As the saying goes “those who fail to plan – plan to fail.” This is true in business and it is also true in preparing for rigorous athletic events like running a marathon. Successful completion of a marathon is all about creating a plan based upon the goal of completing a marathon on a specific date in a specific location.
Determining Starting Point
The length of your plan will depend on your current fitness level relative to running. So the first step is determining your current fitness level which can be done in several different ways:
If you are currently running you can get an idea of your current fitness level based on how often you run, how far you run, and your average pace when running.
If you are not currently running, then do a 12 minute run test – see here for a how to guide to perform this simple test: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/gentest.htm
Once you know your starting point you can determine how long it will take you to prepare adequately to complete a marathon. The key is slow and steady progression of average distance per run and total weekly training miles – go too fast and you WILL get hurt! The body needs time to adapt to the stresses of running. A good rule of thumb is to increase your weekly mileage (and mileage per run) by no more than 10% per week.
So if you are currently running 15 miles per week you would only increase total mileage to 16.5 miles per week and if your long run was 5 miles you would increase it by half a mile.
In order to successfully complete a marathon, you need to be running somewhere between 30 and 50 miles per week with individual runs of 16 – 23 miles. The advantage of gradually building up to a 20 – 23-mile run is that you have mental experience with running over 20 which can be very challenging the first time you do it. That being said, placing too much emphasis on distance can result in over-training if not done carefully.
Assuming you have a base of running 15 or more miles per week on a consistent basis you should begin to mix up your training by including shorter, harder runs with longer slow runs and at least one interval training session per week.
It is critical that you have a training base of steady mileage prior to increasing training intensity and beginning interval training where you will perform higher intensity intervals of quarter mile to half mile mixed with recovery periods.
There is an entire science behind interval training and the best athletes train with a heart rate monitor all the time to precisely determine the intensity of their work intervals and how long they recover during rest intervals of slow running/jogging or walking. This is one of the many reasons that, in an ideal world, you work with a running coach/trainer who has experience designing and working with runners to prepare for marathons and other runs. A good coach will help plan and adjust your training based on how you progress from week to week which is essential for the best results!
Strength and Mobility Training
Running requires a lot more than just cardiovascular and muscular endurance – it requires specific strength and mobility to avoid injury and allow for optimum running technique. Integrating a run specific strength and mobility program into your training can be a game changer and the program should include:
A specific dynamic warm-up and foam rolling for areas of tightness and pain
Cool-down with run specific stretches - http://www.runnersworld.com/injury-prevention-recovery/5-post-race-standing-stretches-every-runner-should-do/slide/1
Strength Training Exercises for Running
It is essential to have great core and glute strength to properly stabilize the body during the impact of running to prevent injury.
It is also critical to strengthen all the muscles of the lower body including the hamstrings, calves, and intrinsic muscles of the feet.
Sample Strength Training Program for Runners: http://www.runnersworld.com/strength-training/10-essential-strength-exercises-for-runners/slide/2
Putting it all together
If preparing for a marathon seems like a lot of work and complicated that is because IT IS! Like running successful business assessing your starting point and setting a realistic goal with a specific plan of action is key. Also having a coach is HIGHLY recommended to not only help you create a realistic plan and schedule but to monitor your progress and adjust your workouts and plan accordingly.