One of the biggest challenges runners face when training for their first marathon is working out how to safely increase the load of the training. First-time marathon runners often do too much too soon and this exponentially increases their risk of injury. If you are a beginner runner we suggest adding roughly 5km per week to your running schedule as bones and tendons take much longer to respond to an increase in load compared to muscles. You should give yourself at least 12 weeks to train for the marathon and progressively increase the total distance of your runs per week.
The Importance of Strength Work
Another important element of marathon training is spending enough time doing the strength work to support the running. It is so important to maintain strength training not only to have power and stability when running but also to prevent common running injuries such as ITB syndrome and lower limb tendinopathies. Lower limb strength training exercises may include movements such as squats, lunges and heel raises and should ideally be progressed to single leg work for optimal benefit. We suggest 2 to 3 strength training sessions per week and 3 to 4 runs per week depending on where you are on your training programme and what you wish to achieve from the race. Rest days are extremely important as well and healthy sleep routines support the recovery process. Your physiotherapist can help you set up a training plan to incorporate enough running and strength training but also time for recovery and recuperation.
Recovery, Rest & Sleep
Recovery may include rest and sleep, but also regular treatment. Runners underestimate the importance of regular maintenance treatment as the build-up of muscle tension and tightness is natural with an increased load in training. A deep tissue sports massage every 3 to 4 weeks will assist with the recovery process and also prevent potential repetitive strain injuries from the longer runs. Prevention is better than cure and for any persisting niggles it is best to see your physiotherapist sooner rather than later to ensure you stay on top of your training programme.
Training for a marathon requires so much more than just training. We have talked about rest and recovery, but one of the most difficult aspects of marathon training is working out how to refuel. We need to plan and experiment with ways to refuel to ensure we have the energy and electrolytes our body will need to run for hours. Refuelling with gels does not work for everyone, therefore it might be worth experimenting with alternatives such as sweets, energy drinks and even more substantial snacks such as toasted cheese sandwiches! My biggest tip would be to experiment with refuelling ideas on your longer runs as soon as 60min into the run and thereafter regular refuelling every 30min onwards. It is all about what works best for you and this takes time to figure out. It is advisable to talk to a dietitian or nutritionist if you have an issue with extreme exhaustion or muscle cramps during or after your runs.
My main tip for the beginner would be to gradually build yourself up to the longer distances. If your total distance per week can eventually add up to 42km, then you will complete the race! Your longest run before the race should be at least 30km and you should allow a good 2 to 3 weeks to taper and decrease your training before race day to give your legs a good rest. Make sure to spend enough time in your new running shoes and train with the outfit and any additional equipment you will be running with on race day to ensure comfort. Training for your first marathon should be fun and exciting and with a little bit of guidance, it can be stress-free!