A trainer urging you NOT to train for a marathon?!
Essential considerations before training for your first marathon
For many people the ultimate fitness goal is to complete a marathon. Undertaking the 42km event will mean many months of regular training, staying on top of niggling injuries and paying close attention to hydration, nutrition and recovery. I have seen many people underestimate the toll that this event will take on your body and your life, and I’m not only talking about people wanting to achieve a goal time or a fast time – Merely completing the distance for the first time will take more effort than you can probably imagine right now.
I’ve been coaching runners of all levels since 1998. Here I share with you a completely honest and open approach to deciding whether marathon training is for you…
Before taking on the marathon for the first time please consider the following:
Why do you want to run a marathon?
If you are already running regularly, have completed some half marathons, and this goal is a natural progression of distance for you, then it’s a fabulous and logical idea. If you are choosing a marathon as a way to achieve weight loss, make your life ‘healthier’, quit smoking, gain accolades and approval, then I urge you to think carefully. There may be a more suitable way to achieve these goals.
To train safely for a marathon you will need to:
- Have at least four half marathons under your belt before attempting the full marathon
- Find time to run four times per week (consistency is an important part of reducing injury risk)
- Commit to one long run per week that will gradually build up to around 38km (this means you’ll be running 2 – 3.5 hours one day each weekend)
- Commit to a strength and core program twice a week
- Stretch regularly
- Follow a program diligently in order to build your running fitness and endurance safely and gradually, but have the kind of discipline that allows you to acknowledge when you need to pause the program and seek treatment from a physio. Discipline is not following a program against all odds, it’s about being smart with your body.
- Concentrate on eating well, fuelling your body for the extra work it’s doing. Dieting and restricting is not appropriate.
- Get quality sleep
- Stay well hydrated
- Lay off the alcohol – particularly the night before your long run
- Ensure your running shoes are not over 6 months old and are professionally fitted
- Consider the financial expense – Surprisingly running is not cost free. Shoes, running clothes, carbohydrate gels, paying for events, massage, physio, will add up
- Attend regular physiotherapy/massage sessions (Never ignoring any injuries!!!) Do not think that you won’t need physio. Even Steve Moneghetti sees his physio twice a week.
- Gather a good support team – you’ll need understanding and supportive friends and family.
- Prepare to revise your goals in line with your body’s needs
- REALLY KNOW that you may need to attempt a training program more than once before it’s the right time for you to attempt the event.
Learning balance and honesty
This last point I cannot stress emphatically enough. It will be essential for you to continually, and honestly, listen to your body and adapt your program accordingly (and with professional advice!). I have seen many people set a huge fitness goal and forge ahead with the program despite niggling injury, fatigue and other worrying signs. The goal and program is not set in stone and needs to be flexible according to your physical and mental needs as you go along. One of our clients, Lisa, wrote “Getting stubborn just leads to injury and no one views changing your goals as failure except you”.
Whether it’s seeing a physio, incorporating more rest days, changing your diet, altering your distances or even postponing your race date – you’ll need to be brutally honest with yourself in order to avoid injury and exhaustion. If you’re the type of character who struggles to find balance, and listen to your own body, or if you’ve suffered injuries in the past from pushing too hard for too long, I advise you work on this prior to starting your marathon quest.
Our clients share their experience
Mandy, one of our clients who completed her first marathon at the Gold Coast, wrote “I think it’s worthwhile considering how the amount of time you need to dedicate interferes with other aspects of your life, eg career and social life. If you have competing demands in those areas alongside your training then this can really affect your preparation and commitment and add additional stress. Having a good support network will help with this but it’s a long process and you need to understand the sacrifices you have to make are over at least a 3-6 month period.”
Amanda, also training for the Gold Coast Marathon, said “Be prepared to make sacrifices in your life (e.g. social and family), some people will find it a bit isolating.”
If you can commit to all these things you’re ready to begin! If the above list looks very overwhelming then I suggest you work on a few (more) half marathons and you can decide later down the track whether a marathon is for you. The marathon is just as much a test of commitment and discipline as it is a test of endurance. Not everyone’s bodies or minds cope with all the training and the lifestyle sacrifices required, and that’s completely ok! We don’t have to complete a marathon to ‘be a runner’.
Respect the distance!