Whether you’re a veteran runner or training for your first marathon, follow these basic guidelines for your workouts and recovery to reach your max potential for the upcoming race.
Listen to your body.
If you are feeling particularly sore or tired, you might be overtraining. Take an extra day off and then reassess.
Follow the 10 percent rule.
Never increase your mileage by more than 10 percent in a month. If you ran 20 miles in your third week of training, you shouldn’t go higher than 22 miles in week four.
Always stretch after you run.
When you train for a marathon, you perform long, intense runs. You loosen up as you go, so a long warm-up is unnecessary. However, after finishing a run, you need to stretch out your tight muscle groups. Focus on your calves, quads and glutes.
Follow a non-linear training model.
Similar to strength training, you can’t keep adding more and more stimulus, because eventually your body will suffer from chronic fatigue. Allow recovery weeks. I suggest two weeks of mileage increases followed by one week of decreases. For example, run 20 miles in week one, followed by 22 miles in week two. In week three, scale it back to 18 miles; in week four, go up to 24 miles.
Don’t neglect speed training and hills.
When you’re training for a long-distance race like a marathon, it’s easy to focus only on distance. However, to be ready to handle whatever race day may bring, you need to train your central nervous system. Fartlek training—a combination of high and low intensity aerobic exercise—is a great way to switch it up. It will increase your speed and challenge your cardiovascular system. On a shorter run day, say seven miles or less, start with a mile warm-up, then challenge yourself by running to 85 percent of your max heart rate for 30 seconds, followed by two minutes of recovery at 60 percent. Repeat this pattern. Finish with a mile cool down at the same pace as your warm-up.
Use ice, not heat.
After a long run of 14 miles or more, get in an ice bath for as long as you can stand it. It will shorten your recovery time and reduce soreness. This could be the single best thing you do for recovery.
Try foam rolling.
Your legs tighten up during training, causing adhesions, which could lead to a serious injury if you are not careful. Any free chance you get, foam roll your calves, quads, glutes and IT bands. Go nice and slow over the tight spots. If it is slightly painful, that means you need to do it more. If it’s extremely painful, you may have an injury. Seek advice from a medical professional.
Don’t forget to strength train.
Lifting weights is important, even for a marathoner. Focus on sets of 12 to 15 reps at no more than 60 percent max to strengthen your tendons and ligaments. Also, focus on building up your hamstrings and strengthening your core for muscular endurance—to help you avoid hitting the dreaded “wall” during a race. Deadlifts can help you make that final push when your body is suffering.
Two weeks before your race, scale back or stop strength training altogether. If you stop lifting, it will take more than two weeks to see loss in muscle tone and strength.
Get a massage.
Two weeks before and one week after race day, visit a good massage therapist, preferably one who has previously worked with runners. Immediately following a race is an ideal time to get a massage, because lactic acid builds up in your muscles. The post-race massage might hurt a bit, but it will get rid of some of that lactic acid and help with recovery.
Running a marathon is something everyone thinks of doing but few complete. Enjoy everything about it—take in the atmosphere, and check out as much as you can while you are running. Remember why you decided to run a marathon in the first place.