For many marathon runners (myself included) a big goal to is to join “the sub three club”. This is something I knew I was probably capable of, having run 3hr05 off the back of half Ironman training.
Earlier this year, having trained hard and put in specific marathon training, I finally achieved my goal and ran 2:57:30 at Brighton Marathon. I therefore thought I’d write a piece on how I approached my training whilst still having fun and effectively working full time (on placement for university, training as a physiotherapist).
I didn’t have a coach or a 16-week plan, however I trained a lot with my boyfriend (who has run a much faster marathon than I have) and knew the kind of sessions I needed to fit in. I actually started training for the marathon more than 16 weeks prior to the event following a rest at the end of triathlon season (the marathon wasn’t until April). The beauty of this was that I could have a bit of “down time” with some easier weeks with more cross training allowing for recovery and ensuring I continued to enjoy the training.
Each week I would aim to fit in an interval session on both Tuesday and Thursday, a Parkrun at tempo pace on the Saturday and a long run on Sunday. The interval session would be anything from 400m reps to 5km reps at half marathon/marathon pace and the Sunday long run would sometimes be easy off-road and sometimes included the longer intervals.
I was also careful to increase my weekly mileage and the distance of my long run gradually. As a triathlete, I continued to swim and run as well as include strength and conditioning in my weekly training. This served as great cross-training as well as reducing my risk of injury.
Compared to many runners, my weekly run mileage wasn’t actually that high. I usually ran about 60-70km a week with a couple of 100km weeks nearer race day. In the winter, I had a 35km round commute to work which I would normally cycle but occasionally ran at an easy pace with 5km at marathon pace to help fit the mileage in.
Here is an example of an average training week:
Bike commute 35km (22 miles)
Interval Swim ~3000m
Bike commute 35km
16km (10-mile) run with 5 x 1km @ 10km pace
Bike commute 35km
Interval Swim ~3000m
Bike commute 35km
12km (7.5-mile) run with 3 x 6 x 30/30 efforts
Bike commute 35km
Parkrun (~14km with 5km tempo)
70km (43-mile) bike ride (easy with efforts on hills)
22km (13.6-mile) run with 5km @ HM pace + 5km MP
Recovery Swim ~2000m
I spent a week in the South of France over New Year with my boyfriend’s family. The warmer weather and time off work meant we could have an intensive week of running and cycling training with much higher mileage, having the same effect as a “training camp”.
As part of my training, and also to get an idea of my progress/running fitness, I picked a couple of races in the lead up to the marathon. I ran PBs at Chichester 10km and Brighton Half Marathon two months prior to the marathon which gave me confidence that my training was paying off and that at the very least I was on track for a marathon PB.
Following the “warm up” races, we had a week of “down time” where we went on holiday for a week with friends to Italy. Of course, we still fitted in some running, but easy miles exploring rather than hard structured training. I think this really helped me mentally to push through the final month or so of hard training before taper time!
Come race day I knew I had been consistent with my training and that breaking three hours was definitely possible. Knowing that the second half of the marathon will always be slower than the first due to fatigue; I was very happy to run under 1:28 for the first half, after that it was just a matter of holding on to the finish, crossing the line very happily in 2:57:30.
Hopefully this can show you how it is possible to train for a marathon (be that a first marathon, PB or sub 3hrs) around a full-time job, without the crazy high mileage of some runners, whilst ensuring you have fun along the way. At the end of the day, we’re doing this for “fun” so we’d better make sure we can enjoy it!
About the author: Bethan Male is an Ironman triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
If you're a prolific runner or active in the fitness community, chances are you've heard of the phrase 'hitting the wall'. In order to learn how to avoid hitting the wall, we first must understand why it happens.
What happens to an athlete when they hit the wall?
Not every runner experiences 'hitting the wall' or 'bonking'. Researchers believe that genetics could play a part in whether you will hit the wall, as well as your general daily diet. Scientifically, what happens to an athlete when they hit the wall is that they completely run out of stored glycogen and therefore suddenly feel incredibly fatigued and in some cases physically cannot move. The athlete may experience cramping in their muscles or just a mental inability to continue forwards. When you are running low on glycogen, even your brain is affected, and so negative mental implications are also associated with hitting the wall.
Physically, a runner may experience negative thoughts, severe emotions, muscle cramping, nausea, and even an inability to walk.
What does it feel like when you hit the wall?
Every runner may experience hitting the wall differently, and some may not experience it at all. Some of the effects of hitting the wall may be:
- Blurred vision
Related: London Marathon Race Report
How to avoid hitting the wall
The best thing you can do is to train yourself enough so that you don't hit the wall at all. Follow these tips to make sure you avoid it at all costs;
Do your weekly long runs
By training consistently and increasing your mileage each week, your body will become accustomed to running on lower energy stores and will learn to store more glycogen.
Don't be afraid to walk
For many people, walking during a race is a sign of failure, but this is not true! By taking a strategic, short walk break every mile or 2 miles, you will stand a better chance of lasting the distance and you may even improve your time.
Eat and drink more than you think you need
In general, we don't drink enough water and we don't fuel enough during races. Your body needs a lot of fuel and hydration, especially if you're someone who sweats a lot, and you shouldn't be afraid to take on board a lot of energy. Drink energy drinks, sports drinks, and eat sweets. Now is not the time to worry about cavities and reducing sugar intake!
How to recover when you hit the wall
If you are unfortunate enough to hit the wall during your race, do not panic. Hitting the wall, or 'bonking', is something that is hugely feared among runners, but you can overcome it. Get sugar into your system as quickly as possible. Fizzy drinks, sports drinks, and sweets are best but anything you can find will help. Try not to just drink water as this will dilute your sodium levels and could make you rather ill. If you hit the wall when running, slow your pace so that your body can digest the food you're taking on and to give yourself a chance to recover.
It can be hard to stay motivated when running solo. Cold winters, shin splints, boring playlists... sometimes getting up and out can be the hardest part. So what about joining a running club? Have you ever thought about it? What are the benefits, and are there any drawbacks?
Running alone can be dreadfully lonely, especially on the long winter nights when you find yourself plodding along for 10 miserable miles. But who said running has to be boring? If you join a running club, you'll be among like-minded people who may be training for a specific event or just out for a fun jog with their friends. You'll meet people from your town who you may never have met otherwise, so it's a great opportunity to make friends.
There's been countless times that I've set out for a run but ended up turning back after only a mile or two because it's too cold or I'm too tired or my legs hurt too much. But if you're running with a club, there is much more motivation to keep going. You can chat to your running buddies to keep your mind occupied and you can explore new routes, which will be covered in the next point.
When I run, I'm very guilty of always going the same way, which can get very boring after a while. I'm not very adventurous with my runs because I'm never too sure of where will be safe to run, or if the route will even have pavement the whole way along. I certainly never bother to drive out to a run location; I always start and finish at home. But by joining a running club you will be encouraged to try new routes that you would never have even dreamt of before. The best part is that the distance will already be tried and tested so all you will have to do is turn up and run! You may experience runs through woodlands or off-road for the first time which is a great added bonus.
Safety In Numbers
Running alone, especially in the evening, can feel a little unsafe. Running with a club means you will be a lot safer in all aspects as there will be so many people running alongside you. Traffic is also more likely to stop to let you cross the road if there is a large number of you, so your run will be less interrupted if you are running on busy streets or in a city.
Doors to other events
Before I joined a running club, I never even thought about running a race or joining the local Parkrun. By being a member of a club, you will end up being motivated to train for events such as 10ks and half marathons, which are always more enjoyable when you have comrades to cheer you on. Feeling part of a team is a fantastic feeling.
Choosing the right club
There may well be more than one running club in your town or city, so choosing the right one is fairly important as they are not all the same. In my town for example, we have one club which is free of charge to be a member of and it is very much a relaxed group of people who love to run for fun and eat cake afterwards! There is another club which is on the other end of the spectrum, who take running very seriously, so they motivate each other in a very different way. This club has an annual fee, however being an affiliated club means you get cheaper entry to races so after a while your fee should pay for itself. Run Together has a list of nationwide running clubs, or doing a simple Google search will provide you with local clubs around you.
If you don't feel ready to join a run club just yet, why not try Parkrun? This weekly event is a 5k run held in your local park (you can find your closest Parkrun here) It is a growing community, with hundreds of participants showing up each week at each location! It is completely free of charge and you can be of any ability, many people just walk the course. It's great for those trying to improve their running as it is chip timed so you get an official finish time every time you turn up and run. The atmosphere is incredibly supportive and it will allow you to meet like-minded people from your local area who are all there for the same reason - to get fit and enjoy the process!
So what are you waiting for! Let's get running!
Whether it's for charity, to prove to yourself that you can do it, or just for fun, running your first marathon is a huge milestone. We're here with all of the information you need in preparation for running your first marathon.
Choosing your marathon
Choosing the right marathon can have a huge impact on your success and enjoyment on the day. Most people opt for one of the six World Marathon Majors as their first marathon as they are the most renowned. These marathon majors are London, New York, Chicago, Boston, Tokyo, and Berlin. These are the marathons that have gained iconic status over the years due to being so well organised, having such great support, and being set in beautiful cities.
Due to being so popular, these marathons all have difficult entry processes and you cannot simply pay an entry fee to gain a place.
London Marathon Ballot Entry
There are three ways to enter the London marathon: enter the public ballot, run for charity, or achieve a Good For Age place.
The London marathon public ballot opens at the beginning of May of each year, about a week after the race, and is open for a week to give everyone a fair chance of entering. Results are then published 6 months later in October when eager hopefuls will either receive a magazine through the post notifying them that they have been successful or a commiseration email telling them they have not got a place. A record 414,168 hopefuls entered the 2018 ballot to run in 2019, making the London marathon the most popular marathon in the world.
However, this also means your chances of getting a ballot place are very slim. In 2016, almost a quarter of a million people entered the ballot in the hopes of achieving one of the 17,000 allocated ballot places. That means that each person only had a 7% chance of getting a ballot place. With nearly twice that many people entering the ballot in 2018, your chances of gaining a ballot place are pretty tiny.
One of the easiest ways to run the London marathon is by gaining a place through a charity. There are numerous charities who provide runners with places in return for raising at least £2,000 for their charity.
Finally, there are Good For Age places. However, you have to be very speedy to attain one of these places. For a man under the age of 40 you'll have to be able to run sub 3 hours and women will have to run sub 3 hours 45.
The Boston marathon is also famed for its strict and tough entry process. For this race, you can only enter if you achieve a 'BQ' or a charity place.
If you BQ, that means you have managed to run a marathon in a Boston qualifying time. For men under the age of 35, that's sub 3 hours and for women of the same age it's sub 3 hours 30. However, it is made even harder by the fact that entries are always over subscribed each year, meaning the actual BQ time is often lower than this target.
For example, those who entered to run in 2019 had to achieve a time 4 minutes and 52 seconds faster than the qualifying standard. Therefore a man under the age of 35 would have had to achieve a BQ of under 2:55:08 - very speedy!
Entering your first marathon
Due to the strict and often difficult entry processes of the World Marathon Majors, it may be an idea to run your first marathon somewhere that allows simple paid entries. Unless you are willing to take on the stress of raising a huge amount of money alongside the gruelling training, there are plenty of other marathons out there that are perfect for your first marathon.
Three such popular marathons in the UK and Europe are Brighton marathon in East Sussex, England, Paris marathon in France, and Edinburgh marathon in Scotland. Each of these races simply require you to pay the entry fee and you're in. They are equally well organised with fantastic routes in beautiful cities and still benefit from overwhelming positive support at the sidelines. It's certainly worth considering a less famous marathon to be your first.
What is a good time to run a marathon?
Finding the right pace for you is hugely important for your first marathon, but don't try to achieve an unrealistic time. Everyone is different and a good time for your marathon will depend entirely on your age, gender, body weight, how long you've been running, and your ultimate goals. Are you just running to have fun and enjoy the experience or are you competitive and looking to run as fast as possible? As this is your first marathon, you don't yet have a personal best time to try and beat, but having a goal in mind is a great motivator.
Of course, the previously mentioned Good For Age times are an excellent indicator of just that: what is a good marathon time for your age. However, so long as you enjoy yourself and get out of it what you wanted, your time really is irrelevant.
That said, it's important to train enough that you can run a sensible pace and not end up on your feet for too long. Putting your body under that much strain can be pretty dangerous and you want to be able to put up a good fight rather than having to walk most of the course. After all, the quicker you run the quicker it will be over!
Training for your first marathon
The most important factor in your success of running a marathon is your training. Whether you're a complete beginner to exercise or you've run up to half marathon distance, running a full marathon is a completely different experience and requires full dedication as well as knowledge on nutrition and hydration.
Finding a good training plan
Your first port of call should be finding a great training plan that suits you and your goals. One of the most popular places to find marathon training plans is Hal Higdon's website. An American writer and marathon runner, Hal has written over 30 best-selling marathon training books and guides and has contributed to Runner's World longer than any other writer. His training plans cover something for everyone from the beginner to the intermediate to the advanced. For your first marathon, it's recommended to go for one of the beginner training plans.
Fitting training around work and home life
Before you commit to running a marathon, it's important to know that you must remain dedicated over several months and put in the time to train. This means your social life will likely suffer and you may need to give up things like alcohol and tighten up your diet. Speak with your family and friends about your intentions to make sure they are on board as their support could be invaluable to your success.
You also need to make sure you have the time to fit training around your work life. There are plenty of ways to fit training into your daily routine, such as running early in the morning before work, working out at work such as at lunchtime, and incorporating training into your commute. Explore these avenues and find out what is going to work best for you.
Many of the popular UK and European marathons take place in spring time, meaning you will be training over winter. This comes with its own perils such as unexpected snowfall and freezing temperatures. Make sure you have the right activewear for winter running as this will make winter training more bearable. Your essentials should be a long sleeved training top with temperature control to keep you warm without overheating and a water resistant running jacket and gloves to protect you against the elements.
Many people who have run a spring marathon say that training through the winter is the toughest part. Dark evening runs after work and cold early morning starts can make motivation difficult, but if you keep your goals in mind and stay dedicated you will be able to enjoy working out and stay motivated.
Both Berlin marathon and New York marathon take place later in the year, meaning the bulk of your training will take place over summer. As we saw in 2018, a freak heatwave can really make a difference to your training and it's important to stay safe when running in hot weather. Be sure to carry extra water and be flexible with your training. Listen to your body and adjust your speed accordingly, as running at 100% effort in soaring temperatures and blazing sunshine probably won't end well.
Nutrition and hydration
Any marathon runner will tell you that you could put in endless miles and countless training hours but it will all be for nothing if you don't crack your hydration and nutrition strategy. As we saw in London in 2018 when a woman fell into a coma after crossing the finish line, hydrating with only water can be potentially dangerous and it's important to replenish your electrolytes and sodium as well.
Drinking a sports drink and taking sodium supplements will combat this easily so make sure they are a part of your hydration and nutrition strategy. It's also important to be able to adjust your strategy for the weather on race day, as you could have been training in sub-zero temperatures but will need more water than you think on an unseasonably hot April day.
Finding what works for you
There is no one-size-fits-all hydration and nutrition plan; you will have to devise your own. Some people are fine with a few litres of water and some energy gels while others find that fuelling with real food is much more effective. You can even make your own energy gels and bars for endurance training so that you know exactly what's gone into them; especially effective for those with a sensitive stomach or a food intolerance.
