You’ve signed up for your first half or full marathon and now you’re probably wondering what next.

Regardless of how many 5ks or 10ks you’ve run, or if you’re a complete beginner, it’s natural to feel a little nervous about signing up to anything with marathon in the title.


We asked Women’s Running Editor-at-Large and author of Run Yourself Fit, Christina Macdonald, for her 10 top tips on how to get fit, fast to help you kick-start your training.

1. Get a health MOT

Even if you’ve already started your training, it’s worth seeing a physiotherapist or running coach before you start building up the mileage.

Ask them to identify any muscle weaknesses or imbalances in the body, as these will almost certainly manifest themselves during those long runs. Knowing what muscles to strengthen early on may prevent an injury that could stop you from reaching the start line.


2. Follow a training plan...

A good plan will provide structure to your training and give you the confidence to feel that you're making progress.

Your plan should include one long run each week, and a few shorter and more intense sessions such as hill runs, threshold runs (where you work on the edge of discomfort for set blocks of time), as well as one or two cross-training sessions.


3. ...but don't let your plan hold you hostage

Follow it where you can but don't let it stress you out. At some pont, life will get in the way and you may have to skip a session due to work, illness, or a running injury. You may not be able to complete every single session. That's OK. If you miss a session, just move on


4. Don't run every day

You can train for a marathon or half marathon on three or four good quality runs per week, so as long as one session is a long steady run and the others work you at harder intensities.

Regular cross-training is also essential to give your joints a break ; when you run, around three times your body weight is absorbed by the knees. Cross-training sessions can be long in duration to maintain your cardiovascular fitness. 

5. Know when to rest

Your plan may tell you to do a hard session on a given day, but you legs may feel stiff or you may feel excessivey tires or fatigues. At this point, a hard session won't help.

Distance runner and four-time Olympian Jo Pavey credits her ability to keep achieving personal bests in her forties to listening to her body. If her legs feel heavy, Jo won't do a hard session just because the training plan tells her to. Rest up, stretch, or go for a gentle jog.  

6. Treat food as your friend, not your enemy

Now is not the time to be dieting or counting calories. Make sensible food choices. Choose healty, lean protiens like fish or chicken, along with heathy carbohydrates such as porridge, pasta, brown rice, lentils, sweet potatoes, carrots and parsnips. View food as fuel.


7. Test out nutrition products

On that note, practice your nutrition strategy during training so that you know what gels and energy drinks will work for you (and not upset your stomach) on race day.

8. Take stretching seriously

Stretching at the end of each run will reduce post-muscle soreness and even reduce injury risk.

Take your time. Hold each stretch for at least 30-60 seconds and stretch your quadriceps (front thighs), hamstrings (rear thighs), glutes (bottom), calves (lower legs) and lower back.

Invest in a Foam Roller; they're cost and time effective, don't need much space, and can make all the difference to your tired and sore muscles.


9. Get comfortable with long runs

Nell McAndrew, who achieved a personal best of 2:54:39 in the London Marathon in 2012, attributes her speedy time to doing more long runs. You need to be comfortable running for around three hours, or up to 18-21 miles before race day. 

Aim for three to six long runs of 16 miles or more in the last three months, at a comfortable, conversational pace.

10. Don't skip the taper

2-3 weeks before the marathon, cut back on distance to give your body a chance to recover from those long runs so that you reach the start line fresh and not fatigued.

Your last long run should be approximately 3-4 weeks before race day, and then two weeks beforehand, reduce mileage down by 50-70%. During the final week, stick to easy runs of no more than 30 minutes.

Get everything you need to kick-start your marathon training from running shoesrunning clothingaccessories, and GPS watches at Runners Need.

Christina Macdonald is Editor-at-Large of Women’s Running, author of the book, Run Yourself Fit (Summersdale, £6.99), and a Level 3 Personal Trainer and marathon runner.


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