Top 25 Marathon Training Tips
Get in Racing Shape
Following the right training plan for your goal is crucial to a successful race day, but it's not the only piece of the puzzle. There are certain tips you need to know while you prep for the big day that may not be mentioned in your workout program (what can you do about nipple chafing, blisters, or bruised toenails?). That's why we asked three top running experts to give us their best training tips. Read on and get ready to sail across the finish line, injury-free.
Find Your Perfect Stride
The right running technique can really help you go the distance—and may be the difference between finishing your goal and coming up short. When it comes to finding your perfect stride, think like Goldilocks: not too short, not too long, but just right.
"Short, choppy strides waste energy and cover less distance, an over-reaching stride will fatigue your muscles more quickly, says Samantha Clayton, a certified trainer and former Olympic sprinter.
Clayton recommends finding your perfect stride length by focusing on your arm drive. Here's how: Run at 70 percent of your maximum speed with your arms bent at a 90-degree angle, driving them back and forth to a full range of motion. "Play around and over-reach your arms and watch your stride length increase, limit your driving rage and your stride shortens, [use this to] find your own comfortable stride."
Be Choosy with Your Sneakers
Whether you decide to go with the barefoot trend or a more classic pair of sneakers, make sure they fit your foot perfectly.
"Get fitted at a pro running store," Clayton says. "If you are serious about completing a full marathon, it's worth the investment. Spend time getting the perfect shoe for your foot. Your friend may convince you about a specific brand, but in reality a good running shoe is not a one-size-fits-all kind of deal, some are too narrow, others too wide."
Take your time, and if your shoe is bothering you during training, take it back! It will save you money, time, and pain in the long term because bad shoes = injury, Clayton says.
Protect Your Feet from Blisters
Once you've found your perfect pair of running shoes, don't forget the importance of selecting the right socks!
"Double layered socks are a must-have professional runners item. They really work in helping to prevent the dreaded blisters," Clayton says.
SHAPE fitness editor Danielle McNally is a fan of Experia Socks by Throlos. "I would recommend those in a second," she says. "They are the best!"
Don't Just Run
While it's true that the best way to become more efficient and stronger at running is to practice running, it shouldn't be theonly thing you do while training for a race.
"Cross train at least two days a week with low-impact workouts. This will improve your overall fitness level and give your bones and joints a rest from all the miles," Clayton says.
Swimming, cycling, Pilates, yoga, and weight training are all great options for cross-training workouts.
Give Your Bones Extra TLC
Protect your bones by upping your calcium intake during training, Clayton says. "Calcium intake is essential, especially for female runners. Bone density problems occur so often in distance athletes because of the low body-fat and excessive strain placed on your body with a vigorous training schedule. A good calcium supplement will help your body maintain bone and joint health."
Gradually Increase Your Mileage
While your training plan should gradually increase your mileage as you progress, if you aren't following a specific plan, be sure to give yourself plenty of time before race day to increase your mileage slowly, Clayton says. "An increase of one to two miles per week is more than enough and will keep you on track with your goal."
Ditch the Heels
They may help your legs look sexier, but high heels aren't doing your legs any favors, especially during your training phase. High heels place unnecessary strain on your shins and calf muscles, Clayton says. "Instead, opt for cute flat sandals to give your feet a breather."
Wear a Heart Rate Monitor
Tracking your progress with a heart rate monitor can be a helpful tool to keep you accountable during your training.
"Wear a heart rate monitor and a good watch so you can keep a diary of your mile splits. It's amazing to watch your body improve over time," Clayton says. "Stay accountable to yourself, set realistic goals, and work toward them."
Find out more about calculating your heart rate training zones here.
Training outdoors is an excellent way to prepare, especially since you'll be running outside on race day. But if you live in an urban area, you may be dealing with poor air quality during your runs.
"Try to run early in the morning before all of the car pollution gets going, and avoid running on the road when possible. Instead, look for a local park or trail system," Clayton says.
If you just can't handle outdoor runs or the weather won't allow it, try altering your incline during your treadmill session to help mimic the uneven terrain you'll be covering on race day.
Ice, Ice Baby
Ice packs aren't just for injuries; You can use ice to help relieve inflammation when you don't have a specific wound too.
"After a long run, ice your shins for 5-10 minutes to relieve inflammation that may be present," Clayton says. "You see all of the baseball pitchers wear ice packs after a game just as a preventative measure. It's cheap, feels great after a run, and it works."
Prevent Nipple Chafing
This is one glorious side effect of training that no one seems to mention. Prevent the dreaded burn with a maternity bra, Clayton says. "This is a tip I got from an Olympic marathon runner—she would wear a maternity bra to keep "the girls" in place for long runs."
The nursing gel pads you can buy that slip inside a maternity bra will help prevent chafing. And if you didn't do this and are already suffering, the gel pads that you put in the refrigerator will soothe them back to health, Clayton says.
Skip the Pasta Fuel
Looking forward to carbo-loading the night before your big race? You may want to rethink that strategy, says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, an exercise physiologist and author of The Marathon Method
"We all know that you need to carb up before the race, but stuffing yourself with pasta can end up making you feel fat, slow, and lead to GI issues," He says. Instead, Holland suggests fueling up with liquid carbohydrate drinks from your local health food store.
Pre-Mix Your Gels
If you know you're going to use gels on race day, Holland recommends mixing them ahead of time for easier access and ingestion.
