A marathon is a race over a long distance – specifically, a distance of 26.2 miles (42.19 km). That’s because the inspiration for the modern marathon is to be found in ancient Greece.
In 490 BC, according to legend, a messenger raced from the city of Marathon to the city of Athens with the news that the Greek army had defeated the Persian Army. Having completed his journey and delivered his news, the messenger fell dead.
In 1896, the Olympic marathon commemorated this legendary achievement by setting a course of just under 25 miles (40 km), because that was the distance between Athens and Marathon. However, in the early 20th century, in England, the distance of 26.2 miles was adopted: that was the distance between the front lawn of Windsor Castle and the royal box at the Olympic stadium, and so it was more convenient for a marathon course.
The world record for men for completing a marathon (set in Berlin in 2018) is two hours, one minute, and 39 seconds; the female record, set in 2019 in Chicago, is two hours, 14 minutes, and four seconds. However, the average time for running a marathon is around 4.5 to five hours.
4.5 to five hours is a long time to spend continuously running. If you have any plans for running any marathons in 2022, then you will need a training plan that ensures you build up the fitness, strength, and stamina you need to complete a marathon. In addition, your plan will need to accustom your system to going without food for several hours while still having enough energy available.
1. Choosing a training plan
Different runners have different preferences and needs when it comes to training, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ way to train for your marathon. Generally speaking, you should aim to run frequently (maybe four to five runs per week) but consistently. Avoid training so hard the one week that on the next week you find yourself tired out. Stick to a program that is quite taxing, but still enjoyable. Try and train outdoors as much as possible, rather than in the gym. That will be more similar to the actual marathon conditions and also probably more enjoyable. You may feel more cheerful and optimistic if you’re training in the fresh air and sunlight.
2. Time on your feet
You definitely need to practice being on your feet for hours at a time, but beware! If you go too far (and for too long) while training, you won’t be able to recover enough before your next run, or before the actual marathon. Even your longest run shouldn’t be much more than three hours – maybe 3.25 at the most – but many people do well with only 2.5 to 2.75 hours for the last three to four weeks before the race. A long run once a week is normally plenty – supplement your long run with shorter runs, but build up their length as you progress with your training.
3. Pacing yourself
During most of your training, it’s a good idea to build up your distances while maintaining quite a relaxed speed. However, in the last eight to 10 weeks of your training plan, you should try and do some of your longer runs closer to the final speed you will run at, maybe about 15-30 seconds per mile slower than you are aiming for in the race. When you are at your peak fitness, you should be able to run for about three hours with four sets of 20 mins at your goal speed and five-minute recovery periods in between.
4. Managing your energy
Preserving energy is key to succeeding in long-distance running. Your body needs to utilize energy very efficiently to keep you going over the whole course. One way you can help train your body is to alternate between three to five minutes at marathon pace and three to five minutes at the much faster pace you’d run a 10km race. At first, keep this up for 30 minutes, but try and build up to 60 minutes as you get better.
Also, practice your refueling strategy. On the day of the race, you will probably need to sip one energy gel about once every 30 minutes – sipping gradually so that it takes three to four minutes to finish it. If you don’t seem to gel with gels, then there are other refueling products you can try, but be sure to try them well in advance so you can find out what works best for you.
5. Diversifying your training
Although you definitely need to concentrate on running training, don’t neglect other forms of training. Putting in a bit of time on a bike or elliptical trainer, for example, can be a great way to help with your fitness at the same time as strengthening some important muscle groups.
Adding strength training to your weekly program of running can help you get in more training without getting too tired, and strengthened muscles can help prevent running injuries and strains. Moreover, the stronger your muscles are, the better you will be able to maintain ideal posture while running, which makes everything much easier (especially towards the end of the marathon, when you are getting tired).
Running on hills is an excellent way to build both muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness. In addition, you would probably want to do a session or two per week of squats and bridges to improve your strength, as well as planks or side planks for core strength.
Of course, it depends on their exact individual training plans – but most runners never cover the full marathon distance during their training. The first and last time you run the full 26.2 miles may be on the day of the race, so it’s important that you approach the race with the right mindset. If your thoughts are filled with the incredible length and difficulty of the marathon you have chosen to run, then chances are you will try and go too fast, too soon, and may run out of energy before the end. Marathon running is difficult, but with careful preparation and planning, you can both succeed in your race and enjoy the experience.