I’m excited to have my sights set on another marathon, this one in Honolulu on December 10. But since it’s still pretty far away (32 weeks!), I’ve found myself wondering what I can do to get ready for the “formal” training period I’m planning to start in late summer—and I’m guessing I’m not alone, since there are plenty of big races on the horizon. (The New York City, Chicago, and Berlin marathons are 27, 23, and 21 weeks out, respectively.) Enter the pre-training plan for marathon prep.
“Most marathon training plans range from 16 to 20 weeks in length, and you can make your formal marathon training experience go more smoothly [with] what you do (and don’t do) in the weeks preceding training,” says Angie Spencer, certified running coach and registered nurse. Many runners underestimate how demanding training will be, and slacking off until you officially start the process can set you up for injury and frustration, she adds. Plus, Spencer notes that waiting to figure out things like your nutrition, gear, and fueling might cause you additional stress. Bottom line? It’s probably best to do some pre-training prep.
In general, Spencer recommends connecting with a support system before you start training. “Having the support and encouragement of people who understand the marathon training journey can be so beneficial,” she says. Even your closest family and friends may not understand what you’re doing (or want to hear so much running talk!) she explains, so you might seek out a local running group or an online community. “Many runners taking on the challenge of marathon training choose to work with a certified running coach to take the guesswork out of the equation,” Spencer adds, noting that doing so can be particularly helpful if you’re chasing a PR or tackling your first 26.2.
To help you get ready to get ready for a big race—whether it’s this fall or far in the future—below you’ll find Spencer’s top recs for when you’re 24, 22, and 20 weeks out. (And BTW, she believes they’re especially important tips if you’re training for your first marathon or if it’s been more than a year since you’ve trained for a marathon.)
Week 24 of the Pre-Training Plan for Marathon Prep
Build a solid running base.
It’s important to start your marathon training plan with a solid foundation. Gradually work up to consistently running 3 to 5 days per week and get your mileage level near that of what your training plan has you starting at. That will help prepare your body for the rigors of marathon training and be one key to preventing injury.
Start a strength training practice.
Running is a single-leg activity because, during each stride, only one foot is in contact with the ground. When you run, your weight shifts from one leg to the other, and each leg has to support your entire body weight. This means that each leg has to generate and absorb force, which requires strength, stability, and coordination. Working on full-body strength can make you a stronger runner and decrease the chance of injury.
Read also: What kind of strength training should I do if I run alot?
Know your “why.”
Training for a marathon is physically and mentally demanding (and can take a lot of time). It’s important to nail down solid motivation before you’re in the thick of training. Solid “why’s” that will help you go the distance come from internal motivation and because you want to challenge yourself. Less stellar motivations include things like training to lose weight or because someone talked you into the race.
Related: How do you stay motivated?
Take a look at your nutrition.
The way your body responds to training and the ability it has to recover is closely linked to your nutritional choices. Make sure that you’re eating a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. It’s also important to make sure your body is getting plenty of calories to promote endurance and adaptation.
Figure out your gear.
It can be helpful to have at least two pairs of relatively new, comfortable running shoes prior to marathon training. Trying to figure out the shoes you like during training can increase stress and frustration. I recommend alternating between two different pairs of trainers to prolong the life of the shoes and to challenge different muscles in your feet. In addition to shoes you can figure out comfortable shorts, leggings, sports bras, socks, and hydration systems. Also, don’t forget to be prepared with anti-chafing ointment: Long runs can often reveal areas that are prone to chafing and this can be painful to learn the hard way.
Zero in on fueling and hydration.
One of the most challenging aspects of running long distance is learning how to support your body with hydration and fuel. Some runners are able to use a wide range of products but others have sensitive stomachs which are exacerbated during long runs. It can be helpful to calculate your fueling and hydration needs and begin to practice with products prior to marathon training—that way you can figure out if you plan to use the fuels provided on the marathon course or need to carry your own.
Let’s get you started on the pre-training plan for marathon prep. And stay tuned for our complete marathon workout plan.
Never really done any running before? Check out how to get started with running for the first time.
Got questions? Send them our way! Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter.