1) Run just enough – you need to stay healthy. It does you no good to train so hard that you get sick or injured. It’s better to be slightly under trained, but having fresh legs on race day. If you can, find a “coach” or an experienced runner at your gym who can listen to you and help to guide you throughout your training.
2) Build on your training slowly & take the time to recover – don’t increase weekly mileage before you’ve had a chance to slow things down. Take recovery weeks as well as recovery days as necessary. You can successfully train for a marathon by running 4 times per week if you mix in cross-training. My plans include at least 1 rest day (no running or cross training) per week.
3) Complete all of your scheduled long runs. To successfully complete a marathon, you need to get accustomed to being on you feet for three, four or more hours. Most experts recommend running for 2.5 to 3 hours at a minimum for your longest run. If you’re a 4:30 minute marathoner, you should probably includes some walks to stretch out your longest runs. Don’t forget, the key is to get to the starting line healthy and strong.
4) Include practice runs at marathon pace. These are longer runs at the same pace you intend to run during the marathon. I recommend an easy 2 mile warm-up, then gradually speed your pace over 4-5 miles until you are at marathon pace. Then run 6-8 miles at marathon pace. Finish with an easy 1-2 miles. As your training progresses, increase the amount of time and distance run at race pace. 2 weeks prior to the marathon, I like to complete a 1/2 marathon with the last 12 miles at race pace.
5) Run your intervals. Get on the track no less than 3 weeks per month. Work your way from 200 meter and 400 meter repeats to 1200 and 1600 meter (mile) repeats. Intervals build endurance and speed very efficiently. Completing intervals regularly helps your body to handle oxygen debt and provides training for overcoming mental barriers.
6) Add variety to your speedwork by mixing in hills & fartlek. Speed work is the best way for an experienced runner to improve their marathon time. However, intervals aren’t the only way to get in speedwork. Go to a marked bike trail and run fast quarter miles followed by easy quarter to half miles. Run the trails in a local forest park. Typically these parks are loaded with hills. Just be careful to avoid ankle injuries.
7) Cross training lets you improve your fitness while you rest. Cross training gives you a break from the pounding of running. Cycling, swimming, elliptical or stationary bike are all excellent cross-training exercises. I also recommend using light weights (10-15 lb dumbbells) and body weight (push-ups) for additional exercises.
8) Don’t forget proper nutrition and sleep. Most marathon plans do not include nutrition information or they just address pre race nutrition. You need to maintain a balanced diet throughout your training that includes lean meats, plenty of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and a variety of beans & low fat dairy products. Also critical to diet is to minimize alchohol, maximize water intake and get plenty (7-8 hours per night) of sleep.
9) Enter some races prior to the marathon. This is particularly important for first time marathoners. Running a few races like 10k, 15k or 1/2 marathons are optimal. This will help you get used to the race experience, which entails night before the race preps (including meal), getting to the race early, running in a crowd, taking on liquids, pre and post race eating/recovery. Don’t race too often, but just a few to get the accustomed to racing. Also, on weeks when you race, cut back your mileage slightly. It’s easiest to eliminate the long run the week of the race.
10) Don’t forget to taper starting no less than 2 weeks before the race. Ease up your training before the race. During your marathon training the body gets worn down and is depleted of its enzyme, glycogen, and hormonal stores. A 2 week taper gives the body plenty of time to repair muscle tissue and help you feel strong the day of the race.