So you got into your chosen marathon? Congratulations! If you're hoping to enjoy your marathon (ok, enjoy might not be the right word), you're going to need to train your body to run 26.2 miles. If you're new to running then this is going to be a gradual process underpinned by consistency of training. If you already run, or are hoping to beat a previous marathon time then your training plan will probably look a bit different.
Here's our advice on how to pick the right marathon training plan for you.
1. Be Realistic - Marathons Are Tough
Realise that this is going to involve hard work, willpower and some tough days, but that the feeling you get from crossing that finish line will be incredible. When looking for a marathon training plan, you should try and find one that takes a graduated approach; that is, one that starts easier and gets harder.
Respect the distance. Marathons test even the most seasoned runners so be sure to fully appreciate what you're undertaking. Some people find it helpful to actually measure out 26.2 miles using GPS in the car, so they can properly visualise the challenge ahead.
Any plan that guarantees results or says you don't have to put the effort in is probably one for the bin, sorry.
2. Set Your Marathon Goal
The marathon is 26.2 miles of negotiation between the distance and your body. Like any negotiation you need to go into it fully prepared and with a firm idea of your intended outcome. Do you want to simply finish the race? Run the whole marathon without walking? Improve on a previous marathon time?
You can only select the right training plan once you know what you're planning to achieve. Make sure your goal is achievable, don't say you're going to run a sub 3 hour marathon when you've never run before. Conversely, if you've run your last 4 marathons in a similar time, set yourself a PB challenge
3. How Much Training Time Will You Have?
Marathon training plans vary in relation to weekly mileage volume. Some, such as the marathon plans in 'Advanced Marathoning' by Pfitzinger & Douglas can have you running over 100+ miles per week in order to achieve fast marathon times. Other guides, such as the London Marathon official training plan for beginners are based on 'minutes on feet' with much reduced mileage than P&D but still consistent and gradual progression.
How much do you want that PB? How much time do you have to give to your marathon training over the next few months?
There will inevitably be days where you have to miss training sessions due to illness, injury or other commitments however, choose a marathon plan that you can honestly commit to.
4. Check the Authenticity of the Training Plan Author
There are hundreds of marathon training plans out there, written by a variety of different people - some more experienced and knowledgeable than others. You will be able to tell very quickly if a plan has been written by a professional or... not a professional shall we say . You may find non-specific advice and repeated rather than progressive sessions.
5. Choose a Personalised or General Training Plan?
Google 'marathon training plan' and you will be given a list of various generic plans, designed to give most people what they need to reach their goals. For that extra level up though, some opt for paid, personalised plans and coaching. If your budget allows then those looking to improve on previous marathon times may benefit the most from this approach. Every body is different and so to really reach your potential, the guidance of a coach or personalised marathon training plan will help you level-up.
6. Embrace the Physical Challenge
As a rule of thumb, marathon training should challenge you. It should feel tough and test your willpower in a progressive way. That is, what felt really hard 4 weeks ago, should feel ok this week, but next week's session will be the hardest you've ever done. Your body makes it's adaptations when placed under stress from training and it will only be stressed when pushed out of the comfort zone. The flip side of this of course is to not push too far and cause injury - it's a fine balance!
7. Don't Underestimate the Mental Challenge
Training for and running a marathon can be the most satisfying thing, however it's a case of deferred gratification. You'll have months of gruelling training, having to put your trainers on and head out of the door into the pouring rain, wake up feeling like your legs are made of lead... and eventually, at the end of it all...you'll feel the bliss of achieving your goal knowing how hard you've worked.
Marathons are difficult, that's why finishing one is so rewarding.