1: First Steps

Over the next four issues we guide you through a marathon training plan that’ll deliver you to the start line strong, injury free and ready to conquer 26.2 miles come the spring.

Running a marathon is a ‘fitness tick’ that many people aspire to. Say to someone that you run and you can almost guarantee they’ll ask if you’ve run a marathon. There’s no doubting the incredible atmosphere at a big city centre marathon, what with the staggering amount of money raised for charity and the accomplishment of all those people who cross the finish line.

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However, for all those runners who get that finisher’s medal, there are many that don’t even make the start line. A 2007 study on entrants for the Rotterdam Marathon found that in the year leading up to the race, 55% of participants suffered a running related injury. For an activity that’s supposed to be good for you this suggests something is going wrong.

Most marathon training plans fall at three main hurdles. The first is that they prescribe too much running. Although it can be argued that running is the best training for running, there are a number of physiological and lifestyle factors that for many people who aren’t blessed with perfect biomechanics make four to six runs a week simply too much.

Secondly they fail to prepare people for running. What do we mean? We’re a running species but our sedentary jobs spent sat behind a desk or at the wheel mean that we’ve compromised our running physique. Key muscles such as the gluteus medius (on the upper portion of our outer thigh) become withered or inactive and other soft tissue chronically tight.

Fail to address these issues and although your body will find a way to allow you to run, imbalances and injuries won’t be too far away. Thirdly training schedules can ramp up the mileage way too quickly and don’t schedule recovery weeks that allow the body a chance to adapt. A few lucky runners might make it through unscathed but the majority won’t.

“In our programme we stick to a maximum of three runs per week and ultimately a longest long run of 2.5 hours”

In our programme we stick to a maximum of three runs per week and ultimately a longest long run of 2.5 hours. Don’t think that it’s a soft touch or short cut plan though as we’ll be filling the gaps with gym work, cycling, swimming, yoga and hill walking. As well as building running specific strength and fitness we’ll also develop all-round robustness and injury resilience. Your friends may have logged more miles than you, but you’ll be fitter, fresher and injury free.

Preparing to run

A gym or home strengthening routine that prepares your body for running is an essential foundation for your marathon training. During the early stages of the plan you’ll be performing it three times per week. Although the frequency of this session will drop as the plan goes on, it will remain a consistent feature. See page 91 for the Minimum Mileage Marathon strength workout.

Walk to run

If you’re new to running, one of the classic mistakes is to just go out and try to run. You’ll almost certainly go off too hard and end up red-faced, demoralised and ready to pack it all in. A structured walk-run approach to early training sessions ensures that you work at the correct intensity, can concentrate on correct running technique and feel as though you’re making genuine progress.

It’s important that you settle into an easy running pace. Even though it may feel painfully slow, you should be able to maintain a full conversation while running. If you’re gasping, you’re going too fast. So our first training block is all about finding that pace – don’t worry, you will get faster. If you already run and are able to maintain a steady pace, simply run for the whole session.

Good technique

For every run session concentrate on developing good technique and pacing. Concentrate on the following technique points:

1) Fast: Keep your cadence (foot-strike rate) high at 85-95 strikes per foot per minute. Don’t over-stride and avoid jamming your heel into the ground ahead of you. Check your cadence by counting the number of times one foot strikes in 30 seconds and multiply the result by two.

 2) Light: Think of yourself ‘floating’ over the ground with your feet lightly caressing it.

3) Tall: Keep tall and keep looking ahead. Don’t hunch your shoulders and keep your head up.

4) Relaxed: Keep relaxed especially in the neck, shoulders and arms. Imagine you’re holding a potato crisp between your thumb and forefinger and can’t break it.

5) Quiet: All of the above should lead to a quiet stride – too much noise and something is wrong.

Cross Training

In this first block, because the run sessions are fairly short, the strength sessions should be performed after them. A yoga class is an ideal way to enforce some quality stretching and to work on your core strength. Similarly, Pilates is a great injury preventing addition to your training. Cycling will be a consistent theme throughout the training plan as the fitness gains from it, particularly regarding leg strength, transfer excellently to running.

A proper road bike is the best tool for the job but you can fit slick tyres onto a mountain bike. Aim to cycle at an intensity where you feel you’re working reasonably hard but are able to maintain it, if you had to communicate in short sentences.For this first block where the cycling sessions are fairly short, you can use a studio cycle/class bike but as the programme goes on you will need to hit the road.

Swimming is included as a recovery session as much as anything else, so feel free to swim as hard or easy as you like. If you’re a keen swimmer you can up the volume of this nonimpact activity. Mix the session up with kickdrills and use a variety of strokes. If you’re a non-swimmer or don’t have access to a pool opt for a concentrated 20 minutes stretch session or book in for a massage.

Minimum Mileage marathon

Single-leg Squat

An excellent movement for developing running specific strength and targeting those vital glutes.

*Go as deep as you can manage and tap your hind foot on the floor.

*Bend forwards and reach out with your arms to assist balance.

*Focus on engaging your butt muscles.

*As you progress, deepen the movement by standing on a step or bench.

marathon training plan_2

Walking Lunge with Twist

More single-leg movement, the twist helps to develop lateral strength and stability.

*Step slightly outside of your centre line to provide a more stable platform for the twist.

*Make sure the twist is slow and controlled.

*Hold a dumbbell or medicine ball to increase intensity.

Calf Raises

Your calf muscles and Achilles tendons are particularly vulnerable to injury so some strengthening is strongly advised.

*Try to do one leg at a time to identify any discrepancies.

* Standing on a step or bench is more beneficial than using a seated station.

*Work through a full range of motion from a deep stretch, with the heel fully down, to extension right up on tip-toe.

Swiss Ball Hamstring Curl

As well as hitting the hamstrings, this is an excellent movement for building core stability and strength.

*Keep your hips high and butt muscles clenched.

*Work in a slow, controlled and balanced manner.

*Aim to progress to performing the movement from one leg at a time.

Swiss Ball Roll-outs

*Maintain a neutral spine throughout with no hint of hyper-extension.

*Don’t roll too far, keep in control of the movement.

*Strongly contract your abdominal muscles throughout.

 Oblique Plank

A second movement aimed at delivering a stable and strong trunk.

*Keep your head up and avoid sagging or lifting the hips.

*Reach high with the extended hand and open your chest to almost the point of overbalancing backwards.

* Stop the ‘rep’ when your form deteriorates.

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