You have goals. You’re a years-long runner who’s just spent the off-season taking it easy and adapting your routine to the colder conditions outdoors. Or, you’re more of a fitness enthusiast who’s dabbled with various training routines, and you’re now set on becoming a runner. Wherever you fall along this spectrum, the arrival of spring not only means warmer days and clear sidewalks but also the start of marathon training.
Unfortunately, many surge ahead in the season without a concrete plan about what to do and how to get there. The result, especially after a winter of taking it easy, is a diminished outcome — your times were better last year — or, worse, an injury that’ll keep you away from the pavement for the next few months.
As far as training for a marathon is concerned, one rule applies no matter what level you’re starting at: Building up strength and momentum takes time, and you’ve got to train for it, even if all you’re doing in the near future is a 5K or half-marathon.
Aside from disappointment, allowing yourself a period to prepare has a two-fold benefit. For one, even if you’re a seasoned runner, your body has to get back into the fold of things. Eventually, though, through consistent and gradual training, you reap the cumulative benefits and will likely surpass your past progress.
Secondly, you have to consider your body. We’ve already mentioned injuries, and when you go in too fast and too soon, you’re left feeling stiff and achy. This could be DOMS — delayed onset muscle soreness, which is to be expected — or you could be left with a tear or muscle strain that worsens the longer you train. Added to this, your whole body — heart and blood vessels, too — have to adjust as you begin or ramp up your routine.
As the spring season begins, get off to a steady start for that marathon with the following points:
Timing and Pacing
You’ll get different answers here, but the general consensus is, you need to build up your strength. For seasoned runners, an eight- to 12-week plan is recommended up to your first half-marathon. Then, expect at least 16 weeks leading into your first full marathon. For a beginner, plan at least 24 weeks for your first full marathon. As a goal, you should be able to get through a 16- to 20-mile stretch with relative ease.
In working within this timeframe, you need to pace yourself while keeping your progress in perspective. It’s disappointing not to be where you left off, distance and timing-wise, in the fall — but understand that everyone else is essentially in your spot. Through this framework, be sure to chart out a more gradual progress — some say no more than adding an additional mile or five-percent distance gain per week. Otherwise, your injury risk increases.
On this note, especially if you’re new to running, you don’t want to do it all at a sprint’s pace. If you do, you’ll tire out too quickly and won’t be able to reach your distance goals. Instead, develop an easier, more manageable pace as your baseline and up your speed in spurts from here.
Make a Deadline
Consider your first half-marathon as one in a series of goals for the upcoming season. Using our timing recommendations, you want to give yourself anywhere from eight to 24 weeks before you’re out there running to the finish line. Establish this as the culmination of your training, and get started well in advance to be adequately prepared.
Working with this point, you’ll want to map out a training plan to get here. For some, especially if your first event is a 5K or half-marathon, you’ll want to set aside at least two days per week for training, expecting to do most of your run at a slower, if not run-walk, pace.
Think About Location — And Your Safety
Location in running outdoors encompasses two key factors — where you’re running and how you’re protecting yourself as you do.
If you continued to train through winter, there’s a chance you’ve been on a treadmill for most of it, with short excursions out into the cold. As such, your first real run on the pavement, complete with hills, uneven terrain, and their respective responsiveness, can make your body feel out of whack. Realize that this is normal, and especially as you mix up your routine with cross-training, the soreness will go away after a few days.
As you’ll be doing most of your spring marathon training outdoors, you’ll have to think about how you’ll protect yourself, both against attackers and any stray animals. Consider being a part of a running group, as there’s strength in numbers, and always ensuring you stay visible with reflective, high-visibility clothing. Furthermore, if you have to run alone, do so during daytime hours, in a location where others will be able to see you.
As a backup solution, equip yourself with an easy to deploy pepper spray solution. Sabre has you prepared. Our Runner Pepper Gel with an Adjustable Hand Strap is tested in our industry-exclusive HPLC laboratory, guaranteeing our maximum strength formulation in every canister vs. the 30% heat failures found in other brands (per a University of Utah Study) to help give peace of mind, certainty, reliability, and safety when you need it most. SABRE pepper is just as strong as pepper spray, reduces wind blowback, and deploys 20% further than sprays putting more distance between you and the threat.
Our 2-in-1 Pepper Gel with LED Armband factors in both your safety and visibility. Along with our lab-tested gel formula, a two-mode LED light ensures others can see you from a distance of 1,000 feet and is ideal for both runners and cyclists.
Focus on Your Technique
Experienced runners will often wax on about the proper foot strike on the pavement. While techniques can vary, you have two points to consider. One, avoid stomping and making hard landings on the pavement. Even with the right running shoes, the force from the impact can cause damage to your feet.
Secondly, you want to go as lightly as possible while also doing what feels natural to you. Once you reach this literal stride, you’ll find your runs become more efficient, and you’re less likely to experience an injury.
Create a Plan
With your schedule mapped out to some degree, you need to chart out the progress of your routine to your first event, taking care to avoid any injuries in the process. Consider:
- Setting aside three days per week to train, devoting roughly a half-hour for each session.
- Getting in some casual walking and running in between these sessions to build up your stamina.
- Cross-training on your “off” days to add variety and use the rest of the muscles in your body. Consider lifting weights, swimming, or strength-training exercises.
- Establishing your conversational pace — or the rate you can run efficiently while still holding a conversation.
- Getting in some dynamic stretches to warm up your muscles before kicking off each training session.
- Planning for those longer runs. During your training sessions, aim for at least one longer run — lasts at least an hour — once per week. This is where you’ll aim for comfortably doing a 16- to 20-mile stretch. Being able to hit this goal lessens your fatigue for the race.
- Know your “weak” points, be it your knee or hips, and focus on workouts that help strengthen these areas, be it yoga, Pilates, or core-oriented routines.
Have the Right Gear
Even the best runners will find their performance undermined by old, not-up-to-par gear. Not only will you be moving slower, but you’ll also likely find yourself in pain and even dealing with an injury after some time.
It’s recommended that you start your spring marathon training with a supportive and comfortable shoe that lets your feet breathe and offers impact resistance. Then, to avoid blisters, pair your shoes with a smooth, seamless pair of socks, ideally offering moisture-wicking properties to control sweat.
Especially for running outdoors, further equip yourself with a high-visibility vest or other gear with reflective properties.
Think About Your Diet
Runners want enough fuel to train effectively — but not too much that you’ll be bogged down. As a general rule, so you’re not training on an empty stomach, get in a modest meal one hour before you’re out on the pavement. Then, have a snack within 15 minutes of finishing your routine to help your muscles recover. Just as with any fitness activity, you’ll want to focus on proteins and complex carbohydrates here.
Don’t forget about hydration. Bring a water bottle or hydration pack as you’re out on your route. If you’re doing a longer run — over 30 minutes — consider a sports drink to replenish any electrolytes lost through sweating.