Carolyn here, back with the next part of our running series. When I wrote this post about how to start running, a few of you mentioned that you would like a few more tips specific to marathon training. Though I’m certainly not an expert, I have run the Chicago marathon three times, and learned quite a bit along the way. Whether you’re training for your first marathon or your fifth, there are a few things you want to keep in mind:
My Top Marathon Training Tips
Have a Plan (and Track Your Workouts): Marathon training isn’t exactly casual. If you’re planning on running a marathon this fall, there’s a good chance you’re already following a training plan. Most plans last at least sixteen weeks, some as long as twenty. I had my high school cross country coach make a plan for me for my most recent marathon (she rocks), but previously I’ve used Runner’s World or Hal Higdon. Things will come up and you will have to switch around a few workouts here or there, but it’s important that you hit as many of the key workouts as possible, especially the long runs. Of course, if you’re injured or feeling run-down, you should certainly put your training on hold. You never want to be running through pain or forcing yourself to run because you feel like you have to. And remember—rest days are just as important as the running days, too! I find it easier to stick to a plan when I can see it in front of me, so I’ll print out some calendar sheets and write my planned workouts on there (along with notes when I complete a workout), or I love to use Google Sheets—Google Sheets make it easier to access your plan from your phone or easily switch around workouts if you have to.
Simulate Race Day Conditions: The Chicago Marathon is in October, which means the majority of your training is done during the summer. Though Chicago summer is definitely a lot better than Chicago winter, weather-wise, it can present its own set of challenges: humidity, crowded lakefront paths, temptation to skip your run and go hang out on a patio somewhere (you know what I mean). As much as you can, try to go to bed early the night before and wake up early for your long run—not only will you beat the heat and free up the rest of your day for summertime Chi activities, but you’ll get used to what the timing, nutrition and conditions on race day will be like. If you’re going to have a banana and peanut butter toast, give yourself enough time to make it and digest before you start running; if you’re going to use energy gels, bring those on your run, too. Same goes for gear—try out all compression socks, sports bras and body glides before the big race. (Isn’t running glamorous?) The #1 rule of marathons is NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. Of course, there would be weekends where I would stay out a little too late or play too much beach volleyball before my long run, but for the most part, I found that my best races and runs where the ones where I blocked off time for rest and preparation.
Don’t Just Run: I touched a bit on this in my previous running post, but one of the most detrimental strategies you can adopt for your running is to only focus on running. Training for a marathon puts a ton of stress on your body, so you really have to focus on stretching and strengthening all those core + supportive muscles that make you a better runner. Make room in your plan for cross-training, as time allows—yoga, pilates and biking are all great activities. Runner’s World is an excellent resource for injury prevention exercises, too. And don’t forget to roll! When I consistently spend fifteen minutes using a foam roller and rolling my feet on a lacrosse ball before I go to bed, I notice a huge difference in how my running feels.
Trust Your Training: There’s no weirder feeling than lying in bed the night before a marathon and thinking about how you are going to run 26.2 miles in the morning (there’s a reason they tell you to get a lot of sleep two nights before the race). But you just have to trust that you’ve put in the work, your body is capable of incredible things and that you will pull it off. Most people find finishing a marathon to be one of the most amazing feelings in the world, and even sign up to do it again. I’ve heard it’s like childbirth, in that sense. In all three marathons I’ve run, I discovered a sense of motivation and excitement on race day that I didn’t feel during any of my training runs, and that feeling carried me all the way to the finish. Yeah, miles 18-21 aren’t exactly going to be a party, but there is a serious high waiting on the other side. You can do it!!
Are any of you currently training for a marathon? I’d love to hear your training tips and strategies!