By Lora Erickson, B.S, CES, USATF certified running coach www.BlondeRunner.com For many runners the marathon is the ultimate test of endurance and achievement. You know if you complete a marathon you will be recognized in the running community as a real runner, right? So you go for it – you signed up for your first marathon and now what? It’s time to start training, but where do you begin? A marathon is no small undertaking and over the 26 years that I have run and coached I have found that there are some important principles to keep in mind when you are training for a marathon. Here they are:
1. Take time to train. It is not wise to enter a race out of shape, and let’s face it, you can really hurt yourself. Unfortunately running injuries can also last a long time and running a race unprepared is rarely enjoyable. Matter-o-fact it might prove to be a downright horrible experience souring your feelings towards ever doing one again. To avoid this take the time to get in shape so it can be a great experience that you will want to repeat again. Training correctly for a marathon usually takes many months; so you can properly build your mileage gradually over time to prevent injury. You’ll find that the average program takes 6 to 9 months to complete even when starting it in pretty good shape. Follow the standard rule increasing 10% of your mileage each week and taking an easy week every three weeks. Weekly long runs are essential and allow enough weeks to run one or two long runs consisting of 20 or 22 miles each. This way you will go into the race confident that you have covered most you of the race distance. Make sure to incorporate speed work, cross training and strengthening exercises into your routine to keep you strong and injury free.
2. Get good running shoes. When I talk about running shoes I am not simply talking about a shoe that is labeled “running shoe” in a local all-in-one department store. I am talking about shoes you buy at a specialty shop. The shoes found at these shops are built to withstand more pounding than the shoes found at other generic “sporting good” stores. Specialty stores carry different model numbers and they are designed to get 300-500 miles. I know that the price can scare people away, however in the long run it’s less expensive to buy a quality product that last longer. Also, I suggest tracking the miles on your shoes and replacing them when needed. Running on “dead” shoes can lead to injury. If you’d like to learn more about shoes, read the post My First Pair of Running Shoes.
3. Find a local running group. Those long miles can get pretty lonely if you are doing them all by yourself, so join a local running group and find people to run with. This will help give you some accountability as well as motivation in your training. If you live in the Davis County, Utah area join the South Davis Road Runners. To learn more click on the link at the top of this page.
4. Train for the race route terrain. Nearly all races have the race route available in advance for you to review and adapt your training. Are there some considerable hills? If so, you will want to add hill repeats into your training plan. Will you be running on loose gravel, a trail, sand, grass or mostly pavement? Most likely there will be a variety of terrain; so practice on various surfaces. This may also effect what shoes you race and train with (ie. trail vs road shoes). You may need to consider altitude differences and add in some high altitude training sessions as well.
5. Create a race plan or strategy (practice your nutrition plan). Too often runners go into races with no plan in place; no race strategy. Even if you are not out to win it, you should still have a plan. The plan should include, pace variables, and a re-hydration/glucose strategy. Plan out how much water and electrolyte fluid you need to consume at each water stop. Study the map and learn where the water stops will be and what type of carbohydrate sources may be offered (gels, blocks, fluid). Then practice with the same brand at the same intervals to see how your body tolerates it. Nothing is worse than having to stop and go to the restroom in the middle of a race. Having a plan can also help prevent you from having “runners trots,”or “running out of gas” or “hitting the wall.”
6. Run your own race. In college, my coaches would often tell me to run my own race, which means to go the pace that I have trained for and not get caught up in the “race,” starting out too fast. It’s important to know your pace and stick to it, follow a plan. “Know your pace and run YOUR race” is what I often say to my athletes. Get your long runs in. There are many important training runs that will make your marathon a better experience, but your weekly long run will be the most important workout for you to get in. Be sure and get it in every week. Consistency makes the difference between a good runner and a great runner.
Coach Lora Erickson is a competitive runner and nationally ranked triathlete with over 30 years of athletic experience. As one of Colorado’s top distance runners, she was heavily recruited by various colleges throughout the U.S. She graduated from Utah State University where she was honored as an all-conference runner. She is the owner of Blonde Runner Health LLC in Bountiful, Utah where she currently resides with her husband and four children and is a USATF certified running coach. She also trains triathletes. For more information on coaching and community classes available, contact Coach Lora aka “Blonde Runner” directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit BlondeRunner.com