by Mark J. Fine
Marathon season is a lot closer than you think, so if you haven’t begun training, now is probably a good time to start.
Most half- and full marathons are scheduled beginning in the August/September time frame – about ten weeks from this being published. Since most formal training plans take between 12 to 16 weeks, starting now is as good a time as any.
Running a half (13.1mi) or full (26.2mi) marathon is not something you do every day. Most of us will typically only run that much in a week, let alone all in one shot. A lot of preparation – both mental and physical – is needed in order to make sure you can successfully hurdle such a challenge.
Now is the best time to examine the shape of your running gear and assess what you need. You might not have the time to do that when you’re in full training mode.
You’re going to be running a lot of miles between now and your marathon. If your shoes are starting to show signs of extreme wear, now is a good time to get new ones.
Some even recommend that you buy two pair and alternate like rotating tyres to keep down on wearing them out. I ran well over 800 miles in my last pair, so I probably won’t be doing that.
Also make sure you have enough shorts, socks, and shirts that are appropriate for the wide range of weather you’ll be running in.
For example, I run in football shirts (mostly Arsenal – shocker that), because they’re especially designed for running around for 90 minutes or more. I’ll usually wear the old cotton reds or yellows on cold days and Nike style reds or yellows on warm days. The recent Puma authentic shirt is wafer-thin and has the best moisture wicking for running on hot days – and yes, I find myself constantly pulling the bottom down, like Santi Cazorla.
You might also consider some items needed for post-run recovery, such as foam rollers and compression socks or sleeves. One of my favourite recent purchases was a knee sleeve. You’re really supposed to wear those during a run, but one hour of compression after a long run is like heaven.
Learn your course
It’s good to know the course and environment you’ll be running the marathon in: is it hilly or flat? How many turns are in the course? How complicated is it? It might help to know the typical weather if you’re traveling far to a marathon. However, weather is usually unpredictable that time of year, so it’s best to be prepared for anything.
There are a myriad of tools available. RunKeeper is generally good at keeping track of the various marathons out there from year to year. It can import the course so you can visualize the route and terrain profile – taking a lot of the guesswork out of that.
Other tools allow you to import the course data into Google Maps. There, you also have an automated way to visualise the course at street level as if you were actually running it. Imagine visualising landmarks before you’ve actually run it.
All of these tools will help take some of the unknown factor out of the equation. It’s a lot easier to run a familiar course than if you feel like you’re lost. Both can have a significant impact on your overall pace on marathon day.
Schedule and track your progress
Set a planning schedule and stick to it.
To calculate how you should be progressing, add a mile or two to the kind of marathon you’ll be running and subtract the distance you run now. Divide that by the number of weeks between when you start training and about a week or two before the race.
The result will be the planning increments you need to gradually increase each week to slightly exceed your marathon distance.
The extra miles and weeks will give you a little planning leeway to help build speed at your target distance. The extra miles will also help to make you feel as if the marathon distance is less daunting on race day.
It’s real easy to hit a ‘brick wall’ when training and all of these factors will be helpful in the long run to ensure you can get past it.
Establish a training plan
Setting up a weekly, day-by-day schedule is a great way to get you into a rhythm. For one, it forces you to accept different kinds of weather conditions over the training period. It also allows you to plan around training activities, keeping them ‘sacred’.
A lot of pre-published plans will have you do one long run a week, with four out of five ‘shake-out’ days for short, slow runs, or walk/runs as a method to help build speed.
I prefer to have two or three long runs a week every other day or so. This will give the legs plenty of time to recover, using the off days between for mostly core and strength exercises.
A sample training plan that allows you to ramp up quickly with little stress might look like the following:
Mon, Wed, and Sat: Core/strength exercises: pushups, sit-ups and curls.
Thu: Short walks/biking. Could be used as a ‘shake-out’ day or a day off to take care of other things.
Tue, Fri, and Sun: Incremental distance runs, with new increments starting every Tuesday.
You use your core a lot while running. You also make good use of your shoulders, even though you might not realise it. Keeping your shoulders, as well as your abs and lower back in shape is just as important as strengthening your legs – this is especially true for endurance runs.
Starting new increments on Tuesday gives you the best balance of resting your legs between runs, giving you a full two days recovery time before the second one on Friday.
Once you reach about one half to two-thirds your marathon distance, you can start limiting your Sunday runs to reduce your weekly mileage to some thing more manageable. This will help you keep from burning yourself out too early. It will also reduce the risk of a getting a stress-related injury.
The old axiom ‘slow and steady wins the race’ holds especially true for marathons. Pacing yourself during long runs is the best way to temper any kind of anxiety to just ‘get on with it’.
Starting off fast is just a waste of precious energy that you’ll need for the long haul. Doing so might be counter-productive and cause you to have a longer running time because of being tanked at the end.
In order to counter the anxiety of a long run, practice pacing yourself in terms of thirds of the total distance. In your first third, slowly build to your normal running pace in order to conserve energy. Then, run your normal pace in the middle third and gradually push your speed in the final third.
This might be hard at first on hilly terrain especially when you’re dirt tired on mile 7 or 8. However, you will gradually see that you will get used to the distance, as well as the time involved.
The average first-time half-marathoner might be running for up to two hours at an average of 6.7mph (9min/mi). That’s a big ask to stay concentrated for that long no matter what’s in your playlist.
So it’s almost critical that you train to get used to the time that you’re running to reduce mental fatigue, as well as the physical fatigue of running a long distance.
We hope you’ve been enjoying these Health and Fitness articles as much as we’ve enjoyed bringing them to you. They’ve slowed pretty much since the good weather began. This is mostly because I’ve been doing more doing than talking, training for the (U.S.) Navy-Air Force Half Marathon on 20th Sep 2015.
Next Week: Runner’s (and Biker’s) Notebook