How to Train for a Spring Marathon

How to Train for a Spring Marathon - A Pretty Place to Play, London Running and Fitness Blog

Over the last few weeks a few messages have landed in my inbox asking for my advice on training for a spring marathon. Now, I’m not an expert, but with three marathons under my belt I can share how I approach training and the things I think about when I’m thinking about how to train.

work out where I’m at

The very first thing I do is workout how long I’ve got to train and where I’m at as a runner. For a marathon I like to have at least 12 weeks, if not more. For me it’s all about building gradually and getting enough rest so that I don’t get injured or exhausted. I also think about where I’m at as a runner, what type of distances am I running? What are my times like? Am I strength training? Most importantly how does my body feel? This helps me work out where my weaknesses are and what I might want to focus on in my training.

what are my goals

Working out where I’m at helps me decide what my goals are for the race. Do I want to test my endurance? Do I want to PB? Is this one just for fun? I like to make sure that my goals stretch me but are also achievable in the time that I’ve got.

how much time can I commit to training

This is a big one for me. In an ideal world marathon training would be my only focus, but in reality I have a job and study so I need to make sure that everything works together. Marathons are a huge commitment, and training will inevitably take over your life - especially during the weeks where your milage is really high - so I always think carefully about how much time I can dedicate to training, whether that time equates to my goals, and crucially whether I have enough time to rest and recover. If I can’t make the time work I’ll give the race a second thought (there will always be other races), if I can then I crack on with training!

coach or no coach?

I love working with coaches, I find that having extra support really works for me as I navigate balancing life, training and my mental health, but they come at a cost. While training for Bournemouth marathon I worked with Chevy Rough one to one which was an awesome experience that taught me loads, but it was expensive. At the moment I’m working with Rach and Tom at Run Namaste Eat and they’re coaching me virtually which is much lighter on the pocket. In the past though I’ve used Hal Higdon’s free plans which have served me really well. It’s all about you, your goals and your budget really.

Even if you choose not to work with a coach (either in person or virtually) it can be worth seeing a PT for a one off session to put together a strength training programme. I just don’t have the confidence to do this myself, but by asking Megan at Kimi Ora to pull something together for me I know that I’ve got a plan that will help me achieve my goals.

Marathon training is such an exciting time, and some of my fondest memories are from training for marathons with friends. It’s a fantastic journey however you choose to make it work for you, and bottom line remember to enjoy the process!

*image: Alex Dixon Photography

Should I Sign Up For That Race?

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for A Race - A Pretty Place to Play

I don’t know about you, but for the last week or so my feed has been a flurry of excitement as people hear whether they’ve secured a place for London Marathon, take the plunge and sign up for races inspired by friends who’ve raced recently and set themselves training goals for next spring. When your feed is awash with bling, PBs and race pictures it’s hard not to get swept up in the excitement and start signing up for everything under the sun.. It’s got me thinking about how hype influences our choices, and whether we’re really doing the right thing by our selves if we’re constantly racing? When we race too often we risk burn out, our bodies and our minds get tired. There are risks if we’ve not trained sufficiently, we could get injured or end up having to deal with the psychological impact of a disappointing performance. Plus it sucks to train for and run events that, quite honestly, you’re just not that in to.

I know I’m not immune to the noise, in the past I’ve been known to race every weekend for months, and even now it takes so much will power not to sign up for races. It’s hard when everyone around you is excited, when you feel like the only way you can push yourself is in a race environment and where there’s some seriously enviable bling on offer! So how do you make sure you make the right choices for you? I’ve asked PT, Backpackers Queen and all round brilliant person Megan Beggs to chat through the questions you should think about asking yourself before you press ‘buy’ on that race entry.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for a Race - A Pretty Place to Play

There seems to be key times of year when ballots open, ballots close and places become available for the next wave of races, and the running community tends to go a bit crazy. Suddenly everyone is talking about what races they’re doing, how excited they are and generally stirring up all sorts of excitement, and unfortunately too often people get caught up in the hype of it all and sign up for everything, due to  the FOMO, without actually thinking. 

