Image: Zoe Illingworth
Get a plan
Golden rule 1 in marathon training is get a plan and stick to it. There are lots of schedules available, choose one that fits your aspirations and run with it. Be realistic, if work and family commitments mean you'll struggle to train more than three or four times per week, don't opt for the 'finish in 3 hour' schedule for regular club runners!
No more than 10%
All programmes will be progressive but it's good to underline that you should religiously follow the 10% rule - don't increase your total mileage by more than 10% per week. In addition, build in a consolidation week every fourth week where you ease off by 10% before reverting to your previous highest total.
Steady increase in intensity
As well as restricting total weekly mileage increase to 10%, you should also be careful not to crank up intensity too quickly. Make sure that your interval sessions become tougher, but in small increments.
Rest and recovery
Make rest and recovery an integral part of your programme. An easy rule to follow, is hard-easy. After a strenuous interval session of tough 800m reps, make your next run a gentle 4 miles at a very modest pace. After a hard week with a demanding long run, back off and let the consolidation week make sure that the benefits of your extra efforts are locked in. Overall get lots of early nights and plan for extra shut-eye to help restore you for the next hard session.
The right equipment
The right equipment essentially means the right shoes. Head to your nearest specialist running retailer for a gait analysis to find out the type of shoe your running action requires and try out a few models to find the shoe that works for you.
One of the key things to do to avoid injury is to stretch and strengthen your muscles after a run. Light stretching will loosen your muscles and help you cool down. Stretching after you run will help remove the lactate from your muscles that was generated during your run. In addition, stretching will help strengthen your muscles, enabling you to run better and helping you avoid injury. Create a bespoke stretching routine that focuses on the areas that cause you problems. Check out our stretching section for routines to work on calves, hamstrings, quads etc and to help core strengthening. Stretching doesn't just have to follow a run - many regular runners fit a stretching session into rest days.
Take the pressure off the joints that get buffeted when you run by incorporating cycling or swimming into your programme. Better still add a yoga or Pilates class to complement your stretching routines.
Marathon preparation is going to require weekly mileage of 30, 40 and even 50 miles - quite a stress on the average body. Sports massage can help offset that heavy schedule by reducing muscle soreness and inflammation. It does that by flushing out lactic acid produced while running. Massage also reduces muscle tension and muscle fatigue and promotes muscle flexibility. You will recover more quickly and more thoroughly from hard runs. All this adds up to a decreased chance of injury. Once a fortnight over the three key training months is a worthwhile investment.
Buy 1 get 2! Compression clothing for runners - that means socks, tights, calf guards and tops - work while you're running, wrapping around key muscle groups to reduce muscle movement and focus the direction of the muscle. The wrapping effect and compression also reduce muscle vibration resulting in less soft tissue damage and muscle soreness. Compression also works after a session - reducing muscle soreness and accelerating recovery. A great aid in the battle to ward off injury.
For most runners this means a bag of frozen peas. Apply to areas of soreness post-run - 20 minutes is enough time - to take the heat out of tired legs. Combine with elevation to help make sure you're in good shape for your next effort.
Vary the surface
Although you will probably want to use a track or a hard surface for your interval sessions. It makes sense to find 'giving' surfaces - parkland trails or country routes for your long (and/or) recovery runs to minimise the jarring that takes place on concrete.
A focused lifestyle
At the end of the day, training for and taking part in a marathon is a huge commitment. You're going to be asking an enormous amount of your body. With the right overall approach, you're going to have a great experience both up to and on the day.
However it's essential that you train properly, that you give your body the fuel that it requires - nutrition is another big and important area of your preparation, and that you build lots of rest into your schedule. As such, we hereby authorize you to tell your partner that its necessary that you spend all day Sunday lolling on the sofa, watching old movies!
If you overdo it - burning the candle at both ends - your body will soon let you know and you'll fall ill. Listen to your body, work with it, back off if you start to feel fatigued. Make the marathon a priority for a few months - save the clubbing and partying till after the big day, then you can have a night out you'll never forget!