Oh marathon training … For many runners it’s a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, you have a solid excuse to run (what many would consider) an absurd amount of miles on a weekly basis for anywhere from 16 to 20 full weeks and no one can call you crazy for it.
Wait, no. Scratch that thought … People will still call you crazy.
Whatever. What I mean is, you have a legit goal that involves a 26.2 mile race and a tangible objective for all of your running workouts that infuses your training with a real and powerful sense of purpose.
On the other hand, you’re running (what many would consider) an absurd amount of miles on a weekly basis for anywhere from 16 to 20 full weeks and yes, you’re life does become somewhat consumed by training: stumbling through the dark at WHY-THE-F-AM-I-AWAKE o’clock in search of your SPI belt and earbuds while trying not to wake your partner; the fine art of scheduling your double-digit long runs around weekend plans; turning down plans because if you’re not in bed by 9 p.m. you may spontaneously combust out of exhaustion; oh, and the struggle of satisfying your constant hunger with the right types of healthy foods so that hanger (the state of being angry because you’re so damn hungry) doesn’t ultimately alienate you from all of your family and friends.
Marathon training is a delicate balance, and while it’s most certainly glorious, there are obviously quite a few challenges involved — and that holds true no matter how many times you experience the process.
So, in celebration of my own marathon training for the 2016 NYC Marathon beginning on Monday, I sat down to chat with one of the best running coaches out there: Jason Fitzgerald, creator of Strength Running, a 2:39 marathoner, and a USATF-
Going back to when I was writing about running for The Active Times, over the past few years Jason has helped me understand so many different things about running and training for specific races, and not only that, his training and injury prevention strategies have helped me achieve my own running goals — like finally breaking the 2-hour mark in the half marathon again after a constant cycle of injuries.
Needless to say, he knows his stuff when it comes to running smart, so I was pretty pumped when he agreed to answer some questions and share his top marathon training tips with ya’ll. And with that said, let’s get right to the good stuff!
Q&A With Coach Jason: Marathon Training Tips
Q: What’s the most common question you get from runners about marathon training, and what do you tell them?
Coach Jason: Marathon training is usually just as hard as the race itself — if not more difficult! The higher mileage, the (long) long runs, and the sustained workouts are a drain on anybody’s energy. Plus, the risk of injury can be higher so it’s important to make sure you’re even ready to start training for a marathon in the first place.
And that’s the most common question I get: Can I run a marathon in xyz weeks?
I have a simple framework for deciding when runners are ready to start marathon training: if they have at least 16 weeks until the race and they can comfortably complete a 10-mile long run, then they can begin training.
If they have less time and their LR is not in the double digits, they’re simply not ready to start training. The injury risk is far too high and the marathon distance must be respected.
Q: For all the runners who have just started or are about to start training for a fall marathon, what’s the number one piece of advice you would give them?
A: Besides making sure you’re ready to start marathon training, my top suggestion is to focus on the long run.
This single run is the most “specific” to the marathon itself. It makes no sense to do a cut-down long run every other week — recovery can be accomplished elsewhere in the training program — when this workout is the most important for success at the marathon distance.
Q: What tips would you offer to runners for staying cool when training with tough, long workouts in the summer heat?
A: The most helpful things to do are:
1. Start the run hydrated.
2. Run in the morning when temperatures are at their lowest.
3. Run trails (you’ll most likely be in the shade and dirt doesn’t hold onto heat like concrete or asphalt).
4. Run through sprinklers if you can!
5. Focus on effort rather than pace.
Q: In terms of training what’s the biggest mistake you see runners make in marathon training?
A: With all of the training mistakes I see, I’m surprised more runners don’t get hurt! There are so many:
1. Not being ready to start training in the first place. This results in rushed training that inevitably leads to injuries.
2. Skimping on the long run. Don’t do it.
3. Running 25 to 35 miles per week. If you can’t run 40+ miles in a single week, how are you going to run 26.2 in a single run?
Q: In terms of nutrition, what’s the biggest mistake you see runners make during marathon training?
A: Most runners don’t practice their fueling strategy during training. And as we all (should) know, don’t do anything new on race day. So during the last three to four long runs, practice the exact fueling strategy you’ll use on race day. It will train your mind and body to digest while you’re running.
Q: Do you have any tips for conquering the mental side of marathon training? What can runners do to overcome the psychological barriers?
A: The hardest part of marathon training is simply getting it done. The high mileage and long workouts and runs make it a significant time investment. Staying positive and excited about all that work is the tough part!
There’s a few ways to make things more interesting:
1. Run more trails — they’re more fun, anyway.
2. Stay healthy! Nothing is more frustrating than a running injury.
3. Run with friends if you can.
Q: What’s one thing you wish you knew about training for a marathon before you did so for the first time?
A: I honestly think I got my training completed very well before my first marathon. I had already been running for over 10 years and knew what fundamentals to focus on as I prepared.
But my race execution failed miserably: I didn’t fuel properly before or during the marathon and I had several miles way too fast during the early miles. Not enough fuel and a fast early pace led to an epic crash and burn at the 20 mile mark. How cliche!
Q: What’s the number one thing runners can do to be proactive about preventing injury, during marathon training and in general?
A: Make sure injury prevention is baked into your training in the first place. And I don’t mean just “do some strength workouts” — unfortunately, a huge misconception is that “strength work = injury prevention.”
But no amount of strength work can overcome poor training!
If your mileage doesn’t increase intelligently, you’re not doing the right strength work, the workouts aren’t appropriate for the marathon, and if the overall structure of the training plan is poor, then an injury is very likely.
WOW! So many great and super important marathon training tips here. A BIG thanks to Jason for taking the time to share his expert insights with us.
I will for sure be implementing these strategies into my own marathon training this cycle and beyond that too. My ultimate goal is to run healthy for life, and I’ve learned the hard way a few too many times that you can’t do that just by winging it.
That’s also why I’ll be following Jason’s Injury Prevention for Runners playbook, for this training cycle and over the long-term. The best part — what really made it worth if for me — is that in addition to an injury prevention book, an injury treatment book, strength workout and dynamic warm-up exercise videos, and audio interviews with the world’s smartest runners, coaches, authors, and scientists (yeah, that’s a literal crap ton of knowledge and advice), Jason includes his Injury Prevention Training Plan Library with 12 plans for 5k, 10k, half marathon and marathon distances.
I’ll be following his injury prevention marathon training plan for the 2016 NYC Marathon and I’m REALLY psyched to see where it can take me (more about my specific goals in a new post next week). But for now, if you’re ready to get serious about your training (no matter what type of race you’re aiming for, or even if you just want to become a stronger runner), check out Jason’s injury prevention program right here.
As always, shoot me an email or leave a comment if you any questions or thoughts to share. I LOVE hearing from ya’ll and want to help you become the best runners you can be!