Pre-Training Prep

prepare to train

This time of year, many runners have registered for fall races, and are eager to get started, but you can’t just start from ground zero. There are a variety of steps you can take in the weeks and months before you officially start your training to ensure that you unleash your potential on race day. Here are some tips from coach and exercise physiologist Tara Whiton on how to get a smart start to your marathon training.

Build your base. 

A very general rule of thumb, says Whiton, is that you should be able to comfortably run 25 to 40 miles per week before starting marathon training. That should include one long run of at least 60 to 70 minutes. “From there you should have a pretty solid base of fitness to begin slowly building,” That said, she cautions, mileage volume is very individual. While some people excel with higher-mileage training, others perform better with lower mileage but higher intensity. Reflect on the running you’ve done and think about how well you respond to and recover from various forms of running, she advises. Are you struggling to recover from workouts? Are you suffering from nagging injuries and soreness, and constantly grappling with feeling burnt out? Those may be signs that you need to switch it up, says Whiton, a Brooks-sponsored coach who helps runners prepare for a wide variety of races, from 5Ks to marathons, ultramarathons, trail races, and mountain races. “If most of your runs are exhausting and you're not recovering from them, it may be time to try something new,” she says.

Develop good habits. 

When you’re training for a long-distance event like a marathon, the little things count. "Recovery from tough workouts, which is often neglected by runners, is arguably more important than the training itself,” says Whiton. “If you never allow recovery to happen, you never adapt to the training.” So take time before marathon training to get into good habits that will help sustain you until race day: warm up properly before each run with dynamic stretches and make time for three to four sessions of strength training each week. Whiton also recommends at least one day of yoga each week, in addition to stretching and mobility work after each run. Be sure to refuel after tough workouts with wholesome carbs and protein, and rehydrate so you can bounce back quickly for your next workout.

Clean up your diet. 

If you want your body to log a peak performance, you have to fuel it with high-octane, high-quality fuel. Focus on maintaining a well-balanced diet with whole foods—minimize the amount of processed food you consume. If you feel like you want to shed pounds, work on that before marathon training officially begins, while your training volume is still relatively low. Once you start running longer and logging more intense workouts, it becomes much more difficult if not impossible to shed pounds. You might try replacing after-dinner dessert with a high-protein snack, replacing high-calorie snacks with veggies, and eating every two to three hours rather than having three large meals. You’ll also want to make sure you’re well hydrated. So get in the habit of consuming water throughout the day, and ditching high-calorie drinks. Aim to consume half your body weight in ounces of fluids each day. So if you weigh 130 pounds, aim for 65 ounces of water each day.

Once marathon training officially begins, you’ll want to make sure you’re adequately fueling up for each workout. You’ll want to have a carb-rich meal or snack before your run. And if your run is longer than 70 minutes, be sure to pack mid-run fuel and hydration, and refuel after you’re done with a wholesome snack of carbs and protein. “Getting in enough protein throughout training is extremely important for repairing and rebuilding muscle that is broken down during training,” she says. Once you reach the peak of training—with your longest runs and highest training volume—you’ll want to shoot for 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.  You’ll also want to make sure you’re consuming enough carbohydrates. “Replenishing this after running is super important for your next exercise session,” she says. “You may not feel that you need it, but you will know when you start your next session. If you are sluggish, it probably means you are not fully ‘stocked up’ on energy. 

Address any pain.

You don’t want to start marathon training unless you’re pain and injury free, says Whiton. If you’re nursing nagging aches and pains when you start adding volume and intensity, the discomfort is only going to get worse. “Find a physical therapist who is knowledgeable about running and strength training,” she says. And above all, “Do your physical therapy and strength exercises diligently.” Simply seeing a physical therapist for treatment isn't going to fix the issue unless you make a conscious change in your day-to-day life and routine, Whiton adds. 

Get some gear. 

Get fit in a shoe that meets your needs. Be sure to get a good pair of running socks. If you're a female, get fit in a good sports bra. Get clothing made of synthetic materials that wick away moisture to avoid chafing. It’s also a good idea to get a hydration vest or hand-held water bottle for long runs. If you want to log your miles and track your pace, consider investing in a training watch.

About Jen Van Allen

Jen has spent the past six years working as Special Projects Editor for Runner's World magazine, and writing stories for the magazine. She also has a book, The Runner's World Training Journal for Beginners, and contributes stories to The Portland Press Herald.