Laying the marathon groundwork

Whether it’s your first marathon or your 3,333rd, prepping early could mean less injuries, a quicker time and a smoother training ride. Check out these tips from running gurus Nick Anderson and Rebecca Cox

Charlotte ThomasFour months 24 days and 21 hours until Virgin London Marathon 2014. Shit, it’s not actually that long is it?

Particularly if you haven’t really been doing much running over the summer. Erm, like me.

By now, most of you will know if you’ve got a place in London or another spring marathon next year. And while most training plans typically start three or four months out, there’s no harm in putting in the prep work now. Tempting as it is to leave everything until after Christmas, going from nothing to full on marathon training is not ideal, as I learnt to my detriment last year.

When I ran my first marathon in 2011 I had been running all summer, I really enjoyed training and had no injuries whatsoever. Last year, different story.  After months of skiving I went straight into a (far too fast) 3.30 marathon plan with legs, lungs and mind that just weren’t ready for it. All runs were painful, I pushed too hard to try to get back up to the speed I’d been running in 2011 (when I was much fitter) and I broke. My hips were fooked and I tore my calf meaning I could hardly walk for weeks let alone run. Marathon deferred. Bollocks.

This year, I’m going to be clever about the whole business. I’m not going to go all out so I’m sick to death of running by the time training ‘proper’ starts, but I am going to use the next few weeks to get my body prepped, prepared and used to running again. My plan is to try and get three runs in a week, one long and steady, one tempo and one whatever the devil I feel like – a run just for the fun of running, yeah! I’ve actually got knee issues at the moment so slow and steady is the key. Much as I don’t want to, I’m also going to try and build in a strength session to get my legs ready for the onslaught. But while I can think about what I want to add to my heart’s content, it’s probably best to get some advice from the experts. So I asked running coach Nick Anderson of and personal trainer and TomTom running coach Rebecca Cox for a bit of advice.

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Nick’s tips

Nick AndersonNick Anderson is a running coach with For detailed marathon training plans, tips, strength exercises, stretches and more check out the training platform

For the beginner
Between now and the new year aim to get to a point where you can comfortably run between 30 and 60 minutes without stopping. This way you’ll have a basic foundation when marathon training starts. Don’t worry about including hills or faster runs, at this point time spent on your feet is the most important thing. Aim for around three runs a week at a conversational pace and add in some cross training such as the gym, spinning or swimming to build up your aerobic fitness.

For the improver
If you’ve done a half or full marathon before and are looking to improve, aim for three to five runs a week. One of these should be a long run – there’s no need to run for longer than 90 mins, you want to keep some gas in the tank for when your training schedule hits. Also include a threshold run (a pacey run where you can only give a 3-4 word answer rather than hold a conversation. It should feel like controlled discomfort. For many this is somewhere between 10k and half marathon effort or 80-85% of maximum heart rate). Four x five-minute bursts with a two-minute jog recovery is a great place to start. A weekly pre-breakfast morning run is also a good idea so your body can learn to run off stored fats. I’d also recommend cross training, as long as you don’t neglect your running, we find people who run one day a week less and cross train instead are less likely to get injured or overtired. You’re still working aerobically but you’re gaining strength without impact. Keep yourself race sharp by scheduling in some parkruns and a 10k race before the new year.

For the seasoned club runner
You’re probably already running four or five times a week, racing cross country, regular parkruns and the odd 10k so you’ll be going into marathon training in great shape. I’d carry on training like this until Christmas including one regular threshold run and a long run of not much longer than 90 mins each week. After Christmas its time to focus slightly more on the threshold getting longer, long runs increasing and including continuous/Kenyan hills. The speed work returns 5-6 weeks before the marathon when its time to sharpen up so you’re race ready.

In general
Add in at least one core and general strength session a week.
Stronger muscles and a stronger core will improve your running form and economy and reduce the risk of injury. You can find some basic strength and core exercises on runlounge here

I’d advocate stretching every day even on rest days, particularly your glutes lower back, hamstring, quads and calves.

See a physio for a general MOT. They’ll be able to highlight any areas you may need to work on that could become a problem during training. It’s definitely better to get a physio’s advice now than when it’s too late.

