Marathon Training Tips for Beginners

It’s that time of the year again, some call it silly season but it’s better known as Dublin City Marathon time! The push is on and we’ve seen a big increase in the numbers of marathon runners coming through the door here at The Rebuild Clinic, especially first time marathoners. Taking on a marathon for the first time is a big challenge, and thanks to the internet there is a mine of useful information out there covering everything from nutrition to training, to footwear and dreaded nipple bleeding! But all this info can lead to confusion and it’s easy to become overwhelmed. So in this post I am going to address some of the more common questions I get asked about marathon running, especially with regards to staying injury free and making it to the start line.

How much?

A common question is always; how many days a week/miles a week should I run?

There is no straightforward answer to this. It depends on the background/level of the runner but for beginner runners it is best to have slightly too few miles and make it to the start line injury free, rather than too many and being tired and over trained. The human body likes slow, incremental increases in training rather than big spikes in mileage and intensity. That way the soft tissue in the body (muscle, tendons, ligaments) can adapt to the training load without getting injured. There are a tonne of free plans online which slowly increase the mileage week on week, so pick one that works for you. Or, even better again, join your local athletics club and get some advice from the coaches there!

How fast?

This can be a big issue for new marathon runners, at what pace should I run? This is a tough one to answer as for a lot of new runners, the pace of their runs will increase as they quickly gain fitness over the course of a marathon training plan. Also for a lot of beginner runners, they are more singularly paced and their easy pace and marathon pace are probably quite similar (or MP pace is slower!). The majority of your training runs should be done at an easy relaxed pace. What’s easy? You should be able to chat to your running buddy throughout the run. But we also need to add in some faster running in order to create a new stimulus, and to avoid boredom. For beginner runners I am a fan of progression runs. Once or twice a week on one of your shorter runs gradually pick up the pace as you go along until you are finishing the run at a decent speed. Don’t worry about the watch on these, just run at a pace that feels good. You should finish these runs feeling good and refreshed, not tired and unable to stand! The last run then is the most important, the long run, discussed below.

How long?

The long run is the part of training that I believe needs to be slightly different for beginner runners than more experienced runners, especially for slower runners (4 hours+). Most plans will say to do 20 miles, or even 22 miles at some stage during the cycle. Time on your feet for a marathon is obviously hugely important and building endurance will make completing the 26.2 miles much more comfortable. But there is risk and reward at work here too. Most plans will say to do your long runs at planned marathon pace (the pace you hope to run on the day) plus 45-60 seconds. For an elite runner running 5 minutes per mile on race day means they would (in theory) do their long runs at 5.45-6 minute mile pace, meaning a 20 mile run takes about 2 hours. However for a slower runner maybe looking to run 4 hours 30 minutes in the marathon, this means a race pace of 10 minutes per mile. Add on a minute to this and a 20 mile run at 11 minute mile pace takes nearly 3 hours and 40 minutes! This is a huge length of time to spend on your feet, and in this instance I believe the injury risk outweighs the potential endurance reward. In fact any run over three hours in my opinion provides too much of an injury risk, and the runner would be better off to cap their run at the three hour mark, even if it means you are only covering 16/17 miles in this period. Adrenaline and consistent training will get you to the finish line come race day!

Recovery strategies

Doing runs of this length take a huge physical toll on the body, so having a proper recovery protocol in place is important. Here are some tips:

  • Sleep! Sleep is the single most important and best recovery tool at your disposal. Most people need at least 7 hours a night, long distance runners need more! Your body recovers from muscle damage during sleep.
  • Nutrition; proper nutrition is important for all athletes. Eat a well balanced diet with a good mix of protein, carbs and healthy fat. Plenty of fruit and veg and don’t forget water! On the days you do long runs make sure you are well carb loaded from the day before and eat a light, mostly carb based breakfast a few hours before the run. For during the run, carbohydrate gels and drinks are an option to consider as whole foods can be difficult to digest. It is important to test these out in training to see what works for you. Then post run, replenish with a carb/protein based meal within an hour. I sometimes use a protein supplement after intense training sessions if I cannot get a meal in straight away.
  • Rest! Your body needs rest, don’t be afraid to take a couple of days off a week so you can physically and mentally recover from training. Occasional down weeks should be included too.
  • Other activities: Running is a very singular, repetitive activity. Doing something other than running can work muscles that you need for running, as well as muscles that get neglected during running. Activities such as cycling, swimming, pilates, yoga, weight training and even walking are all good and can even help you stay injury free.
  • Massage: Regular sports therapy/massage can help keep those little niggles at bay and can also stop little issues becoming bigger ones that will keep you off the road.
  • Mix up your training! Run on different surfaces, do some trail running, race some shorter distances, the more variety you have the better!

If you do end up with an injury, don’t panic, all is not lost! By working with a qualified sports therapist or physio, together you can develop an individual treatment plan to get you back on the road as quickly as possible. And remember, in the grand scheme of things a few days or a week off in the middle of a marathon training cycle is nothing! Better to take a few days to let a niggle settle down rather than ploughing on and making it into a bigger issue that maybe require a longer break. Finally listen to your body and remember the old motto, train SMART, not hard!

I hope you find this blog useful, I will do one or two more blogs on this subject over the coming months as the miles build up. In the mean time, if you are having any injury issues from running or anything else please feel free to contact us at the clinic:

Ph: 0868654162
Web: www.rebuildclinic.ie
Email: patrick@rebuildclinic.ie

Happy training!


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