10 tips to help you stick to your marathon training plan

Marathon Training Plan

If you’ve signed up for a 2016 spring marathon, you’ll either have started training already, or very soon will do.

I’m a bit of a geek, so I love this bit. I love spreadsheets, and bright colours, and sparkly star stickers (gotta motivate yourself somehow, right!?) and calculating training paces and mileage and different running routes.

But  marathon training is nothing if not a learning experience (read: 16+ weeks of trial and error), and over the past 2 years there are a lot of things that have changed the way I structure my training and plan my race goals.

Hopefully you’ll find some of them useful – and if there are any other tips and tricks that you know of, I’d love to hear them 😀

 1) Prepare everything the night before

If there’s one thing that is guaranteed to make me hit the snooze button, it’s waking up at 6am and realising that I forgot to sort out my running gear in advance. Stumbling around in the dark, half asleep, trying to find your socks/jacket/gloves? Ain’t nobody got time for that 😉 Instead, make sure your Garmin is charged, organise your kit, fuel, hydration and gadgets the night before – and even better, put your gym kit on the radiator before you go to bed. Toasty running gear is THE BEST.

2) Don’t just plan the time – plan the whole workout.

It’s all well and good telling yourself you’ll go to the gym at 6am, or you’ll run for an hour. But if there’s no specific goal/purpose for a training session, it’s all too easy to hit snooze and sleep right through it (or binge-watch Netflix, instead…) What do you want to achieve? Intervals, tempo run, strength session, marathon pace run? How far, how long, what pace, how many reps? Plan it out beforehand, so you don’t have to figure it out on the go.

3) Have breakfast ready.

Runger is real, people. And there’s nothing better than having a seriously tasty breakfast to reward yourself with after an early-morning workout (or an epic dinner, if you’re more of an evening person!) Whether that’s a smoothie, a big bowl of porridge, or eggs and bacon (NOM), you’d be surprised how much it can motivate you to keep going. Or maybe that’s just me – I do like my food 😀

4) Make yourself accountable.

Go with a friend, book a PT session or a class, stick that training plan up where your other half can see it, or tell your coworkers or family to nag you if you don’t go. If you’re going to get some slack for, well, slacking, you’re far less likely to do it! And we all know that whilst you might grumble a bit at the time, once you’re out there you’ll be glad for the hassle.

The only workout you’ll regret is the one you didn’t do. 

We all know there’s some truth to that little cliché…

5) Get into a routine!

Studies show that it takes 21 days to form a habit. That means that whilst it might feel like a great idea at the time, hitting the snooze button will just make it harder to get up for that next early workout. If you’re not a morning person, plan your workouts for the evening; but try and keep things consistent. If you always run at 7pm on a Tuesday, for example, eventually it’ll become a no-brainer – and you’ll be laced up and out the door before you know what’s hit you!

6) Be flexible.

It’s a given that there will be good days and bad days. Don’t be surprised or disheartened if you smash your PB one week, only to struggle at a slower pace the next. Marathon training is tough on your body, and the fatigue caused by building your mileage over the weeks and months can have an effect on your pace. Above all else, listen to your body. If you need to shorten a run, switch one for cross-training, or take a day off, do it. Trust me, tweaking the plan is much better than pushing through a niggle to hit your mileage goals. Life happens – roll with it 😉

7) Make the most of your rest days.

During my first round of marathon training, I assumed cross-training was the same as recovery, and continued to cycle commute almost every day. I soon learned the hard way that as far as my body is concerned, it’s definitely not! Regardless of your fitness levels, give yourself at least one day a week to rest and recover – and leave cross training for another day. Rest is just as important as every other session on your schedule, and you should treat it that way. It’s the time when your muscles repair and get stronger! Plan it into your schedule like any other session, and enjoy putting those feet up 😉 You earned it!

8) Set a realistic goal

I didn’t set a target time for my first marathon because, simply put, I didn’t even know if I’d be able to finish. But regardless of whether your goal is to get round comfortably, or nab that BQ, it’s important to be realistic. Because let’s face it, if you decide you want to run a sub-4 marathon but are really more comfortable running at 11:00/mile, you’re just going to feel down and demotivated (and probably injure yourself!) when you try and fail to hit the pace in training. If you’re not sure where to start, Runners World offers a great race time predictor, which gives you a target finishing time based on a recent race. (There’s also a training pace calculator, which you can use to tailor each of your sessions). Much better than picking an arbitrary time goal just because the entry form told you to!

It’s also a good idea to book a half marathon part way through your training, to test out your target marathon pace under race conditions.

9) Keep a training log

It’s easy to get into the habit of judging each session in isolation, but it’s important to remember that marathon training is a long process, and you won’t necessarily see progress day to day (or even week to week). Keeping a training log is a great way to get some perspective on the hard work you’re putting in. If you want a benchmark, you could use a session that you repeat on a regular basis (I do a weekly 5k, for example). Being able to look back over your training when you get to the big miles will remind you how far you’ve come – and also give you the confidence of knowing that you’re capable of much more than you’d expect!

10) Remember why you’re doing it.

When things get tough, there’s no better motivation than reminding yourself of why you signed up in the first place. Are you running for charity? To lose weight? In memory of someone special? Whatever it is, write your mantra down and stick it on the fridge, print it across the top of your plan, write it on your hand, and repeat it to yourself in those tough later stages. Trust me, running is 90% a mental effort, and having something positive and inspiring to repeat to yourself through the miles will give you just the boost you need.

Let’s do this marathon thing!

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Are you training for a spring race? Which one?

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6 thoughts on “10 tips to help you stick to your marathon training plan

  1. Nice post – and glad it is not just me that uses breakfast as a motivational tool……. 🙂 I’ve got London lurking ever-nearer on the horizon and have to keep reminding myself that January isn’t that far away!

    • Haha, food definitely works! 😀 And that’s exciting – good luck! I’d love to run London, but it was 4th time unlucky for me in the ballot this year. One day…

  2. Great post! Another good tip is to set yourself monthly targets either by reaching a certain distance or being able to run at a certain pace or even run 5k before you start your training plan and re-test it at the end of the month. I’m training for Paris and have set myself monthly targets based on what I want out of my training in each particular month. Happy running!

    • That’s a really cool way of doing it! I love the idea of having monthly targets. Keeps you on track but also breaks up the training a bit, and offers little doses of motivation along the way 🙂

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