Most people targeting a Marathon will invariably be looking at doing a Spring Marathon and for many (I would reason a rather large majority), especially here in the UK, many will be focused on London....and rightly so. If your aim is to 'tick' THE Marathon off your Bucket List, it's definitely the one to aim for. Many will argue against me and rightly so, when you've done a few and in the various formats marathons are run nowadays, there is so much incredible choice out there. I would argue though when it comes to a standalone experience, the build up, course and the most incredible and wonderful support make it something so very special and you can't help but find that bit extra you might need during the latter stages of the event. The buzz at the start is electric and the finish is nothing but spectacular, if of course you're in any fit state to enjoy it and not in the midst of yet another attack of cramp or indeed crawling along The Mall to earn that most coveted of bling!
However, what that means is, you are going to be miserable for 6 months, especially if for you, this is the first and only time you contemplate the magical 26.2mi (or 42.195km). I don't mean miserable as in you're never going to smile again, I mean miserable because training during the Winter months is miserable. Cold wet dark mornings are followed by cold wet dark nights and that's how it goes from the moment the clocks go forward until they go back. If you accept this universal truth you're half way there to developing the mentality you need to win Winter! Winter is sh*t, don't be sh*t, be nails and get it done!
Marathon programmes are generally 20 or 16 weeks long, which means you're really going to be kicking off your training at the most difficult of times to do so, around Christmas. In theory it's a good time to begin as in essence most of us get a bit of time off over the holiday period. The reality is though, we all end up being so busy that training generally doesn't begin 'properly' until the New Year and we're back at work. There are some though that have already put the base miles in when the 'nice' magazine (I've never had one of those so I don't know what it looks like) drops through the letter box in October. They already have a head start, and if they haven't pushed it too hard they're in great shape to hit the countdown and really make the best of the weeks to come.
Marathon training is all about phases. Many coaches (and programmes) will vary the configuration and intensity of the programme, based on your goals and running experience. Ultimately though, you'll be building the base, developing your race pace (with intervals, fartlek, Kenyan hills, hills, track work etc) and then ticking over (or as we like to refer to it, the dreaded taper), so you're in the best possible shape come race day!
Oh and I must not forget you need to get strength training in there too, you'll need that to develop all the leg muscle groups as well as the core, to neglect to do so, would lead to potential injury and worst case, having to defer your place. There is nothing more soul destroying than being in the midst of a marathon programme and picking up a major injury, when ultimately it could have been prevented. Injuries are par for the course, however if you want to keep them to a minimum and give yourself the best chance of getting to the start line, play the odds, get your arse in the gym, squat, deadlift, lunge and plank your little heart out!
Universal truth two, you will be fatigued and you will be tired! Accept that! On the cold wet mornings, your legs will try and tell you, you're so fatigued and tired, that you incapable of getting out of bed. Brain is King! Sure, sometimes miss a session, but don't let it become a habit, try and stick to the plan as much as possible. Fight the demons and crack on, marathon training is like an investment, you have to put a lot in, to get something worthwhile out! To give yourself the best possible chance of enjoying a marathon you need to work your arse off for 12 to 16 weeks. If your end game is just to get around, then maybe a regimented plan isn't for you, however, I would never advocate anyone taking on a marathon without sufficient training. You put your body under significant amounts of stress, you need to have the foundation of a good plan behind you to help you cope with that come race day.
Universal truth three, nutrition is a minefield! To make it round 26.2 miles you need to understand how to fuel your body, when to fuel your body and what with! You need to understand the implications of taking on too much fluid and conversely not enough. Nutrition to a certain degree is personal to the individual, however there is a lot of resources out there to get you started, ignore it at your peril! Also, this is where plans become even more effective, because it's during your long runs where you should be testing nutrition to find out what does and doesn't work for you.
For Joe average, water won't be enough to get you round, you will need some form of Carbohydrate and salts, and you will need to get that on board regularly (little and often) and long before your natural store of glycogen is depleted (typically around 90mins). You will lose body salts through sweat, so again you need to understand how much you're losing. You can do that by stepping on the scales before you go out and stepping back on when you return. Divide the difference by how long you're out and you'll know how much fluid you're losing in an hour and therefore develop an understanding of what you need to do as a strategy.
For me, although I've trained significantly through the Winter months, I'm not overly focused on the Spring events and if I'm honest not quite feeling it yet. Whilst I have Chester Ultra in two weeks and Boston Marathon 6 weeks later, my focus is very much on The Race Across Scotland in August and Chicago Marathon in October.
The answer is simple! The Race Across Scotland is 214 miles, it demands focus and Chicago, because that Major gives me the perfect opportunity to try and qualify 'Good for Age' for New York. Don't get me wrong, come Chester and Boston I should be in pretty good shape for both and I'm hoping to run well, but after my injury in August, I've struggled with niggles (that I still have to manage) with the knee and the achilles and I haven't been as dedicated to the strength work as I should have been (practice what you preach Rushen). The focus has been very much on getting the strength back in the knee and building a solid base again through volume, almost like I did for The 100 Peaks, before I stepped things up in the last few months of prep.
Between April and August once again I have those magic 16 weeks to really focus on my training to cope with trying to run 214 miles and in October trying to hit 3:05 for a marathon. So although I suggest my focus hasn't been on the Spring, I have still trained as if it were and whilst I'm not happy that I'm not where I want to be, I know I'm getting stronger with every session and I look forward to adding to the collection and adding to the World Marathon Majors in pursuit of the Six Star!
So anyway, by now you should be pretty much half way through your programmes and as I stated earlier, you will be fatigued, you will fell tired. However, the hard work is nearly done and in about 8 weeks time, you will reap every seed that you have sown. On the 25th March when the clocks go back, you can pat yourself on the back and know in a few short weeks after that, thousands of people will be cheering you along the course and down the finishing straight. Puff your chest out, be proud, finish strong and know you 'won Winter', enjoy it come race day you will have earnt it!
Good luck everyone, big love and enjoy the last few weeks of training and stay injury free!
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