Use These Marathon Training Tips To Stay On Track For Your Event

Female and male runners performing quad stretch in park
A top marathon training tip is to get into good habits early, like stretching after every run (Image credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus / Alberto van Herckenrode)

The road to getting in shape for a marathon is a long one, and it’s lined with people giving you advice. Lots and lots of people have run a marathon, and they all have marathon training tips to pass on.

Even though these tips will be well-intentioned, they may be misguided. Instead, we recommend going to an expert to get clear advice to follow – which is exactly what we did. 

We spoke to Jim Pate, senior physiologist at Marylebone Health, who specialises in (among other things) preparing people for sporting events. Here are Pate’s marathon training dos and don'ts.

About Our Expert
About Our Expert
Jim Pate

Jim Pate is senior physiologist and lab manager at Marylebone Health, and also lectures at UCL. Pate has a bachelor’s degree in Biology and Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as well as a master’s in Health and Disease from Birkbeck, University of London and is studying towards a PhD in Exercise Physiology. Pate specializes in exercise testing and helps his clients to prepare for sporting events, including extreme challenges.

1. Don’t Delay Starting Your Marathon Training

One of the first things that can go wrong is leaving it too late. Get started early and work on shorter distances first, building up a little bit of speed and conditioning that way. Ultimately, it’s the distance that is the really big challenge, and so giving yourself as much time as possible to build up to withstand the total distance is a smart move.

2. Don’t Run Too Far, Too Early

Focusing on running long distances too early is another thing people get wrong with the marathon. They try to become able to run a marathon distance, and then try to get faster over that distance. It doesn’t work very well. Start working on shorter distances, which are more achievable, and work on getting faster within that. If you’ve built up good speed and conditioning for shorter distances, then there’s only one challenge for you to deal with, which is to stretch out the distance incrementally until you get to the event itself. 

3. Do Some Strength And Conditioning

People often focus only on running and don’t do any supplementary conditioning or exercise that will help enhance the running itself. Doing some strength work that’s based around running, and also some work that will help improve stability, is really useful – especially in the early phases, because it sets a good foundation that helps protect against the overload created by running more than the person is used to. 

4. Don’t Get Into Bad Habits

What I mean is bad habits like not warming up, not warming down with stretching, not training regularly throughout the week. Try to foster good habits early on.

5. Do Get The Equipment That’s Right For You

All you need for running is just a pair of shoes really, but if you’re going to embark upon a long-term, challenging programme for a marathon, you want to make sure you get the right equipment – both for the task at hand and also for yourself. That means a pair of shoes that are suited to the marathon event and training, and suited to you. Just getting a pair of shoes because they are recommended even if they don’t fit your feet well is not a good decision. Don’t just go for what is working for other people, because not everybody is the same.

6. Do Consider Your Whole Lifestyle

Make sure your nutrition and your sleep are right. Partying into the wee hours is not conducive to good-quality training. It can push you into a vulnerable state if you’re going out and trying to do a high volume of exercise as well. 

7. Do Get Any Injuries Seen To

If you have any injuries, get on it quick. Go see a physiotherapist or sports doctor. As we start to do new things or push our body in ways that it hasn’t been pushed in a while, there’s a certain discomfort that goes along with that like soreness, but that is part of the normal progression of training, and it should come and go. If you’ve got something that doesn’t feel right, or is not getting better, in a lot of cases that’s a warning sign. You should seek help sooner rather than later, because if you do something sooner there’s more of a chance that you can correct this and get back on track towards reaching your goal.

8. Do Taper In The Last Stages Of Training

People often don’t do any tapering. You should be decreasing your volume and effort over the last 10 to 14 days leading into the event. You’re not really going to be able to build much fitness. The work that you do takes about two weeks to really show up. So the last 10 to 14 days is more about place holding, rather than trying to make any real gains. 

9. Don’t Run A Full Marathon In Training

I don’t get people to run a full marathon in training. I get most people to do about 35km at the most. Going into the marathon, they know that they’re going to do it, having got close enough. I don’t think there’s a need to confirm that. 

10. Do Find A Way To Have Fun

The last thing I say to everybody whenever they’re doing anything like this is don’t forget to have fun. Ultimately, if you’re not having fun doing something, it’s very likely you’re not going to be doing it for very long.

Nick Harris-Fry
Senior writer

Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.