Look at your nutrition – and be honest! You want to fuel your running and fuel your recovery with healthy choices. You should aim to never feel hungry and never over full. Graze on healthy snacks throughout the day. We see many runners whose performance suffers because they haven’t had time to eat at work so go prepared and try to get into a routine by keeping oatcakes on your desk and carrying a banana, nuts or a sandwich with you.

If you’re going to experiment with new shoes now’s the time to do it. You’ll probably need a new pair before the marathon but you can find out what’s comfy and what works.

Enter one or two races to monitor your progression and practice training in a race situation. Many of the popular pre-marathon halves start filling up now so get your entry in. Ideally schedule one for February and one for March.

And, massive plug here, if you fancy a week of focused training check out our warm weather training camps in Portugal. Held in the middle of March they’re great last-minute marathon prep, plus the hotel’s right on the beach! Details here.

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Rebecca’s tips

Rebecca CoxRebecca is a personal trainer and running coach and pacer for TomTom. For details about training with Rebecca visit


Start to think like an athlete
Sounds wanky, I know. But if you really want to get your marathon training off to the best possible start you need to start thinking like an athlete. This mindset should enter every part of your training. How you eat, how you rest and how you train. Most importantly, it should affect how you prepare for your training and ultimately, your races. Would Jess Ennis go into a training session thinking ‘I’ll just see what happens’. Nope she has goals for each session. Start to think about what you want to achieve from each run or training session. Is this session about speed? Is it about strength? Endurance?

Make the odd sacrifice
The mindset of an athlete is also about sacrifice. Are you really going to get the best out of your Sunday morning run if you get twatted the night before? Hard as it is, particularly at this time of year, you may have to turn down a few parties (although not all, obviously we all need a bit of down time), a few glasses of wine and a few sausage rolls if you really want to train to be your best.

Get strong
Muscle wastage can occur when you’re running a lot of miles, which of course you will be during marathon training. In turn, this can affect your running pace and form. Keeping your body strong with strength training will address these issues and also help prevent injury and keep your metabolism high. Now’s a great time to start adding some strength work into your training. You don’t have to spend ages doing biceps curls, you can build muscle functionally through sprints, hill reps and body weight exercises such as squats and lunges – building these muscles will help you get faster and build on your muscular endurance so, hopefully, those long runs won’t feel quite so hard.

Get fast
It’s not all about the distance. Paula Radcliffe says speed and sprint training are the most important sessions she does each week. If you’ve run a half or marathon before and are looking to improve on your PB add in a weekly speed session – to get faster you have to run faster (simple eh?). Getting faster doesn’t happen by luck though, it’s about breaking the distance down and doing faster reps with rest. The speed then builds into your longer distance pace. When I’m training I do a session each week where I do 10 x 1km reps as fast as I can with a few minutes rest in between each. Over time reduce the rest periods until you’re pretty much doing the 10 x 1kms as one pacey 10km set.

Don’t be tempted to cram in too much training. Rest and recovery days are when progress happens. To train through recovery is not only negating the work you’ve done but it also increases your chance of injury. Avoid being compulsive and feeling like you have to do something every day, or scheduling in too many back-to-back sessions. Remember ‘you’re an athlete’. You need to give your muscles time to grow, and your body time to get faster and refuel. If you are training hard, factor in more sleep than normal and look to get rid of any extra exercise sessions that aren’t necessarily contributing to your goal. Using up energy doing Zumba the night before a training run isn’t going to help you get that PB.

Start to see food as fuel. Think about what your body needs. What is the purpose of this meal/snack? Is it to refuel after a workout? To aid muscle recovery? To provide energy before a training session? Eat in accordance to what your body needs. It pains me to say this as I love my cake, but if you are really set on nailing your race, this might be the time to get rid of junk calories. Every calorie needs a purpose.

This is also not a time to pick up a fad diet or try to lose weight quickly. You need to put enough fuel in to train effectively. You NEED every food group. Think about what carbs you need, what protein and where are you getting your essential vitamins and minerals. Enjoy!

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Ps, are holding this AMAZING marathon comp, enter here, good luck!

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