Now as runners we all love to get involved but there a few key things I urge you all to think about before entering that next race.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Sign Up for A Race - A Pretty Place To Play

What other events do you have around race time?

Yes the race might be on a free weekend but are you stacked up with social events and other races around it? 

Great, A half / marathon in early March, that’s a free month but in the 3 months prior you have Christmas with the family, News Years with friends, two other fun races you’ve already signed up for and a skiing trip. Now that sounds like a wonderful 3 months but (1) how much energy are you going to have left over to run another race at the end of it? and (2) when will you fit in your training (see point 2 below)? 

Yes events are exciting and fun (both social and races) but they take a lot out of us mentally and physically. Put that on top of everything else going on in your life, plus the months of training for the event, and your body will be at breaking point! Cue injury and exhaustion! 

So grab yourself a yearly calendar, plaster it on your wall, write up all your events and use this to help you plan, before you sign up for that next event.

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for a Race - A Pretty Place to Play

Will you be able to put in the training required?

Although a race is only one day, as I mentioned above the training should roughly cover the 3 months prior. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or a beginner, you should always be putting in the training to prepare your body for a race. Even if you’re not after that PB (and who are we kidding the majority of us are!), your body needs time to adapt and prepare for the challenge of racing. If you want to come out the other side injure free, you need to be putting in 2-3 mid week runs, strength training, mobility training, weekend long runs and rest - all of which take up a large chunk of your life. Are you willing to make sacrifices to fit it all in? So again, make sure you check the months prior to ensure you can give your training and race 100%.

Questions To Ask Yourself Before Signing Up for A Race - A Pretty Place to Play

Is this what YOU actually want to do?

Will this race actually benefit your goals? It may sound great to sign up because everyone else is and the pressure / FOMO is real, but if it’s not a goal of yours or if it doesn’t help you progress towards your goals is it really worth it? Why run a marathon if your dream is to do a sub 2 hour half marathon? Yes a marathon might be right up there for your mate, but it doesn’t have to be on your bucket list. Why not tackle something that’ll help you smash your own goals, like some shorter distance races to work on your speed, and then a couple of halves throughout the year? Sit down, write out what you want out of running and use this list to make your choices every time a new race become available [pro tip - stick it up somewhere obvious at home, not only will it help you make smart decisions about race entries, it’ll also inspire your training!].

If you can follow these steps your next race year will be a stress free, fun and goal smashing time.

Mara-noia (Marathon Paranoia)

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

On Monday Mike and I had the loveliest runs in one of the most interesting places I’ve run in awhile, Thorney Island in West Sussex. Thorney Island is a wild place, an island that juts in to Chichester Harbour encircled by the Sussex Boarder Path. A former military base (with presence from both the RAF and the Royal Navy at different times) it got an air of mystery and adventure as you’re buzzed on an off the island through ominous looking gates, and surrounded by notices reminding you never to stray off the path. With hugely varied terrain it’s the perfect place for a trail running adventure.

Stocked with snacks and time, we pootled around the path clocking up just over 8 miles, heavy legs and big smiles. It was insane running along the sea wall next to crystal clear water on one side and a disused airfield on another. Mike was in his element taking in all the boats in the harbour (I suspect there was a solid amount of boat envy going on too) and I wished we’d brought a box to forage some of the blackberries that lined the path (and wished that I’d worn long socks, really scratched up my legs on those bushes!). It was an awesome day out, but it left me with a hefty dose of maranoia.

Maranoia, or marathon paranoia, is the feeling you get a few (in this case two) weeks from a marathon where you feel like you just suck at running and have no business running a marathon. This run made me feel like I suck at running and like I have no business running a marathon.

