Expert Advice: 9 Marathon Training Tips
Over the last few years my attitude towards training for, and taking part in marathons has changed drastically. There have been races where the goal was to complete the distance and others where I aimed for specific times to challenge myself or qualify for other events.
After completing numerous half marathons, I started training for my first marathon. It felt like a natural progression as I increased my mileage upon moving to London. Running played a large part in finding my bearings in the capital; I started doing long runs along the river and enjoyed exploring new routes through parks and along the canals. As I failed to gain a London Marathon place through the ballot for several years, like many others, I decided to take part in other races to try and achieve the Good For Age qualifying time. I soon realised that to get in marathon shape I would have to fit a lot of miles in around work and socialising. In order to avoid running becoming tedious I joined various run clubs for certain sessions that would fit in my week.
Running played a large part in finding my bearings in the capital; I explored new routes through parks and along the canals.
On reflection in the lead up to my first marathon in Manchester multiple factors scuppered my plans to run the time I wanted to achieve. Two weeks before the race I paced a long run for work and ended up running close to marathon distance. Despite this giving me confidence I could complete the challenge, I didn’t feel very well over the two weeks leading up to race day. I failed to readjust my goal time and struggled through the final 8 miles of the race having not followed a good nutrition/hydration plan. Despite a tough first marathon I learnt a lot and in the following months became more motivated to earn a London Marathon place.
In between running my first marathon in April 2014 and my second London Marathon in 2018 I completed twelve marathons, Race to the Stones 100k, OCC 57k, and countless races on various terrains. In training I covered approximately 15,000km. The most notable thing I have learnt over the last few years is how important positive mentality is.
Marathon training is a lengthy process, which can only be successful if you are motivated by your goal and you can find ways to train specifically. In the early years of my running career I would run as much or as far as I wanted. I’ve come to realise, that when you have a goal, the miles you cover need to have a purpose. Here are my tips for keeping mentally focused on marathon training:
1. Set a smart goal - reflect on recent races and your training history to set a realistic target.
2. Visualise the outcome - what would it mean to achieve your goal? Imagine crossing the finish line in a personal best time or qualifying for that dream race.
3. Make sure training is enjoyable - ensure most of your running is purposeful but fun. Run with friends and social running groups on easy days. Set yourself challenges on hard days.
4. Get comfortable at being uncomfortable - Near the end of the marathon you will inevitably have to “dig deep” to achieve your goal. Embrace “suffering”/holding a pace when your legs are tiring. Marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge smiles when the going gets tough.
5. Reward yourself - After hard races or workouts have a treat lined up.
6. Explore - use the long runs to find new routes. Try to practise running continuously to replicate race day.
7. Key sessions/races/time trials - embrace your competitive spirit and get used to pushing yourself.
8. Self talk - I often tell myself “I haven’t run this many miles in training to stop now just because it is starting to feel hard.” Think of the positives. For example, celebrate getting through 50% of a run/session.
9. Split long runs up into smaller chunks - 5ks or 6ks, aid stations, nutrition, hydration, seeing friends/family.
I strongly believe the reason I have managed to run a relatively high mileage over the last 5 years is because I enjoy the training process and vary my running. It is rewarding to see improvements week after week, month after month building towards a goal. It takes a lot of motivation and dedication, but it is all about fostering good habits and routines. I have learnt that if you can prepare for hard sessions as you do for races you will get the most out of it and build confidence. Ahead of long tempo runs, I make sure to sleep, eat and hydrate well. Throughout training when I am tired, I also try to “give myself the chance of having a good run”. Simply put I rarely have an unenjoyable run or feel bad afterwards. The hardest part of training, especially through the winter months, is getting out the door.
As Boston Marathon 2018 winner Des Linden says “keep showing up!”