Training for your first marathon? Here’s why you’re doing it wrong…

Training for your first marathon is an experience like no other – especially for those who are only getting into running for the first time. Odds are you’ve been looking at the official marathon training programmes or many of the other alternatives out there, but maybe you shouldn’t.

Taking the London Marathon as an example, as physios we’ll tend to start seeing more people arriving in the final few months before the date of the event itself, and many will have similar injuries and complaints.


Marathon training  = lots of running

If you follow the official training guides then they all (unsurprisingly) recommend a lot of running – but for most people that amount is at best unnecessary and potentially damaging to joints and muscles.

Particularly for those who may have only been on the occasional jog, to suddenly start going out 3-5 times per week is a massive jump and so the resulting niggles and injuries shouldn’t come as a surprise.

There’s no one size fits all training plan, and many of those you can find online are purely based on anecdotal evidence or what seems to have worked for one person rather than taking into account different lifestyles, levels of fitness, biomechanics, weight, previous injuries, previous treatment for past injuries…the list goes on


Marathon training – advice from a physio

  • Plan ahead – a long way ahead. While you might have a four month programme, planning six or even 12 months ahead is a much better approach and gives you time to miss sessions (for injury or otherwise), take a break and overcome any niggles or injuries you might pick up
  • Don’t forget strength and conditioning – this is the #1 thing we see endurance athletes forgetting about and it’s incredibly important in helping to keep you injury free. This can either be a programme at home or in the gym, whatever works best for you. A well structured and specific strength and conditioning programme will also most likely lead to an improvement in your performance on race day as well!
  • Don’t run more than three times a week – in fact twice is probably enough, the rest of the time focus on strength or other forms of exercise like swimming and cross-training that don’t place as much stress on your joints.
  • Mix up training runs – training for a marathon doesn’t just mean constantly running long distances. Each week aim for one ‘longer’ run and another ‘technical’ one over a shorter distance with a focus on technique over pace or distance. An interval session is valuable and can be added when appropriate, although similar sessions can also be done in the pool, on the bike or on the cross-trainer
  • Don’t ignore niggles – every year we see people book in for an appointment a week before their marathon to treat something that’s been bothering them for the last three months! Yes you might miss out on a week’s training, but (see point 1) it’s better getting problems looked at early on rather than having to drop out later after you’ve made it worse (and all that training goes to waste!)
  • Consider a monthly sports massage – Ok so this one isn’t as essential as the rest, but definitely worth considering. A regular (every 2-4 weeks) sports massage can potentially stop a lot of small problems before they develop into something more and can really help with both recovery and training.


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