Often as runners we want to push those boundaries a little more, try harder, go further. That is part of human nature.
I remember when I did my first 5km. Just thinking about it left me with instant doubt. But, I did it, moved on to 10km later, followed by 15km, 21.1km, 25km, 32km and all the way upwards to Comrades, the world’s toughest ultra-marathon, the so called “Ultimate Human Race” and right now I am training for Comrades number four. Sometimes I feel like I have to pinch myself when I think about it, I’ve definitely came a long long way.
But here I want to share some thoughts on training for that first biggy, the full marathon. Believe me, your first 42.2km run will not come easy, it is a challenge and it requires hard work and proper preparation from you, but the reward is amazing. Trust me; crossing that finish line however will put you in a different place, a place where you’ve never been before.
First things first. If you want to conquer that 42.2km challenge you will have to learn to love those long runs. Long runs are undoubtedly the most important workout for aspiring marathoners. Long runs help to build endurance and because the marathon is more about aerobic and constant rhythm, this is exactly the kind of workouts you need. When you start to pile up the kilometers, beware of running too far too quickly, build your kilometers slowly, don’t go out too fast ( think LSR – long slow run ).
Also, it is very important that you run by pace and not by how you feel.
Before I get into this, let me share this quote by Bill Dellinger, who said.
“Good things come slow, especially in distance running.”
Many runners take on a marathon like they would a half-marathon – BIG MISTAKE. You have to pace yourself, for the long run. If you run on how you feel, you will feel great at the start and quickly find your way through the crowd, just to slow down later and be passed by that very crowd you passed earlier. Pacing is key to get you through a marathon or ultra-marathon for that matter. I always use this phrase when I try to explain this to novice runners, “Fly now, pay later…”. Believe me, this is the truth. Remember there are various things that can determine how you feel on race day : temperature, lack of sleep, stress, travel or training fatigue, even dietary related matters. All these can determine how you feel on race day and when you choose to run by how you feel, you can pretty much sink your own marathon in a matter of kilometers and turn what is supposed to be a great day into a not so great day. Because you want your first marathon to be a memorable one, be cautious of how you approach it. Again, pace vs how you feel. Pace should always be your number one priority on the long runs.
Something else to keep in mind is to absolutely go for those back to back runs, but be cautious of the distances. A good weekend distance is around 45-50km, 90-100km per week. That should be adequate. Doing more than this can lead to training fatigue and ultimately also injuries, so allays keep this in mind. Also try to train with a group of training buddy who runs more or less your pace as this will help all of you to adapt and learn to pace more effectively, adapting to various paces to accommodate all. This also trains the mind to be the overriding factor when you “feel good” and just wanna race your way to the end.
One last thought. Remember this; lost mileages are just that, “lost” Do not try to catch up on it. In the event when you get sick, get tied up with business or family life and cannot do your runs as you planned. Let it go. Do not try to catch up. Just slip back into your schedule or training plan and carry on where you left off. Trying to catch up again can lead either to training fatigue or again, injuries. It is better to toe that start line healthy and with less long runs behind you instead of showing up fatigued after playing catch up with your training runs. Your running schedule should always be a work in progress.
Training for a marathon will mean that you will have to up your weekly mileages. I touched on this above, but it is important to remember to do this over time. A sudden increase in distance is not advisable. For beginner marathoners, the most effective tool you have to get faster is to run more, but this you have to do over time.
The closer you get to the big day it is important to keep MP in mind, “marathon pace”. Decide beforehand to yourself in what time you would want to finish your first marathon and then work out your average marathon pace which will get you there and then start to train at that pace. A month or so before your first marathon, this is the pace you will focus on. This is a mental workout too because any half-marathon runner will easily get frustrated at running slower to hit that marathon pace, but this is what will get you through race day. Guaranteed.
Combine your marathon pace with your tempo or rhythm and you will have a successful marathon. Deviate to either side and you will put your first marathon into jeopardy. Don’t do that. Remember, you want to cross that finish line feeling tired but not drained or completely fatigued or hammered. Remember, you want it to be a good one so you can go back for more and then once more move that comfort zone and reach out for that ultra-marathon.
“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.” – Unknown
Happy running everyone and may your first marathon be awesome !
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The Marathon Club – Get your own bragging rights when you complete your first marathon. Also available for half-marathon achievers