My first marathon was a huge leap into the unknown. It was a small race and I toed the line clutching a packet of glucose tablets, a cheap stopwatch strapped to my wrist. I finished, but how much better my experience could have been had I known more! Compression, progression, fuelling, tapering, negative splits, positive thinking…
These days there’s a wealth of information on training – from what sessions to do, how far to run and what to eat and drink, to how to stay motivated, get your pacing right and avoid injuries. It can be overwhelming, so it’s easy to end up confused, burnt out or sidelined by strains and sprains.
That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve distilled the wisdom and experience of coaches and experts to bring you a comprehensive guide. If you’re a first-timer, you’ll find everything you need to know here. But even if you’ve already run a marathon or two, we guarantee you’ll find valuable ways to upgrade your performance, be it a new session, a nutrition tip, a mental strategy or an injury-preventing strength move. Whether or not you follow our 16-week training plan, you’ll have the information you need to tweak your training for optimal performance.
If you’re already a runner, you could turn up for most race distances with little preparation. Not so with the big one. ‘It’s important not to underestimate the challenge of a marathon,’ says coach Jeff Gaudette. ‘You need to respect the distance and be ready to prepare for it accordingly.’
That means devoting yourself to a training plan for at least 16 weeks. Ideally, you should have a few months of running behind you first. Mara Yamauchi, former Olympic marathoner and a qualified coach, warns that rushing into the marathon without enough experience means you’re unlikely to do the distance justice. ‘I’d advise building up through shorter distances first – 5Ks, 10Ks and half marathons.’
However, running coach Martin Yelling doesn’t believe a lack of running experience is a reason to rule out a marathon: ‘If you’ve got no background in running, at least four weeks of being regularly active before you begin a marathon plan is better than a standing start,’ he says.