Training for a Marathon

Training for a marathon properly requires a strong base of endurance conditioning as well as some attention to mental preparation. While nothing short of a thick text book could be justifiably written to adequately explore all of the aspects of good marathon preparation, a few key training points can be emphasized to sum up the most important areas of training to focus on. Also, you may also be very interested in checking out these marathon tips.

When it comes to physically preparing yourself to run the marathon, there is one unequivocal king of all running workouts that rule the training program: THE LONG RUN!. In fact, your marathon day success will lie largely in the execution of your training program long runs in the preceding months. If you are a marathoner with aggressive time goals, there are other important factors to consider such as a well developed marathon pace plan and other physical factors such as your lactate buffering capabilities that are developed through tempo runs as well as speed, but neither of those capabilities is any good without a strong endurance base!

Here are just a few of the key benefits that long runs provide:

  1. Long runs teach your body how to use body fat for fuel while sparing your precious and limited muscle glycogen stores – Every pound of bodyfat can yield 1500 calories, so suffice it to say, running out of body fat as a source for fuel is not a concern. Running for several hours not only informs your body about your expectations on race day, but also gives your body a chance to learn how to become better at using body fat as your source for energy rather than your sugar stores. As pointed out in several places within this website, properly warming up and gradually settling into your pace for runs and races is the key to getting a good balance of fat and glycogen burning going.
  2. Long runs teach patience and focus – Long runs typically last anywhere from 2 to 4 hours during which time you will be forced to amuse and motivate yourself right through to the end of your run. There are also many miles during most marathons where you will simply be alone with yourself. Even if there are people around to cheer you on, you are the only one who can decide to keep going, when the going gets tough. It can be extremely easy to talk yourself out of finishing if you are not prepared to deal with this line of thinking. Experiencing this type discomfort and self doubt while you’re training for a marathon will prepare you to overcome such feelings on race day.
  3. Long runs provide endurance - Each time you complete a long run and follow it up with an easy recovery period, your body will rebuild and become stronger so that you are better prepared for the next one. Allowing this adaptation to occur is the key for building endurance.
  4. Long runs are dress rehearsals - Every long run provides the opportunity to try out clothing, shoes and fuel so that there are no surprises for what works and what doesn’t work on race day!

Proper Long Run Execution

When you are training for a marathon and following a program, how long, how often and how fast you complete your long runs are all very important considerations. Your marathon preparation will be as effective as how your body responds and adapts to the stimuli you put it through. This means a good consistent balance of stress followed by recovery as would be prescribed within any well designed marathon training program. Consensus on the length of the longest run you should endure during training varies from program to program, however the general consensus is somewhere between 80 and 87% of the marathon distance, which translates to long runs between 21 to 23 miles. Some marathon training programs prescribe over distance training which does have its benefits both physical and mental however it really depends on your specific goals. and all of the other specific training demands of your program such as the number of high intensity days you need to complete in a given week. The number one goal of any training program should be to adequately prepare you by stressing you without causing a running injury!

The Long Run Build Up

How many of you can remember a time when you couldn’t fathom running 6 miles let alone 26.2? Of course, the whole idea of training for a marathon is to give your body a chance to gradually build up over several weeks and months to the point where you are ready to complete the entire distance and feel good enough to celebrate after (even if that means sitting down with a smile on your face)!

The graph depicts what a long run build up over the weeks looks like for a typical marathon program. How many of you can remember a time when you couldn’t fathom running 6 miles let alone 26.2? Of course, the whole idea of training for a marathon is to give your body a chance to gradually build up over several weeks and months to the point where you are ready to complete the entire distance and feel good enough to celebrate after (even if that means sitting down with a smile on your face)! Notice how there is consistent but gradual addition of long run length followed by a ‘step back’ or recovery day. This is important to any successful training program as gradual stress followed by rest promotes adaptation.

It's important to note, that all that hard marathon training can be thrown away at the sound of the gun if you don't take the time to develop a good marathon pacing plan and then of course, stick to it!

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