We just had 2 marathons in our city over the last couple of weeks.  That leads me to think, “For a person who is not an experienced runner, what should the training regimen to prepare for the next year’s marathon?”  Obviously, for someone who hasn’t been trained, the marathon is not something one just does without preparation.  Assuming you are not just trying to walk it whenever you get tired, running a marathon without good preparation is difficult and also potentially quite dangerous to your physical body.

Therefore, our emphasis here is to prepare for the next year’s marathon.  Preparation is important…

Do You Have the Right Motivations?

Running a marathon is not a simple task.  The habits needed for a marathon are very different compared to other sports.  In soccer, when the play is not on your side of the field, you can move at a slow jog and conserve energy for your next burst of your attack/defence.   In hockey, you take shifts so that you can catch your breath before going all out again during your next shift.  But running a marathon is different.  It involves going at a relentless pace for 26.2 miles while ensuring that you don’t dehydrate, run out of sugar, have muscle cramps, or get a heat stroke.

So having said that, why run a marathon?  For a sense of accomplishment!  Running a marathon is a challenge.  In order to finish a marathon, the body is pushed to a limit where simple tasks are no longer simple.  Many people, therefore, would take marathon as a challenge that one tries to conquer.  Another good motivation is running for a good cause, such as raising money for a charity.  Because running a marathon is such a difficult task, one often can get many people to donate per mile.

Without these motivations, one may want to consider a shorter run as a target.  To become successful in running a marathon distance, one must be motivated to achieve it.  Here’s an article about why some people should not run marathons.  As mentioned in the article, running a marathon doesn’t always help you lose weight.  The demand to stay energized and hydrated during a marathon is so great that one should not try to cut weight in the process.  It is dangerous, but more importantly, it is likely that you cannot achieve any weight loss.

Besides that, as I will describe further, training for a marathon is difficult and time-consuming.  If you cannot commit to the training process, maybe running a marathon is not a good idea for you.  For example, if you are a social person, it cuts into your social time, unless your social circle consists of runners too.  Finally, one has to purely be motivated, not only to run but to run that distance.  There is a big jump between a 15K run and a marathon.  The body starts not functioning after a certain distance, even running at long-distance speeds.  In order to stay motivated during the training for the extra distance, one must be very motivated to achieve the task.

How Can You Get Your Body Ready for the Marathon?

After evaluating the “why”, it’s time for the “how”.

In order to achieve a marathon, one must:

  • be healthy at the time of the race;
  • build up the endurance;
  • know how to condition during the race.
(1) Be healthy at the time of the race:

In fact, maybe we should expand this to be healthy all along the way, between now and the race.

First of all, if you have a muscle strain, you will “waste” time for rehabilitation because no training can be done until your muscle heals.  Therefore, for your training regimen, you have to ensure you don’t overdo it.

One of the recommended training programs out there is to add 10% every week.  It’s like to have set-back weeks and recovery weeks throughout the training process.  Suppose you have 50 weeks from now to the next race (about 1 year).  And 10 out of that, there is 0% increase – You are just keeping pace during those 10 weeks.  Suppose your target is 10%, but your average is only 8%.  Calculate this as though you are calculating compound interest, and you find that you should start with 1.5 miles in the first week at least.  If you don’t think you can make that, you may want to hold off on signing up for the race and see how your progression goes along the way.

Don’t worry if you have muscle fatigue and soreness after exercise.  This type of recovery is a normal process throughout the training.  Running causes your muscle fibres to break down.  In general, the harder you run, the more muscle fibres you damage.  Then your body rebuilds these damaged muscle fibres.  If the recovery process goes well, these repaired muscle fibres become stronger than before. This is how you become faster and stronger through training.

Some people prefer hiring a trainer, and some people don’t like trainers.  It may be easier to start without a trainer, but you must learn to listen to your body.  Don’t overwork your body, and always remember to replenish.

Here’s the general rule:
For any extended exercise, you should take a few carbs and a small amount of protein after the exercise.  This can give your body a chance to regenerate – Carbs help to kickstart the anabolic state to build muscle, whereas proteins actually provide the ingredient to build and repair the muscle.

One thing to pay attention is that although your immune system is strengthened by exercising (maybe 1 hour a day of running), the immune system will be temporarily taxed if you go on an extended marathon-type run.  Thus, always make sure to stay healthy during the after-hours of any long run training sessions, and of course, after the big race.

(2) Build up your endurance:

Obviously, that’s the target – to be able to make it to the finish line by the time the race comes.  This means you need to be able to go beyond the finish line a few times.

Start with creating a backward timeline from the race day.  I recommend you should already be capable of making the marathon distance at least 3 months before the race, and the final 3 months is for keeping that endurance and conditioning the body, not to over-train.

There are many training regimens out there, and you should pick the one that’s tailored to your needs.  Most of them are time-demanding that require you to do “short” distance running a few weekdays after work and a mid-to-long distance run in the weekend, with resting days scheduled.  This is a good model and if you are not getting a trainer yet, you should still stick to a plan and then monitor your progress along the way.

There is a fine line between pushing your limits and going over it.  As you increase your limit towards the marathon distance, your body will start to tell you that you are shutting down.  Understand what your body is telling you.   Try to push, but at the same time, keep in contact with all the signals your body is providing.  Don’t forget that marathon training is taxing to the body, so I recommend you train with partners, or you run within the city.  If something goes wrong, there will be people to help you, even if it’s as simple as lending you a hand to stabilize you in a momentary lapse of body function.

(3) Know how to condition during the race:

Three major things that one cannot see that is important during a marathon race.  If one is playing a computer game about the marathon, there will probably be 3 bars you need to manage: sugar, water, electrolytes.

Sugar is needed for a simple reason. You need the energy, and you need to keep up the blood sugar.  During the race, there will be stations along the way where you can replenish, but you may also want to bring your own.  Try to eat foods you are familiar with, such as a trusted brand of energy pack, the same kind of banana.  During your training, you should be able to simulate race conditions as you get towards the back half of your training regime.  In fact, slightly overtaking sugar is not a problem at all, except that you don’t lose weight.  As mentioned in the beginning, to do a marathon for trying to lose weight is just dangerous.

Water and electrolytes work together hand-in-hand.  I mean you should think of them related to each other.  Marathon creates a constant drain on energy, electrolyte, and water (from sweat).  All marathon runners need to replenish both water and electrolytes in a good balance.  There was news about people dying from hyponatremia  (too low sodium level) because they did a marathon and drank water instead of replenishing electrolytes as well.

Coming up with a plan for replenishing water and electrolytes are more tricky than sugar.  For sugar, the amount of work (running distance) is directly related to the amount of energy used, which in turn directly relates to the amount of energy you should replenish.  Water and electrolytes are slightly more complicated because the amount of your sweat varies throughout the marathon.  For a more accurate measurement, throughout your training, you should chart the temperature, the humidity as well as how much you are drinking to understand how much you are losing.  Another way (preferably in a gym) is to do some mid-distance running and chart your weight before and after the run.  No, that’s not true weight loss.  That’s only showing how much water you lost while performing that run.  This allows you to understand how much water you need to replenish per distance at certain conditions.

See you in the next race.


With love,

Cecilia Or

Always Remember Why Inc.

Always Remember W.H.Y.

Be WellBe Happy, Be You