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

It sounds like an oxymoron when I’ve already said it was lovely and I enjoyed myself, but hear me out. I loved our run around Thorney Island, I had the best time, but I also ran crazy slow and at the end I was much more tired than I felt like I should be. It was grim, loving a run but feeling like I was a rubbish runner. The gremlins had crept in. The last week of training has been tough, there’s been some tricky things happening behind the scenes, I left the job I’d had for 8 years and then my period arrived and plummeting hormones left me floored. Blended with tricky terrain and dodging bushes on the trails, and academically I know there’s lots of reasons why my run was slow and my legs heavy. But it doesn’t stop me feeling a bit down on myself.

Maranoia - A Pretty Place to Play

I do sometimes feel like a fraud when I say I’m a running blogger. I’m not fast, I’m never likely to BQ or score all the marathon majors. I plod along. Most of the time I’m ok with that, I don’t train to be fast I train to be sustainable, to be in my 80s and taking in park run each week, but sometimes I’m not. Sometimes the noise around what runners are and are not gets to me. You know the noise, that to be a ‘real’ runner you should achieve this or that, that a mile should be run that this pace or that pace, that you should look like this or that. It can really drill in to you. But then you remember that all of those messages are just saying you ‘should’. Doesn’t mean you have to. Doesn’t mean there’s not room to rebel. It takes strength to rebel, to redefine what a good runner is, to run for yourself, not for what you’re told you should run for. Having that confidence is powerful. So I’m clawing it back. I’m looking to some of the runners who run for themselves and taking the moment to be inspired and forget those dumb ass gremlins. I will own this marathon!

Megan Beggs

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

I love Megs, she’s one of those genuinely brilliant people who you don’t come across too often and she’s also a total badass. She moved to the UK, trained as a PT, found her tribe in the Backpackers and is generally owning life. This year she’s run two marathon majors (London and Berlin), scored a marathon PB and next year I get to invade her personal space in the desert for The Speed Project. Megs is tough, I know there were dark moments during her last marathon, and it’s her guts that I love.

Becca aka Red Faced Runner

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

Becca is totally honest. She is honest about being afraid. She is honest about finding things tough. She is honest about being pissed off. Last weekend, after a tough year, she scored her London Classic medal. Becca has lived the idea of being scared and doing it anyway, and she’s done it with crazy style. So much respect for this one. (also isn’t this picture just everything?!).

*image: via Instagram

The Backpackers

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

I can’t have a list of runners redefining what it means to run and not include the Backpackers. This crew is my tribe. I’m gutted that this term I have teaching every Thursday so can’t join them for miles (you can, 6.45pm ASICS Regents Street, just saying), but I know the lighthouse will always be there. Backpackers celebrate those at the back of the pack. The runners who are out there pushing through the miles no matter what, who run for themselves, who support those around them, who cheer every person over the line. They’re a really special lot, and you can bet I’ll be relying on our legendary WhatsApp group for motivation come marathon day.

Corey Melke

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

Corey is the most inspiring person. Coming back from injury is never easy, but Corey’s focus and determination post-surgery has been amazing! I am so proud of her, she’s made so much progress in such a short period of time, and I really cannot wait to see how she progresses between now an March when we run The Speed Project together. I know she’ll be a real asset to our team! Oh yeah, and all that’s before I mention how she manages to balance Type 1 Diabetes with ultra running. The woman is something else. And yes, she manhandles me every time we see each other.

*image: Anna Rachel Photography

Leeanne Adu

Maranoia - A Pretty Place To Play

Captain of the Backpackers, boss lady and all around legend, Leeanne is one of the most wonderful people I know. She’s one of those people that’s always there with a hug, a word or some kindness just at the moment you didn’t know you needed it, and it’s always exactly the right thing. A few months ago Leeanne ran her first 5km after giving birth to her beautiful daughter and smashed it. I knew that she was nervous, her fear of that 5km was palpable, but you know what she did it. She faced her fear. Goes to show that even if you don’t think you can do it, you usually can.

*image: via Facebook

Who inspires you when running feels tough? Let me know below