RW’s 60-Second Guides:  Marathon Running

These guides are for people in an enormous hurry. There's some very useful further reading at the bottom of the page...

Congratulations – you're going to run a great marathon! So now what?

Marathon training through the winter can be a cold and lonely business; finding a training partner or group to run with will make it more sociable. Signing up for our marathon newsletters will provide virtual support too – you’ll get a weekly bulletin with training advice and all the latest marathon news to help you keep focused.

Now is the time to assess your fitness and set a realistic goal for 23 April. If you follow a schedule that’s appropriate to you, there will be opportunities further down the line – perhaps a half-marathon after a few weeks – to gauge your progress, and if necessary adjust your target time.

Your training schedule should involve a healthy mixture of fast and slow running, one pillar of which is the weekly long run, which you should aim to do comfortably at 45-60 seconds per mile slower than your predicted marathon pace. Eventually, this run will be up to 22 miles or three and a half hours, depending on your speed. No matter what your eventual aim, you should build up your mileage slowly, increasing your long run by no more than two miles a week, with walk breaks if necessary.

Training for a marathon places high demands on your body. You will need to eat well, in both quality and quantity, paying special attention to fuelling during and after long runs. You may also find you need more sleep – an extra 30-45 minutes a night. Having difficulty nodding off – and then struggling to get up the next morning – could mean that you are over-training. As you’ll see in our schedules, you will benefit from having an occasional easy week – usually one in four – to allow your body to recover from the impact of training.

Don’t underestimate the importance of recovery: do no more than a short, gentle run the day after a long run, eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 20 minutes of finishing training (if you can’t face a tuna sandwich, try a sports recovery drink), and brave the discomfort of cold baths and sport massage.

If illness or injury interrupts your training, don’t play catch-up. If you’ve missed four weeks or more in the last 10 weeks of the programme, you may be best to postpone your entry until 2008; if it’s less than that, concentrate on the long runs and be prepared to lower your goal by 15 minutes if needs be. And at the end of the schedule, don’t be tempted to train when you should be easing off: a three-week taper will leave you in the best possible shape to run the race you want, and enjoy it.

Marathon strides: Five next steps