Welcome to part four of our extended series on marathon training. In this article, we’ll be helping you break through the wall, giving you the tools to help with running long distances in preparation for the 26.2 miler.
This article deals with week 8 to 10 of our training schedule, which is where the big miles really begin to kick in.
If you've been sticking to the training schedule above, you will have completed the mid-schedule taper having developed strength from running hill runs and a strong cardio foundation from your base miles.
Now you’re ready to face the big challenge – running long miles lasting up to two hours on the road.
The challenges you’ll face will be both physical and mental. It may seem tough, but just remember that thousands of others take on this challenge by running in marathons every year – and if they can do it, so can you. So, read on to discover some of the tools, equipment, and physical and mental techniques marathon runners use to conquer the long miles barrier.
Overcome the mental barriers
Pounding the road can be just as hard on the mind as it is on the body. Your muscles, organs, and limbs will be sending signals to your brain asking you to stop, and it’s only your better judgement that keeps you going.
Runners have developed a range of techniques to aid them in this battle of mind over their own matter, which can be needed before, during, and after the run.
This is a key time, and where some of the hardest mental struggles can take place, so it’s important to have a number of motivating mental tools to push you over the line if your fortitude starts to waiver.
- One of the most common ways to motivate yourself is remembering how elated and strong you feel after a good run, and how rubbish you’ve felt after ditching a training session.
- Remember that the first five minutes of your run is the worst part, as this is when the body is still warming up. Keep in mind that sixth minute, when you feel like you can run forever.
- Think about your goals and how this run takes you closer, while not running pushes you further away. By not running this time, could it be a slippery slope? What if failing to run this time makes me want to give up? Increase the stakes, even if it means telling yourself a white lie, by telling yourself how important this run is.
- Running in perfect weather almost never happens, so don't let it put you off. Running in the rain or cold shows you're willing to train when no one else is - you're one step closer to the elite while everyone else just took a step back.
- A much-underrated technique, inspired by cognitive behavioural therapies in psychology, is to fool yourself into running by getting ready one step at a time without committing to it. So, you’re trying hard to convince yourself to go for a run? Well, just put on your running tights or trousers… just walking around the house, of course. Now fill your water bottle, no harm in doing that, right? While you’re there, you can just try on your running shoes to see if they still fit. Just out of curiosity, open the door, only to see what it’s like outside. Now, take one step outside. Ok, you're here now... go run.
Mental techniques during the run
Once you’re out there, your main job is complete, now you just have to keep going, and there are a number of mental techniques to help you push harder.
- One of the most common techniques is to mentally break up the run into manageable chunks. Instead of focusing on all 18 miles at once, split the distance into segments, such as from your home to the first landmark, then from the park to your dream house, and from that house to the cafe on the corner, for example. Try to leave yourself a nice final section that takes you through a favourite area.
- Mantras are a popular and effective strategy for staying mentally strong, especially on very long runs. Think of a short, affirming phrase that really speaks to you, to your purpose, and say it over in your mind when things get really tough. Some examples runners use are: “Smooth. Fast. Efficient.”, "I can do this. I am strong.”, "Run the mile I am in". It’s important to find something visceral and personally, for some, it can be as simple as “Left foot. Right foot.”, for others it's an expletive-riddled challenge to prove one's worth. Try a range of different mantras to help you overcome those wailing muscles.
Here's a quick tip from Olympic champion Steve Cram on how to tackle a mile, but the mentality equally applies to long runs.
It’s important to reward yourself after a successful run. It will help your motivation for when the next session comes around.
After you return home, take some time for yourself to do something you enjoy, guilt-free. Pour a hot drink, get into your most comfortable clothes and bask in your own glory – you’ve earned it.
Remember to forgive yourself for a poor training session. If you failed to go as fast or as far as you hoped, don’t get too down about it. Everyone has bad days, so just use it as motivation to push yourself harder next time, and remember, the only bad workout is the one you didn't do.
Overcome the physical barriers
Running for 18 miles, as per the training schedule above, is an incredibly challenging experience for your body.
Here are a few tips to help you through such a huge distance.
Take it slow: If this is your first time attempting these distances, aim for a ‘conversational’ pace, where you can easily converse with someone while running.
Keep it slow: Don't worry about picking up the pace or pushing your times. Completing the distance is the goal, speed is built from strength and experience. Concentrate on technique, staying upright, lifting your knees and pushing off strongly, with long balanced strides.
Have enough fuel: Running these sorts of distances requires extremely close attention to your nutritional needs. You'll need to fuel to run, to keep running, and to recover. To prevent bonking - also known as 'hitting the wall' - you may need to carry an energy-rich food source, such as a sports gel, and consume while on the run. Ensure you eat something within 30 minutes after the run to aid recovery, particularly something with a good carbohydrate-protein mix. More information on nutrition can be found in Part 3 of our marathon training series or our various nutrition guides (see links below).
Have enough water: Drink plenty of water or a sports drink leading up to the long run to prevent dehydration. It's also an idea to 'plant' a water bottle midway along your route.
Have the right gear: At these distances, gear really matters. You need to be running in supportive, well-made shoes; you need to be wearing breathable fabrics, and you need to have anti-chafing and sweat-wicking materials.
Get the right gear
Being prepared with the right clothing and equipment will have a positive impact on your performance. If you are comfortable and hydrated you are less likely to lose motivation with your training, which will help you avoid bonking or even developing an injury.
Here’s some great gear to keep you on track…
At these sorts of distances, you need to stay hydrated. These run kits allow you to secret away your water bottle, so you don't have to carry it in your hand the whole way and throw you off your technique.
Stay fully hydrated on your run with this run belt that holds two 500ml bottles. The lightweight belt also has extra room for gels or bars, so you can easily fuel your long run.
The SPIbelt H20 Venture belt Bottle is a handy way to carry two bottles on your long training days. Its bounce-free design keeps the bottles from moving around when you run.
The Osprey Duro 1.5 Hydration Pack is worn as a vest and includes two 250ml bottles. The straps are easy to adjust for a comfortable run which avoids any chaffing and has reflective strips for running in dark conditions.
Running shorts, tights and tops
To ensure you're ready to run, no matter the conditions, you'll need great sweat-wicking shorts as well insulating running tights or trousers. Don't be beaten by the weather - own the weather.
Check out our Marathon Training Guide: Part 3 for more information on running nutrition.