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Article: 5 tips before starting to train for a marathon

5 choses à savoir avant de s’entraîner pour un marathon
Marathons & Semi

5 tips before starting to train for a marathon

Deciding to train for a marathon can't be a decision taken lightly. The marathon is a demanding event that will push your body and mind to the limit. This is true for a first marathon and still holds true for a 10th or 20th marathon.

It is advisable, especially if it is your first marathon, to consult a doctor to make sure there are no medical risks. Beforehand, you also need to make an objective assessment of your level of fitness in order to define an appropriate length of training and a gradual build-up of endurance with the ultimate aim of running the marathon and enjoying yourself (not suffering from the first to the last mile, even though there will be difficult moments to get through anyway). Depending on your level of fitness and/or experience, it may be a good idea to start by training for a 10km or half-marathon before ‘moving up’ to the mythical distance of the marathon. If you feel you're ready, don't hesitate, just go for it. Crossing the finish line of a marathon is magical!

To help you meet this challenge, here are 5 things you should know before starting your marathon preparation:

 1. Choose and plan your training programme carefully

The starting point in terms of fitness and experience of this type of event and the average speed you are targeting are the key parameters for choosing a training plan. In simple terms, the ‘lower’ the starting point in terms of fitness (it's all relative!), the longer the duration of marathon training should be. The traimning period should last between 3 and 6 months. The higher and more ambitious the speed target, the greater the frequency of training, including high-intensity sessions.

There are a large number of options for finding your ideal training plan. Once you've chosen one, you'll need to plan the different sessions each week, respecting as far as possible the order of the sessions and, above all, the recovery periods between sessions. If you don't manage to complete or miss one of the sessions, don't panic. If you've been following most of the programme, you can afford to miss a session here or there. However, this should remain the exception rather than the rule, so that you can benefit from the cumulative effect of training week after week. You also need to be careful to keep building-up gradually and not to rush through the training stages, otherwise you could end up injuring yourself, which could partially or totally compromise your goal of taking part in the marathon you had targeted.

2. Plan the right frequency and variety of training sessions

The second key point is to make sure that in your training plan, and then in your day-to-day training schedule, you define and apply a frequency and variety of training sessions which correspond to your level and your objectives. As far as frequency is concerned, a minimum of three sessions is essential and, apart from elite runners at the highest level, 5 sessions a week would be our recommended upper limit for amateur runners. Below 3 sessions, there's a risk that your body won't adapt sufficiently, and on the day of the marathon, the race could quickly turn into a tough experience, especially in the second half. Above 4 sessions a week, beware of the risk of injury linked to overtraining. It's essential in any case to plan for at least one day of complete rest a week (without doing any sport).

In terms of the variety of training sessions, you need to make sure that you include diverse runs each week with a long run, a run at threshold, a recovery run and a speed or interval session (short or long). The breakdown of the different sessions can be based on the number of weekly sessions, with at least three key sessions: a recovery run, an interval or speed session and a long run. For 4 sessions a week, you can add a run at threshold and for 5 sessions a week, you can double-up on high intensity or interval sessions (one with short intervals and one with long intervals). 

Sessions 

Recovery 

Threshold

Intervals (short) Intervals (long)

Long run

3

1x

 

1x

1x

4

1x

Option A

Option B

1x

1x

5

1x

1x

1x

1x

1x

 

3. Make sure you get enough sleep and recovery time

Without good recovery and quality sleep during a marathon preparation, it is difficult to make progress and the risk of injury increases significantly. Resting allows the muscles to repair themselves, i.e. to repair the micro-tears caused by training. Recovery also helps to strengthen the immune system, so you can stay in good health as your body gradually gets used to the demands of intense physical activity. Finally, on a mental level, recovery and sleep are essential to avoid fatigue caused by repetitive training and to stay positive and focused on the goal.

If there's one key moment in your marathon preparation when you need to pay even more attention to good recovery and quality sleep, it's during the last week, just before the event. This last week is crucial if you are to arrive as fresh as possible on race day. The intensity and duration of training should drop sharply during this final week, while recovery periods and sleep should increase over the same period.

4. Eat a balanced diet & stay sufficiently hydrated

Just like sleep and recovery, nutrition and hydration play a major role in a successful marathon preparation. This is true not only throughout training, but also just before, during and after the race. To run a marathon, we use our body almost as a machine that will sustain a high pace for several hours. And to maintain this high pace, our body, like any other machine, needs energy, which it will consume throughout the race. Our body needs to be perfectly hydrated to regulate its temperature (the role of perspiration) and regularly fed to replenish its energy reserves, reserves that are essential to the proper functioning of our muscles. We are often reminded, for example, that a 2% drop in our hydration level would result in a 20% drop in our performance. This is a tenfold relationship between cause and effect. So it's vital to stay hydrated and eat properly throughout the training phase and, of course, on race day.

As we don't all react in the same way to different options in terms of food and hydration, it's important not to forget to try and validate what suits you best in terms of digestion, whether it's drinks or food (gels, chocolate bars, bananas, etc.). There's nothing like long, weekly runs to experiment and validate the right options. Be careful not to venture too far on race day in terms of hydration and nutrition. It's definitely not the right day to end up with a twisted stomach and an interminable end to the race.

5. Test and validate your equipment 

    Our final tip to a successful preparation for a marathon is to choose and test your equipment, i.e. your running shoes, running clothes and accessories. During a marathon, you will potentially hit the ground between 30,000 and 50,000 times (less for elite runners). You'll also lose between 3 and 5 litres of sweat, depending on the length of your marathon, the ambient temperature and humidity on race day and your natural tendency to sweat a lot or a little. This means that the right equipment in terms of footwear (particularly to absorb repeated impacts on the ground) and clothing (comfortable, lightweight, quick-drying to wick away perspiration) will play a key role on race day to give you the best chance of success.

    As with your diet, make sure you test your shoes and clothing (and possibly accessories such as a cap, socks, bib holder, etc.) well before race day. I once made the mistake of buying new shoes a few days before a 70 kilometre race. My ankles still remember it. The shoes were too high on the sides for me and during the race it felt like they were cutting into my ankles with every step. So on race day, you need to arrive with tried and tested equipment, with no risk of any nasty surprises during the marathon.

    By following these five key tips before starting your marathon preparation, you'll greatly increase your chances of ‘succeeding’ in your preparation and, above all, of enjoying an unforgettable experience on race day. Running the famous 42 kilometres and 195 metres of a marathon is a unique experience, both difficult and extremely gratifying (as soon as you cross the finish line and for a long time afterwards). So you might as well give yourself every chance of arriving fully prepared and creating great memories of a unique day.

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