Marathon Running 101

by Max Schwiening

The Build

Start your training off very easy, you should be able to talk while running. Make your runs as short as they need to be to be able to train every day. Try to make the total distance for the week increase each week – aim for around a 10% increase, but change this depending on how you feel. Work out the average weekly distance and speed you need in the eight weeks prior (ending one week before your marathon) using the ‘Tanda’ prediction on this website. Work in a 5-10km race or hard run once a week or fortnight in the eight weeks prior to the marathon. Don’t race the weekend before the marathon!

Quantity over Quality

A marathon is a long way, and so in training you should also run a long way. This does not mean it is necessary to do one big run every Sunday and then shorter faster runs during the week. It would be much better to slow down all of your runs to avoid injury and run further every day. Increasing the distance you run each weekday by a little bit allows you to run much further each week than trying to run really far on the weekend. Slicing your runs up into two or more a day can be very helpful in increasing your daily distance. This is especially useful if you struggle to find time during the day and you don’t want to be running around on cold winter nights. If you are lucky enough to live within a reasonable distance to your work then running your commutes can be very good – and if they seem slightly too long, remember that you could always do them later in your training when you are fit enough.

You should make all of this running slow enough that you find it relatively easy – you should never feel like you need to vomit after a run (unless you had some dodgy seafood the night before). Training fast does have its uses: as I mentioned, you should think about doing a short race every (other) weekend leading up to the marathon. This will get you used to the feeling of being in pain and pushing hard during a race so you can actually get to your limit.

Track your Runs

Recording the distance you run and at what pace is very important in being able to plan your build and check you are on target. The cheapest way would be to download the Strava app and record your runs using your phone. If you don’t want to carry your phone, you would have the plot the route you run on Google Maps and time how long it takes you. By far the best way is to use a GPS or smart watch to record your runs.

Train Hot, Race Cool

When we run, we are at most 20% efficient at using fuel to move us forwards – almost all of the rest is lost as heat. You basically become a small kettle when you run. This heat you generate goes into evaporating your sweat which cools you down. So, despite what society makes you feel – sweat is your friend. The more you can sweat, the harder you are able to work without overheating. It is possible to get better at sweating by training hot. So layer up when you train and you will grow bigger and more efficient sweat glands.

When it comes to race day, wear as few layers as is legally possible and dump as much water as possible over your head. If you have done your training right then you should be able to get around a marathon drinking and eating very little, if anything.

Train Heavy, Race Light

Training wearing heavy shoes or with a rucksack will increase the intensity of your runs without you having to increase the pace. This is very helpful as it may reduce the risk of injury and shift your perception of how hard a certain pace is. For race day, get some nice light trainers that you have run in before and go minimal on the clothing. No leggings, base layers or arm/leg warmers are necessary (unless you are doing the North Pole Marathon).

Race Smart

The hardest bit about racing a marathon is to know what pace to start out at. Most people get it completely wrong and that’s why they ‘hit the wall’. However much training you have done, it is still almost always possible to get round a marathon without ‘hitting the wall’. The problem is that the majority of runners start running the marathon at a pace much faster than they are able to sustain for the whole distance. So when 20 miles comes around, runners start dropping like flies – and this does not just happen to the average runner (see below).

To have a much more enjoyable marathon you need to run a negative split – where the second half of your run is faster than your first half. This means starting off really slow, so slow you should probably be able to talk for the first 10 miles. If you have recorded your runs then you can use them to predict how fast you can run the marathon and then set off at that pace. The website I mentioned above should predict your finish time to within 10 minutes providing you stick to the pace it tells you.

Good Luck

There are many more subtleties to marathon running than this, and much of this does not represent the current popular belief about training. All of this does have some very good scientific rationale behind it however, so if you would like to know more please feel free to message me.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford, written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff. New issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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