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10 rules of marathon training

With in-person races starting to fill up our calendars, it's time to remind ourselves of the basics

In-person races are returning in many regions across the country this fall, and Canadian runners everywhere are returning to the marathon training they abandoned 15 months ago. That makes now a good time to go over some of the basic rules of marathon training to refresh everyone’s memories as they work toward their fall goal race. The following principles are not ground-breaking, but are essential if you want to have a successful build and a great result on race day.

Quebec City Marathon
Photo: Quebec City Marathon

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Be consistent

The most important rule when you’re training for any race distance is to stay consistent. Running five days a week for a few weeks, then not running at all for several days or weeks will not give your body time to adapt to your training so that you see improvement. You’re better off training only three days a week than following an on-again/off-again, high-volume/zero volume pattern.

Put in the mileage

You don’t have to run 100 to 200 kilometres per week to train for a marathon, but you do have to spend some time on your feet if you’re going to be ready to cover the full 42K on race day. The long run is crucial for this reason, but your weekly runs are just as important when it comes to overall run volume. If you can, running four to five days each week with some shorter runs and some longer runs will ensure your body is ready to handle the volume on race day.

Cross-train

For some, running five or more days per week is too much load and leads to injuries or overtraining. This is especially true for newer runners. Cross-training is a great way to improve your overall fitness while putting less stress on your body than running would. Even runners who don’t tend to struggle with injuries can benefit from adding one or two cross-training sessions into their weekly schedule in place of a couple of their easy runs.

Practise pacing

By the time you toe the line on race day, you should know, without a doubt, what pace you’re running, and that means practising your marathon pace in training. One good way to do this is to increase your pace in the last 60 to 80 minutes of your long run until you’re running your goal marathon pace.

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Practice your hydration/fuelling plan

Throughout the race, you must take in some fluids and carbohydrates, and it’s crucial that you practise this at least a few times on your long runs during training to determine what works well for you. The last thing you want is to use a different gel or sports beverage on race day and have it cause digestive distress while you’re out on the course. Similarly, you should practise what you’re going to eat the morning of the race before some of your runs and workouts, so you know what you can tolerate and how much you’ll need to run your best.

Sleep

Training for a marathon puts a lot of stress on your body, and you need to recover well between runs so you can reap all the benefits of your training. This means you’re going to need plenty of sleep. To maximize sleep, try going to bed a little earlier (especially if most of your training runs are early in the morning before work).

Strength train

Strength training will make your body stronger and more resilient to injuries and can help improve your form so you’re a faster, more efficient runner. The good news is that since most of your time will be spent on your running training, you only need a couple of short, quality gym (0r home gym) sessions per week to see the benefits of strength training on your runs.

Eat… lots

When you’re training for a marathon, you’re going to be burning a lot of calories. If you want to perform well and avoid injuries, make sure you’re eating lots high-quality, nutritious food to replace what you’ve burned in training, so your body can withstand the caloric demands of training. 

Taper

When you get to the start line of your goal race, you want to feel fresh and ready to go, not tired from the months of training you’ve just completed. Make sure you start to gradually reduce your volume in the last two weeks before the race, so your body is recovered enough to perform well on race day.

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Enjoy it

Having performance goals is a great way to stay motivated throughout your training, but don’t forget to enjoy the process, rather than focusing solely on the end goal. After all, the real reason we run is that it’s a sport we love, so if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?