training, but they don't provide the race specificity that's crucial to you doing well in the marathon. All marathoners need to run a good portion of their overall mileage at their goal marathon pace to dial in this effort so it's second nature.—Jason Fitzgerald

13. Race or not before the Marathon? -- If you have a time goal for your marathon or you want to run faster than your last race, it can be advantageous to race a half marathon. Not only will you be able to estimate your marathon finish time, but you'll also familiarize yourself with racing, preparing your race-day routine, and executing a pacing strategy. If you're a first-timer and your only goal is to finish the race, then it's wise to stick to your regular training program and forget about a half marathon.—Jason Fitzgerald

14. Listen to your form -- The same desire to get the best from yourself can lead you to try too hard. To run faster, you've got to be efficient. To run efficiently, you need proper form. You want to have all of your momentum carried forward, not wasted going elsewhere. When your shoulders are up to your ears, your arms aren't able to swing freely from front to back. If you're hunching forward, you're wasting energy. —Caitlin Chock (Mike’s note:  My cross country coach always counseled me

15. Get your gear in order -- One way to tell it's time to replace your running shoes is to test the rigidity of the mid-sole material. To do this, grab the heel counter—the round stiff part of the heel—then take your thumb and push in on the cushioning part towards the bottom of the shoe. When a shoe is new, this material will feel very rigid. However, when the shoe starts to age, the mid-sole material softens. This is when it's time to time to think about replacing the shoe. —David Camire

16. Learn to manage pain-- "The best way to beat pain is to not run through it," says Calvin "Geno" Mayes, D.P.T., a physical therapist and owner of Iron Physical Therapy in Caldwell, New Jersey. "The hardest thing for runners to do is the simplest thing: listen to your body. It gives you warning signs, but you have to pay attention." — Dimity McDowell

17. Practice your fuel and hydration strategy -- According to the latest science, the best way to fuel your body through a marathon is to drink enough fluid to keep your thirst consistently under control, and to consume at least 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. There is more than one way to fulfill these recommendations. The specific way that's best for you depends on how your body responds to nutrition intake while running. —Matt Fitzgerald

18. Peak at the right time -- Dramatically reducing overall mileage and intensity is not the best way to peak and feel your best on the starting line. You may feel flat if you take this strategy. Your legs need to remember how to run fast. About two weeks before your race you should run a race-specific workout that mimics the demands of your goal race. A 10- to 20-percent reduction in overall mileage often works best during the two weeks before your race.—Jason Fitzgerald

19. Deal with Race day problems -- Problems happen to the best of us. Ignoring a problem isn't a strategy—it's a coping mechanism. Pretending your problem isn't there won't make it go away. In fact, it will most likely lead to other more complicated issues. Your top priority should be resolving the issue at hand as quickly as possible so that you can get back to the business of running.  —Patrick McCrann

20. Pace yourself in the marathon -- Any veteran marathon runner will tell you that their race-day splits look nothing at all like that neat little pace band they picked up in the expo. There are countless factors to contend with on race day: crowding, weather and terrain just to name a few. And let's not forget the biggest factor of all: YOU. —Patrick McCrann

21. Recover well after the race -- Immediately after the race, take a contrast shower: Alternate between cold water and hot water on your legs—one minute hot, then one minute cold. Then, have a nice protein-rich meal and get a good night's sleep. The next day, you take the day off from running, right? Wrong. You've got to get moving the day after the marathon. Do something to get blood moving in your legs to facilitate the healing process. —Jay Johnson

22. Don’t jump back into training too soon -- In order to recover fully after a marathon and ensure that you don't set yourself up for overtraining down the road, you should give yourself 2 to 3 weeks of nothing but very easy running. You may think if you shorten your recovery time, you can run another marathon in 6 to 10 weeks. You can do this, and I've seen many runners make it work. However, this strategy only works once, maybe twice in a row, before you start to stagnate.—Jeff Gaudette


(the original article can be found at:  http://www.active.com/running/Articles/22-Essential-Pieces-of-Marathon-Training-Advice.htm?cmp=17-3-4977)