8 top tips for marathon training

8 top tips for marathon training

The ballot results for the 2016 Virgin London Marathon are out. If you’ve got a place, congratulations – there were a record number of entries this year so you are one of the lucky few.

If you didn’t get a place, newsflash people – there are other marathons. All equally as gruelling, just a different location. So sign yourself up for another marathon and join in the fun.

Once you’ve got your place, that marathon is happening and you’ve got to get training.

Here are 8 top tips to make sure you are fully prepared by the time the race day rolls around:

1. Start early

Preparation is key, and by that we mean give yourself enough time to train. Six months, ideally. Which means the time to start is now.

The more time you give yourself to practice, the further you'll be able to run comfortably on the day. You want to enjoy the race, not feel like you're torturing yourself.

Start with short distances and build up gradually, adding 10% to your previous distance each time. 

You will build up distance surprisingly quickly so don’t panic if on your first run you get no further than the bus stop. On your next run, aim to go to the bus stop and back. Then try a mile or so. Before you know it you’ll be clocking up the miles.

You can and will get those miles up, so that on the big day you will be able to go the distance.

2. Kit yourself out properly

To make your way through a marathon there are practical concerns.

Make sure you’re fully kitted out. Make sure you have a decent pair of running trainers - and the right socks for that matter. The wrong shoes will cause knee problems, ankle problems and back issues. So get your gait analysed and invest in the right pair. It is money very well spent.

Have plenty of test drives in your chosen shoes before the race itself. Don’t don a brand new pair of trainers for the first time on race day - the last thing you need is blisters half way round.

Real running clothes are an essential too. A cotton t-shirt will be uncomfortable after just a few miles so visiting a proper sports retailer and choosing clothes specifically designed for running is important.

You may find you suffer from nipple chafing after a few miles so you may want to take preventative measures and invest in some nipple plasters.

3. Run a half-marathon

If you haven’t already, plan to run a half-marathon race as part of your training. You’ll get that same buzz of completing something as you cross the finishing line and you can count it towards your marathon training. It will provide a great mental lift and give you some encouragement.

4. Mimic the marathon route

If you have registered for a specific race then you should be able to check out the course. Then you can plan your training to ensure you cover similar terrain, topography and other elements that mimic the route so you’re fully prepared.

If there’s an uphill element to the marathon and you’ve only been training on flat ground for example, you’ll find it a struggle.

5. Practice runs with three weeks to go

No less than three weeks before the race, give yourself a practice run of about 20 miles in your marathon outfit and shoes. Run at the pace you’re planning for the big race and get yourself into the right mood, stance and mind set as if it was the real thing. This should be the perfect way to prep yourself for the marathon itself and ensure you’re ready for a successful run.

Keep in mind that you'll be able to run further on race day than you managed on a practice run. The buzz of the race, with all those other runners around you creating an electric atmosphere, will push you through the last few miles and ensure you keep going.  You’ll never recreate this on a practice run by yourself, so don’t deflate yourself by trying.

In the last three weeks before the marathon, take your foot off the accelerator. It may unnerve you to do this, but you need to rest more and train less. Your muscles need to repair themselves and your glycogen levels need to return to normal. You won’t lose fitness in three weeks so don’t panic. But you will give your body a chance to rejuvenate and restore itself.

So ease off and run ever-shorter distances for the remaining three weeks. You should run no further than about 13 miles two weeks before the race, and no more than 10 miles one week before. You are in count down – so let your body rest and concentrate on eating right instead.

6. Carb-load, don’t fat-load

Three days before the race it’s time for your marathon diet to kick in and this means foods rich in carbohydrates such as breads, potatoes and pastas, fruit juice, low fat yoghurts and milk.

Your race will be driven by carbs and therefore the more you can get into your diet the better. 

You don’t need to change your calorie intake as such, but just make sure you’re upping the volume of carbs with each meal.

7. Practice Drinking

This may seem like a strange one but get into the habit of running and refuelling with the same fluids you plan to use on the actual marathon.

This could be sports drinks or gels and this gives your insides a chance to get used to the change in fluid intake and work out how long you spend per drink, if you plan to stop regularly at aid stations, rather than carrying your drinks as you go.

8. One week to go - relax and visualise the win

One week before the run you should run no more than about 10 miles. Then during the week before the run, keep it to short runs of about three miles or so. No more than that, however tempting it may be.

Rest and relaxation are the buzz words in the last few days before the big day.

The last week is all about sleeping lots, eating well and relaxing.

However keen you may be to dispel those nerves by running as far as you can, don’t do it. You need to give your body time to recuperate so it’s on top form.

Spend the last few days before the race relaxing in any way you can, remove all stresses as far as possible and focus on visualising the moment you cross the finish line.

Training for a marathon is hard going but the end result is a thrill you’ll have never experienced before.

Good luck!

The Author

Jessica Ward

Jessica lives in South West London. Boxercise, yoga, pilates, weight training and long distance running are her main interests.


Trevor D.
12 October 2015

Trevor D.

I take off my hat to all doing it - and how nice to see a fitness article that says 'eat your carbs'!

Tom D.
7 October 2015

Tom D.

I've yet to build up to actually signing up for a marathon but it's one of my goals for 2016. Will keep this as a reference for when the time comes - thanks.

Emma C.
7 October 2015

Emma C.

It's so hard to cut back on the training before a marathon! I have one coming up in a couple of weeks (Bristol - Bath) and I have cut down to 16 mile runs once a week now. it will feel very strange just doing a 10 mile run the week before - almost worrying that you're not doing enough training.

Matthew C.
6 October 2015

Matthew C.

I didn't get a place in the London marathon this year so am doing the Brighton one. Good information here, thanks.

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