"Pre-mix your gels with water or a sports drink and carry them in one of the water bottle/belt systems." Most belts carry four smaller bottles each, so you can mix two gels in each bottle (for a total of eight gels) so they are ready to drink regardless of where you are on the course, Holland says. "Gels are to be taken every 30-45 minutes; I prefer every 30."
Train with the Race Day Sports Drink
"Find out what brand sports drink (and what flavor) they will be handing out on the course and use it in your training," Holland says. "Too often people have issues during the race because they are not accustomed to this beverage—get acclimated to it long before the important day."
Visualize Your Success
Athletes use visulalization all the time to help them achieve their goals, and you should too.
"Spend a few minutes several times a week 'seeing' yourself running your perfect race," Holland says. "Picture yourself running strong, executing your game plan, and crossing the finish line with your goal time on the clock above you."
Use a Mantra
Tap into the power of a personal mantra to help you get through the rough spots of your runs.
"Use self-talk on race day to help improve your performance as well as enjoyment," Holland says. "Create several mantras that you can call upon when the race gets tough to keep your mentally strong and focused. For example, 'As the race gets longer, I get stronger.' Repeat phrases such as this over and over in your head to take you through the inevitable rough patches."
Loop in Your Friends (Even if They Aren't Runners)
"Training for my first five or six marathons (I'm about to run number eight), I thought if someone was going to join me on a training run, they had to be up for the entire distance because I was running an out-and-back course," says Sarah Bowen Shea, co-author of Train Like a Mother: How to Get Across Any Finish Line and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity
"Silly me: Now I realize I can run several loops and have friends join me for part of the distance. It's a lot easier to find a friend who will join you for, say, 6 or 8 miles than 15 or 18. Recently I ran 5 miles, then met up with a friend who needed to run 10, which we then did together. It makes long runs less daunting to know you'll have a gal-pal along for part of it."
Don't Wait to Answer Nature's Call
Running while you need to, well, go is not fun—it's all you'll be able to focus on and you'll waste valuable energy keeping it in, Bowen Shea says. "If you feel the need to pee halfway through a run, don't hold it. Instead, if you're not near a public restroom, find a gas station or a Starbucks."
Worst case scenario: Hop behind a bush and relieve yourself. "Running skirts with built-in undies are incredibly discrete; just pull one side of the undies over and you've got a built in porta-potty."
Have More Fun with Distance Runs
Stop thinking about how far you have to go and start getting creative about how fun you can make your long route, Bowen Shea says.
"Go on sites like mapmyrun.com for suggestions, or ask your running buddies for their favorite routes. Use your long jaunt as an excuse to see a neighborhood your normally wouldn't or a shopping district you never get to. You see things on foot you miss in a car or train."
Clear the Chute Before You Commute
If you're running in the mornings, it's more important than ever that you learn to er, clear the chute, before you head out the door.
"Bears do it in the woods and runners have to do it before a long run… you know what I'm talking about (it rhymes with 'make a loop')," Bowen Shea says. "Some long-time runners have their bowels trained to evacuate when they wake up, but newer runners have a tougher time clearing the chute. Set your alarm early enough so you can have some vertical time before you start running. Gravity is your friend in getting things moving, as is coffee, which speeds things along for many runners."
Not a java-junkie? Drinking hot water can have the same effect.
Wear a Hat Outside
For outdoor runs, a wide-brimmed hat is a must-have, multi-purpose accessory, Bowen Shea says. "The brim shades your face and eyes when it's sunny and serves as a portable porch when it's raining—all weather you might encounter when you're out for a couple hours. And at all times, it hides bed-head."
Stash Your Water Supply
"If you're running double digits in the heat of the summer, freeze a water bottle or two the night before your run (fill it ¾ full so the water has room to turn to ice), says Dimity McDowell, co-author of Run Like a Mother: How to Get Moving and Not Lose Your Family, Job, or Sanity
You don't have to carry multiple bottles with you. Before your run, drive to a spot that you'll reach towards the end of your run and stash a bottle under a tree or in a discrete place. Some of the ice will have melted and you'll love the cool liquid, McDowell says.
Take It One Mile at a Time
"Staring down a 12-, 16-, or 20-mile run can feel very daunting," McDowell says. "Don't think of it as one long run, but break it up mentally: for a 12-miler, I often think of a 2-mile warm-up, then two, 5-mile segments, then a 2-mile cool down. If that still feels intimidating, go mile by mile," she says.
"When I get too overwhelmed by distance, I often say to myself, 'I am here now,' and do my best to stay in the moment."
Know when to Hold 'Em
Did you miss a run last week due to a morning meeting? Have to take a few days off when you caught the flu? Don't stress about it, McDowell says.
"It's super easy to become really anal about getting in every training run, but if you're sick or work gets in the way occasionally, don't sweat missing a couple runs. It is much better to get to the starting line slightly under trained than overtrained—or sick or injured."
Just make sure to get right back to your training plan as soon as you feel better and your schedule is back on track.
Just Do It
McDowell's favorite tip of all time: Don't think, just go. "When you're lying in bed and don't want to get up to run; when you've got 15 other things vying for your attention on your to-do list; when your kid (or husband) is giving you a guilt-trip about running, don't think, just go. Everything will still be there 4 miles later—and you'll be much more patient and equipped to deal with any situation."