Make sure you trial different things in your training to find what works for you so that there are no surprises on race day. It's also important to be as self-sufficient as possible once you have found what works for you, as not all races will have what you need at the aid stations.
What to eat during a marathon
Some of the best foods to eat during a long endurance event like a marathon include:
- Protein balls
- Peanut butter sandwiches
- Pretzels (good for sodium but can be very dry, especially if you’re dehydrated)
- Pickles and pickle juice
- Dried or fresh fruit
- Sugar cubes
- Energy gels
- Sports/electrolyte drink
Top Tip: If you take on a lot of energy gels and sugary drinks during training, brush your teeth as soon as you get home to protect against cavities and tooth loss due to the excessive sugar consumption.
Cross Training For Runners
Once you have your training plan in place, you need to make sure you are also doing effective cross training. Putting in a lot of miles is a given for marathon training, but in order to avoid injury and perform at your best you will also need to cross train.
Cross training for runners is any other type of training apart from running that will supplement and enhance your training. Some of the best types of cross training are strength training at the gym, swimming, and cycling. All of these are low impact sports which will give your joints a chance to rest after pounding the pavements for hours on end while simultaneously working your muscles and increasing your power and strength, all necessary for putting in a good performance on race day.
What to expect at your first marathon
As the big day draws near it is completely natural to start to feel nervous. You will be wanting to know what to expect at your first marathon so that it doesn't come as much of a shock. Here are some of the most common things you're likely to experience at your first marathon.
Long toilet queues
If you've done a lot of races you'll already know the frustrations of a couple of portable toilets trying to accommodate thousands of runners and this won't be any different at a major marathon. The key is to join the queue early and be patient. So long as you get there with plenty of time, you won't miss the start and the time you spend in the queue would just be time spent pacing back and forth in your starting pen anyway. A top tip is to take a small amount of toilet paper with you as there probably won't be any by the time you get to the front of the queue.
A busy start
The start of a marathon with thousands of runners is always going to be busy and it may take a while to cross the start line. At this point you will be feeling pretty anxious and nervous but also very excited. Take this time to make sure you have everything you need and in place ready to run. Make sure your running watch is ready to go and switch it on early to make sure it can find a GPS signal among all the people.
Setting off too fast
All the excitement of the start may well cause you to set off too fast. Stick to your pacing plan and keep an eye on your watch to help you stay on track. Don't be tempted to rush off with everyone else; keep calm and start sensibly so that you can enjoy the race.
Hitting the wall
This is one of the most common fears among marathon runners and for good reason. Hitting the wall can take the form of anything from feeling a little lightheaded to physically not being able to move. The key to not hitting the wall when running is to stick to your nutrition and hydration strategy and to stay as hydrated as possible.
Read race reports
If you want to be well prepared on what to expect for the particular marathon you are running, it's a great idea to read race reports from people who have been there, done it, and got the finisher's t-shirt.
Experiencing the best day of your life
Even if you're hobbling along with sore feet, painful joints, and no energy, when you hit that finish line it will all be forgotten and you will remember this as one of the best days of your life. Running a marathon is a huge accomplishment and all of the long training sessions, dedication, and compromise will be worth it when you cross that line. The elation you feel will be like nothing else.
Getting to the start line uninjured
One thing you will hear from a lot of people training for a marathon, whether it's their first or their 10th, is that getting to the start line uninjured is a big deal. It can be all too easy to over-train and end up with an injury that hinders your chances of performing at your best or even running at all. Some of the most common running injuries are caused by pushing yourself too hard and doing too much too soon, especially if you're new to running.
In order to stay injury-free, always listen to your body during training and don't underestimate the importance of rest. Some of the best ways to deal with running injuries are not to push through the pain, learn from your mistakes, and don't rush your comeback. Rest up and ease back into your training gently. Ideally, you shouldn't get injured at all when training for a marathon. So long as you eat well, train smart, and listen to your body, you should be good to go.
