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Training & advice

Ten top tips to achieve your marathon ambition

So, you've set your sights on a marathon? Even the most accomplished runners recognise that, once you get to this distance, it's a whole new kettle of fish! If you get it wrong in the build up for a 5k, 10k or half marathon it can be disappointing but you can always go and find another one a couple of weeks later for a second shot. It doesn't work like that with the marathon though. If it doesn't go to plan you have to wait much longer before you can try again. The marathon takes some recovering from so careful and meticulous preparation can help you get it right first time round and save serious heart ache!

Here are ten top tips to get you to the finish line at the time you want to be there.

1. Build your weekly long run gradually. Time on your feet is the key here so if you are aiming to do the marathon in four hours then you need to slowly build your long run from where you are now to three hours plus. You should aim to do a long run once each fortnight (probably on a Sunday when you have more time) and alternate it with a race that also increases in distance. If you have sixteen weeks to the marathon, not forgetting that the last three weeks will be tapering - your Sunday sessions could look something like this:

  • Week 1 - 60 minute run
  • Week 2 - 5 mile race
  • Week 3 - 75 minute run
  • Week 4 - 10k race
  • Week 4 - 90 minute run
  • Week 5 - 10k race
  • Week 6 - 2 hour run
  • Week 7 - 10 miles race
  • Week 8 - 2 hours 20 minutes run
  • Week 9 - 10 k race
  • Week 10 - 2 hours 40 minutes run
  • Week 11 - half marathon race
  • Week 12 - 2 hours, 30 minutes run
  • Week 13 -  3 hours run
  • Week 14 - 10k race
  • Week 15 - 90 minute run
  • Week 16 - MARATHON RACE

2. Practise drinking. You will need to take fluid on board during the marathon and so you need to practise it. It's not as easy as it sounds or looks! It may be a good idea to do your long run as laps on a loop that passes your house so you can store drinks somewhere convenient such as behind your garden wall and grab them as you run past on each lap. Alternatives are to ask a very good friend to drive out to meet you at certain points to hand you a drink or you may like to carry your own in a hydropack or similar.

3. Listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you are overdoing things. If you feel fatigued or are struggling with niggles don't ignore the signs. Fatigue can lead to illness and niggles can lead to injuries if you don't respect them.

4. Set yourself focus sessions. Have a look through your programme and identify the key sessions. The aim of every good marathon runner is to raise lactate threshold and so look for sessions that include long intervals or tempo/threshold runs. If you are short of time and have to compromise any training runs try to make sure the threshold sessions take priority.

5. Fuel your body well. In order to carry out your marathon training you need to fuel your body well. Golden rules are to eat within 60 minutes of finishing a training session. You need to repenish glycogen stores that have become depleted during training. This will help you recover quickly and be ready for your next training session and also prevent risk of illness.

6. Rest. There should be at least one day's rest on your training programme every week. Make sure you take it! It is as important as refuelling. It is a chance to re-charge your batteries and will help your body recover and prepare it for the next training session. Try to rest from other activity too so digging the garden or decorating the house should be avoided as well!

7. Monitor your training with some shorter races. Hopefully you will have already entered a few shorter races but if not, check out our calendar.

8. Remember to stretch. Before every session you should include a 10 minute warm up with dynamic stretching and after every session you should do a 10 minute cool down with static stretching. If you train with a group your leader will probably take you through this but if not, check out our section on stretching.

9.Keep a training diary. You've got your plan but it won't always go to plan! After each session jot down what you did and how it felt. You could also note down other factors such as the weather and other activities you did in the day. This diary will be very useful to you in the future. If you have a good spell you can look back to see what you did to make this happen or if things go wrong you may be able to see from your training why it's gone pear shaped or what has led to the injury.

10. Plan your pre-race routine. If you do all of the above the only thing left is to make sure you get to the start line unflustered and ready for action. Plan what you will do and when you are going to do it. This means getting your travel arrangements, accommodation arrangements (if needed), food, drink and kit organised well in advance so that, when race day arrives, you can look forward to the gun going off with peace of mind that everything is going to go well.

Have a great marathon!