When one first considers running in a marathon, the assumption is that the biggest challenge is going to be building up one’s stamina in order to physically be able to run the race. The sheer length of the race can seem overwhelming, especially to someone who is a beginner runner.
But like other extreme challenges, like climbing a mountain, the real challenge is the psychological factor. Obviously, training your body to endure a run the length of a marathon is a key factor, but it the overarching philosophy of the run is that it is your mind that drives your body to win the race, and not the other way around.
In order to get to a place where you can visualize yourself crossing that finish line, however, you need to be able to trust your body, and training at a steady, confidence- and skill-building pace is the first step to overcoming the psychological barriers between you and that finish line.
When you first start looking into training for a half or full marathon, gather all of the information you can from a variety of sources. There are several running magazines published monthly, as well as books, and running programs through gyms and running groups (often congregating at specialty running stores). The Internet is good for a diverse range of sources, but, as always, check to make sure your Internet sources are reliable.
There are many different philosophies and training regimens out there, and you need to decide what is the best fit for you. For example, some people find training groups very helpful in keeping them on track. Often the pressure of the group can provide that extra little push to stay on schedule. Conversely, some people find that running groups can be a little too self-involved, or even “cult-ish,” and only use them at the beginning to learn how to train before branching off on their own.
If you have been out of the running world (or exercising in general), then you should go through a pre-training period to get yourself up to a basic level of fitness before starting your training schedule. You don’t want to jump in when your body is not conditioned to run and risk injury, or simply demoralizing disillusionment.
Before you begin training for a half or full marathon, you should be able to run for at least 30 minutes without stopping. If you are not there, start running (or even walking briskly if you need to) four times a week until you can steadily work up to that goal. If you are starting at a low level of fitness, set your sights on a half marathon as your first goal. If you are looking at a full marathon, you should be able to run 4-5 times per week with a minimum mileage total (for the week) of 25 miles.
Right at the beginning of your training, make sure that you are set up with the proper equipment to train safely. Visit a running specialty store to get fitted with shoes that conform to your foot shape and support needs. Also, invest in some Cool-max or other apparel built specially to wick perspiration away from the skin.
Begin your training by starting a training log. In this log, keep a weekly record of your total miles run, total time run, and shoe model and mileage. If you want to be very thorough, keep a record of weather conditions, route, notes on how your body feels during and after the run. The more thorough the log, the easier it will be to trace the source of an injury, and to keep track of your optimum running conditions.
To give you an idea of the average training schedule (not including pre-training to get yourself up to the minimum level of fitness), a half marathon training schedule will take about 10 weeks. Increasing your total weekly mileage no more than 10% each week, you should be able to complete a 10 mile run about 3 weeks before the race in order to be adequately prepared.
Training for a full marathon takes about 17 weeks (not including pre-training). Again, you should not increase your total weekly mileage more than 10% per week. Your longest run should ideally be about 20 miles (one long run, not a weekly total) about 3 weeks before the marathon. Do not start your training schedule too long before the marathon, as you may peak early and decrease your capacity on marathon day.
Training schedules are designed so that you will be running 4- 5 times a week, with the 2-3 days off for muscle recovery. The recovery days are very important for muscle recovery and preventing injuries. One day a week will be your long run. Long runs should be a minimum of 10 miles or 90 minutes in duration. The long run is an important psychological element, as it trains the mind and body to endure an extended run. Physically, it trains the body to tap into energy reserves stored in fat, after those stored in your muscles are depleted.
Proper pace is an important and sometimes difficult concept to grasp at first. For many a watch or a pace group seem like the most logical place to start. The danger for beginners is that they will always push themselves too far without listening to their bodies. Your pace should allow you to carry on a conversation, with a 2-2 breathing rhythm (inhale two steps, exhale two steps). Pay attention to your body and your breathing for the most accurate solution to pace.
Another important training element is called tapering. This is practice of letting the body recover from the gruelling training schedule in the two weeks leading up to the marathon. This is an important step to enable your body to recover from the wear and tear of your training schedule, as well as rest for the big event. In these last two weeks, cut out the long run, listen to your body, and keep stretching to keep your body limber. You will not increase your preparedness by pushing yourself these last two weeks, and in fact, you will reduce your body’s ability to work at its optimum level.
Other Important Elements
Warm-up and cool-down: Both the warm-up and cool-down are important aspects of your training, probably the most important tools you have against injury. Both warm-up and cool-down should involve light movement and stretching.
Nutrition: There is no low-carb diet in the world of the long-distance runner. Your two most important tools in building and fuelling your runner’s body are carbohydrates and protein. Carbs provide fuel and protein helps repair muscle tissue. A balanced runner’s diet should get 65% of calories from carbs (including whole grains, potatoes, yams, pasta, brown rice, cereal, apples, bagels, root vegetables, and bananas), 10% from protein (including low fat milk, yogurt, lean beef, chicken, fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, and soy products), and 20-25% from unsaturated fats. You are wise to also take a multi-vitamin that includes minerals, calcium and iron.
Hydration: Hydration is important before, during and after your race. A good way to make sure you are replacing all of your fluids is to weigh yourself before a run and afterward, and keep replenishing fluids until your are back to your pre-run weight. As a guideline, drink 6-8 oz of fluid for every 20 minutes of running. Water is fine for runs under 60 minutes. When you run for more than 60 minutes, consider a fitness drink.
Once you get your body on the right track, you can concentrate on training your mind for the endurance and inspiration it will take to get through the race. Set goals for yourself along the way, and reward yourself for attaining them. Keeping looking ahead, however, and set both a realistic goal, and an ultimate goal to strive toward at each step of the game.