As the Spring marathons are creeping up on us in the coming 16 weeks, it’s crucial to proactively plan your marathon training. Recognising the overwhelming amount of information available, we want to offer our expert coaching tips and advice to help guide your preparation for your upcoming marathon. 

We cover this topic area in more detail in our latest NLC podcast (episode 17) which you can listen to here.

In this article, Team NLC Coaches Matt Long and Gemma Hillier-Moses talk us through the 6 key steps, which will help you stand on your marathon start line feeling confident and ready to run your best marathon.

Step 1: Goals

As per above, NLC founders Lewis and Gemma talk in detail about goal setting. 

Dreams without a plan are only wishes. Dreams broken down into goals are what make dreams come true. Goals give our life meaning, a sense of purpose and fulfilment. 

In the process of goal setting, it’s important to look at the ‘Why’ behind why you want to achieve that goal. Your ‘Why’ should come from within you and become your fuel for action. Goals can be big or small, but most of all they must be meaningful to you or you won’t have the drive to achieve them. 

When setting a goal ask yourself these things: 

What goal do I really want to achieve? 

Why do I want it?

How will I make it happen?

What are the actions I need to take? 

When do I want to achieve this by? 

Who do I need in my circle to help?   

When we set a goal we want to focus on the process of achieving that goal 95% of the time and think about the outcome 5% of the time. A process goal might be to start practising your race nutrition and have a nutrition plan that you can execute on race day. Whereas an outcome goal could be setting a new personal best time. This will mean you really are working on the actions that will help you to achieve that outcome goal. 

Step 2: Keep it Real

Where are you now and where can you be in 16 weeks time?

Don’t try and be somewhere that you aren’t at this point in time. Remember progression towards a goal takes time and patience.  

A good way to do this is to plan backwards from the date of your race to where you are now. Be realistic about how much time you have got to fit training in around your other commitments and lifestyle choices. You should always be flexible with a plan and be prepared to switch things up.

Step 3: Horses for Courses 

When planning our marathon training we can often overlook things like the marathon course profile. You could enter a flat marathon like Valencia or be preparing for an undulating marathon like Boston or New York. 

Your training will need to be tailored to suit the marathon course you are preparing for. Alongside this, as a runner you may suit a certain course profile. 

If you are looking to run your fastest marathon it may be worth looking for a flatter course or one where you won’t get stuck behind hundreds of runners so sometimes entering low key marathons rather than the Majors may be better for you.

Step 4: The Base is Ace

Laying the foundations and building a foundation is super important for marathon runners of any level.

Many runners neglect building their foundation/endurance base into the marathon. Think of it as building a house. If you don’t build the foundations first, the house will eventually fall down and it’s the same with running. 

The first priority for marathon runners right now is to build a good foundation/endurance base. If you have already been doing this pre Christmas, that’s awesome but don’t panic if not. You can spend time focusing on this over the next few weeks.

When your foundation/endurance base has been built, then you can layer in some more specific training towards your marathon.

Building your base, what does that mean?

  • Low intensity training miles or cross training at easy conversational effort
  • Increasing mileage slightly with easy running and/or cross training

This helps you to build volume without too much fatigue or the risk of injury.

A great way to check that you are running easy is to learn to run to feel/using the RPE scale (you need to be honest with yourself) or the talk test.

Remember building a foundation/endurance base is about building volume over intensity. You can gradually increase running volume or add cross training such as biking, elliptical or swimming into your training routine.

This is also a good time to introduce some strength and conditioning work which will improve your resistance to injury and fatigue as marathon training progresses. Please remember not everything has to be introduced at once or needs to be in a 7 day cycle.

Step 5: The 4 ‘P’s

The 4 ‘P’s are really good to remember when planning your marathon training. 

Planning – Don’t leave marathon training until the last minute. The fact that you are reading this article means you are already thinking of the planning side of things so you are already in a good place. Planning is an important part of achieving your goals. 

Preparation Be prepared from now on, for example what hotel will you be staying at the night before your marathon? What’s the journey to the start line like? If you are running a major marathon this is something you need to think about a long way out from your marathon.  

Pacing – Working on your marathon pacing in training is super important. So building gradually into your long runs and finishing strong is something you can practice.  You want to be aiming for a negative split in your marathon training and that is NOT getting time in the bank. 

Practice – Practice with your race kit, your fueling strategy, your shoes, practice EVERYTHING before race day. Don’t try anything new.

Step 6: Don’t Be a Banker!

The best way to run a marathon is by running a negative split as that’s the way world records are broken. 

When we look at the masses, the trend is that most people slow down and ‘hit the wall’. In offering a banking analogy, many marathon runners try and ‘bank’ time by running too quickly. It’s like borrowing money but you forget that you will end up having to pay that money back with interest! Don’t be that runner.

This leaves us with the following questions for self-reflection:

What are my marathon goals and how are they SMART (Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Realistic, Time-framed)?

What type of course will I be facing and how can I respond to the environmental demands it places on me?

How am I building my aerobic and strength endurance base? 

Why should I use the ‘talk test’ as a mode of self-regulation? 

When can I remind myself of the 4 ‘P’s?

How am I going to practice my pacing strategy?

Matt Long – Matt is a New Levels Coach based at Loughborough University and has previously served as an England Team Coach at the 2022 Commonwealth Games Marathon Training Camp for those targeting selection for the Birmingham Games. He has also coached two athletes to become World Champions and two European Champions. 

Gemma Hillier-Moses – Gemma is the co-founder of New Levels Coaching and Runner Retreats. Gemma is really passionate about supporting runners and trail runners of all abilities to achieve their potential. Gemma also still competes at an elite level and has transitioned from the roads to the mountain trails this year.