Top 10 Marathon Training Tips: Coach, Alex McEwen

Alex McEwen, head endurance coach with Edinburgh Athletic Club, gives tips to help aspiring marathon runners of all abilities think more closely about their own marathon build up. Alex was given 10 minutes for 10 tips the Edinburgh Marathon training evening held at the Commonwealth Pool, November 27th 2012. His outline tips appear in bold, amplified by extemporaneous notes of Alex's talk from evening co-ordinator Adrian Stott from Run and Become.
See also tips from Ross Houston at the same event »


1. Start and base line.

Alex McEwenObjective: PB, get to start line and do, see what I can do, step up from 10k and half marathon? What are your reasons to run a marathon or half marathon. What is your underlying motivation? Set out a clear goal for yourself and of what you are hoping to achieve: merely to finish, or to improve, or to achieve a target time.

2. Think

Work and travel, experience, study, family, what time is left? Striking the work / life / family balance.A key question you have to ask yourself is how much time do I have each week to train? When and how am I going to fit this in to maintain the work/life balance? Three times, four times, five times?

3. Plan to include build up and recovery blocks

Working back from taper and target date. 8 week blocks. We can't all be elite athletes, but whatever your standard, if you "fail to plan", even in the simplest of ways, you are "planning to fail" in whatever goal you have set yourself.

4. Stepping stone races

Alex McEwenRun or model the route / terrain / timing. Find a shorter race to assess how your training is going. These events also break up the weeks of training and give short term motivation. If feasible, plan a training run on part of the course, or check out the route profile, and plan a similar route near you. If there are hills, plan in some hills, if there are long flat stretches, plan those in too.

5. Training age

Adjust for 40+ age and for inexperience. You may be 25 but you may not have the training age of a trained 25 year old. Years of training are cumulative. If you are relatively new to running, you need to build up slowly. If you have been running for a few years, still be careful, but you should manage any increase in workload / mileage a little better.

6. Volume

How much? Where are you starting from? Number of sessions? Length of sessions? Significant numbers: 26 miles per week for 10 weeks, 40 miles, 52 miles.
Twenty six miles a week can get you round a marathon, 40 miles a week is a figure that if accomplished regularly, your body does indeed seem to make adjustments and progress is apparent! 50 miles a week plus, if handled well, will see definite improvement. Look from where are you starting from, and build up slowly and regularly: both length and intensity of individual runs, as well as your weekly mileage. The 10% rule in terms of total weekly volume and individual workouts is a good rule of thumb.

7. Specific training for this event

Stamina and pace. What are the useful alternatives to LSD (long slow distance) and the ever increasing long run? Although important, don't just mechanically churn out the longer training runs if you are not enjoying them. A good paced hill, country or coastal walk for 2-3-4 hours will still build stamina. If your goal is to run 4-5-6 hours. No need to run for that time, but plan a walk for that time one weekend and see how your body feels just being on your feet that long.

8. Variety

Get off-road. Type of session: faster, slower, at pace, recovery vs. workouts, body weight training and flexibility. Your event is on the road, so you do need to be used to that, but training off-road will be easier on the body and allow easier recovery. Vary your training with hard days, easy days, steady pace. Possibly do one run each week minimum that's not necessarily "speed work" but a little faster, or where you are feeling a little out of your comfort zone. Have an alternative exercise session like cycling or rowing machine to lesson impact, but still help build all-round fitness and conditioning, or a flexibility / core session like pilates or yoga.

9. Consistent over the weeks

History shows that consistent training over many weeks will give better results than a yo-yo regime! In other words, better to do consistent 30-mile weeks than 50 miles one week and zero the next!

10. "Plenty of bananas" - food, kit, avoid alcohol, get sports massage

There is more to running than running. Diet: if you are exercising more, you are burning up calories and other resources, so appropriate extra fluid and food is crucial. Correct and comfortably fitting shoes and kit need to be sourced and worn in. Listen to your body and ease back or rest when stiffness / soreness appear. Massage and stretching are always recommended. Alex prefaced his last bit of advice by admitting this may not go down too well, but ended by saying "Alcohol is a diuretic and dehydrates you, so when in hard training or in final build up, be sensible and avoid!" Celebrate afterwards by all means.

Final advice from Alex

For camaraderie and experienced advice, join a local running club like Edinburgh Athletic Club, Portobello Running Club, Corstorphine Athletic Club, all of which have groups for "recreational runners" with qualified coaches. Or if a Running or Athletic club sounds too intimidating, check out your local jogScotland or Run England group. See a full list of Edinburgh local clubs »

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