Organising with family and friends
Of course, for your big day you will want your family and friends to be there to support you. There's nothing worse than running along wondering where they are and when you'll see them, distracting you from your performance. Before the race, make sure you all agree where they will be standing to watch you so that you know when to expect them.
A top tip is to see them towards the end of the race when you're needing some extra encouragement. Not only will they encourage you towards the finish line, but knowing that you get to see them soon could keep you going when the race starts to get tough at the halfway point. We recommend Mile 20 as the optimum place to arrange to see your supporters.
Taking the plunge and signing up for your first marathon is a huge step. The build up can be a rollercoaster of emotion, pain, and endless training runs. Follow these tips to make sure you succeed at your first marathon and create memories to last a lifetime.
My First Marathon
1. Research the course before you go
One of the most mentally challenging things in running can be having to tackle a tough course that you're not ready for. Most big city marathons will be largely flat, but check out the course profile online before you go so that there are no inclines that will take you by surprise and drain you mentally as well as physically.
2. Read reviews and race reports from people who have run it before
Every marathon is different, and some will have little quirks that you might not have prepared for. Read up on reports by people who have run your particular marathon before so that you can be mentally ready for a course that might be overcrowded or not have the aid stations you're expecting.
3. Fuel and hydrate properly
This is most people's downfall and can be the difference between crossing the line in victory and ending up in a heap on the floor at mile 20! Create a fuel and hydration strategy well before the race and stick to it throughout your training. Choose whether you're going to use gels, bars, fruit, sugar, or sports drinks to fuel you and bear in mind the aid stations on route may well not have what you're used to.
4. Plan your outfit carefully
One of the worst feelings in the world is chafing badly during a long run. Plan exactly what you're going to wear and train in it well before the race. Which trainers will you wear? Do they give you blisters? Will your sports bra chafe? Will your shorts ride up? Think about every possibility to make sure you are as comfortable as possible so that you can just focus on your running and nothing else.
5. Don't overtrain
One of the biggest challenges in marathon training is getting to the start line uninjured. Don't increase your weekly mileage by more than 10% each week and as soon as you start to feel a niggle, ease off. It is far better to miss one or two training runs than pushing through the pain, getting injured, and having to miss two or even three weeks of training.
6. Don't compare yourself to others
Everyone is different with different goals and different abilities. Don't compare yourself to someone who has run many marathons before and has a goal of finishing over an hour quicker than you. It will just make you feel less confident in your own abilities and could lead to overtraining. Set your own goals and stick to your own game plan. Just because someone is running 70 miles a week doesn't mean that is right for you.
7. Check the weather
The last thing you want is to get to the start line feeling great, uninjured, and then suffer from heat exhaustion. A lot of major European marathons are held in April which can be a very changeable month. One year it may be 25 degrees Celsius but on your race day it might only be 8 degrees and raining. Make sure you prepare for any eventuality and that you plan your outfit accordingly. Check the weather the week leading up to the event so that you can be as prepared as possible.
8. Don't try anything new on race day
This is a piece of advice you'll hear a lot, but it's not overrated, definitely heed it! This means no new foods, no new drinks, and no new outfits. You never know how your body might react to a new food or drink and you don't want to be rushing to the portaloo every mile of the run. The same goes with new clothes, as you won't know if they chafe or not. Your comfort is paramount so only go with tried and tested things that you've used in training.
9. Co-ordinate with family and friends
If you're struggling, seeing family and friends cheering you on can be a huge morale boost. Make sure you co-ordinate with them before the race so that they know exactly where to stand and you know where to expect them. The big marathons can get exceptionally crowded and thinking that you've missed each other can be a huge distraction to your running.
10. Enjoy yourself!
This is last but by no means least. You signed up for this race for yourself and no one is going to run it for you. No matter what your motives for doing it, you need to remember to enjoy yourself! Unless you are a professional athlete, you don't need to take it too seriously, so don't let setbacks kill your vibe and try your best to go with the flow. A marathon is a huge event and you can't predict everything that's going to happen. Try to have fun and at the end make sure you know just how proud of yourself you should be!