The Long Road: Half Marathon and Marathon Training for Beginners

These days with the mountains of articles written daily on training and nutrition it can be hard to not suffer from paralysis by analysis. The most important thing is not to be perfect, but to start and refine your approach later as needed.

Likewise, it can be difficult not to become focussed on minute details at the cost of the more major and important concepts.

With these things in mind, below is number of high yield principles to focus on.

Be Consistent
Over and above what the details of a training program look like, in terms of how far to run or how often, is consistency. Being consistent is much more beneficial than any other component of a given program. This pertains to short, medium and long-term timelines, the body doesn’t do well with big swings in activity.
In what is eerily similar to, “The Turtle and the Hare”, consistent training long term will limit injuries which leads to longer term success. It will also allow you to feel better week to week and make things more sustainable, which will lead to more success in the interim also.
Going hand in hand with this consistency, is taking a patient, long view of training. To be truly consistent requires great patience and a very long-term view and planning. Many want to run these sorts of races with 3 months preparation (or less) and whilst this may be possible, it will be more beneficial, more pleasant and less risky to commit to a longer-term plan.

Be Strong
As we learn more and more about the body, the picture is changing more and more. Far from becoming “too muscle bound” or having too much “interference effect”, strength training is showing great benefits to runners. This is partially due to a reduced injury risk, which as mentioned before, helps in short, medium and long-term performance. Strength training also allows runners to create more force with each step, meaning they move quicker, ultimately improving performance also. This strength training will also assist the body to adapt to the training loads required in training for endurance events significantly.

Nutrition and Hydration
There seems to be a plethora of advice, supplements and opposite view points in marathon and half marathon nutrition advice. Non-negotiables in people I work with are; drinking enough and eating appropriately. Hydration is crucially important following a run but is relevant during a run also. Ditch the sugary drinks and opt for real water, drinking to thirst (not force drinking). IF you feel better drinking something with some electrolytes or carbohydrates in it, that’s fine on long runs, but generally it isn’t NEEDED.

Dietary choices aside, make sure you eat to fuel your recovery when you finish running, this is a time where your body is primed to absorb nutrients and will do so swiftly and efficiently. Running for longer than an hour for many beginners is around the line at which they will need to start taking in something whilst running, in some this may be longer, but it is unlikely to be a shorter time frame. What you decide to use to fuel you is about as individual your choice of workout attire, but in general people struggle to take in heavily complex foods when the start out and this can lead to a lot of gut troubles. This is something that some never gain the ability to do but seems trainable in others. It is ill advised to change this significantly for race day though, so stick to what has worked in training!

Ditch the “carb loading”, whilst carbohydrates are what will fuel high intensity efforts, the age-old tradition of carbohydrate loading, where you deplete your glycogen stores only to gorge on carbohydrates to load them back up in the days prior to the event, are long gone. Dietary periodisation is the current trend and supported by most, it involves periods of lower carbohydrate intake earlier in the training program with this increasing closer to race day. This probably makes some difference for those who are high level runners, who also have a very healthy diet already but for anyone else, a healthy diet is much more important and will help significantly more.

Happy Feet, Happy Runner
Unsurprisingly footwear can make or break training programs. Ensure you have well-fitted, comfortable shoes. Despite years of trying to perfect running shoes, the state of the industry is such that choosing a more comfortable shoe seems to reduce injury risk. Likewise, rotating different shoes minimises monotony which has been shown to reduce injury risk too. Monotony reduction includes varying training surfaces, routes, distances and paces also. So maybe ditch the standard 3 mile route and mix it up a bit week to week. Make sure that you get your shoes early enough that you can get used to them in training and they are still fresh enough to use on race day.

Train Hard, Recover Harder
Training is important, but the recovery from training is crucial. This is where all adaptation takes place. Beyond nutrition and hydration (which are of the utmost importance), prioritising things like sleep, meditation, yoga and socialising is imperative. These restorative activities will allow you to adapt to the training stimulus and avoid things like injury and burnout.

Healthy Human, Healthy Runner
Unsurprisingly to some, the above could easily be written about any number of activities, or health in general. This is because some things are fairly universal and thankfully performance across a number of domains has common themes. So, optimise your health to help optimise your ability to adapt and optimise your performance.

Dr David Lipman is an Australian trained Medical Doctor, Podiatrist and Exercise Physiologist. He has worked with athletes of varying levels in all 3 roles. He is an ultramarathon runner, avid physical activity advocate and is passionate about performance in all people.