I am not here to tell you that there is only one way to train for you marathon. That is far from the truth. While there are overlapping factors that you may observe between different training philosophies, there is no consensus in the running community on the best training plan. This is not due to lack of understanding of marathon running but rather the distinct characteristics of each runner and their differing needs. Because of this you need to try out different training plans for yourself and find what works for you.
While it may sometimes be unclear what the right thing is to do, it is usually obvious if you are doing the wrong things. Therefore, rather than addressing what training plan you should be following I will address some common errors that first timers make in their training that prevents them from reaching their potential. Don’t make these rookie mistakes.
Marathon Before the Marathon
One overlapping factor that all marathon training plans have is a long run once or multiple times a week. This prepares the body for the strain of such a long race and prepares your energy systems to keep you strong the entire way. The problem here is that first timers often run their long runs way too fast. There is no need to run at or close to marathon pace for these runs. You can get the same benefits without the risk of injury if you run a minute to a minute and a half slower than marathon pace on these long runs.
Furthermore, you don’t need to go the full marathon distance in these long runs either. That length of run takes far too much out of your body and it may take several weeks to fully recover from a run like this. There is not time or place for a workout that takes several weeks to recover from. It is better to run shorter, get the long run benefit, and move on to the next workout a couple days later. While your distance will vary from person to person I recommend running between 90 minutes and 2 hours on your long run. That is plenty to get all the benefits of this type of workout!
Forgetting the Speed
The marathon is the ultimate test of endurance. It is all based on aerobic fitness and the ability to run a consistent pace for a prolonged period of time. Therefore, speed is useless right? Well actually that is not accurate. Speed workouts increase strength and make your running more efficient. Just because you don’t need to run mile race pace during your marathon doesn’t mean some track training won’t help you. It will make your marathon pace feel easier and thus easier to hold for that long race. 1000m to mile repeats on the track at 5k to 10k race pace is more than enough however, you don’t need to do all out 200s to get the benefits here. Doing strides after easy runs a couple of days may also be beneficial. The key is to focus on being strong and fast, not all out. They are strides, not sprints.
Leaving the Strength Behind
To the same effect we often see marathon runners incorporating only running into their training and forgetting the supplemental work. Strength is important for any event to promote efficient running form and preventing you from breaking down before the finish line. Core work is especially important to keep your form efficient. This does not mean you need to go to the gym and hit the bench press though! Simple strength work can be done at home with a combination of crunches, planks, push ups, and pull ups. A little bit goes a long way in this area.
Packing in the Protein
While carbs are the primary nutrient essential for energy and recovery in long distance running, marathoners often forget that they need other nutrients as well. Protein specifically is essential to rebuilding muscle and keeping your body strong and healthy. As your mileage goes up your protein consumption needs to go up as well! I would recommend eating 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight when you are running high mileage. Some nutritionists will recommend less but for intensive training you need this much.
Training for a marathon is sometimes very confusing but if you know what you are doing it can be fun and effective. Just be sure not to make these rookie mistakes and you will be able to make it to the line strong, healthy, and ready to run faster than you ever have before.