Once you have committed to the challenge of a marathon, it's important to create a training program to achieve your running goal. I find it's effective to write down your weekly objectives (it's very rewarding to check them off). Record notes and stats in a journal so you can look back on all you've accomplished and boost your confidence.
Your training program should include at least four runs per week. The speed and distance of these may vary. We'll cover some options in future weeks, but most of your runs will be 10 to 15 kilometres, with one longer run each week. Take a complete rest day each week with no exercise. This will not only help with recovery but also keep your social life intact.
The most important part of your marathon program is the weekly long run. I recommend you do the long run on the weekend so you can rest before and after - just like on race day. If possible, begin your long run at the same time as the start of race day, so your mind and body are accustomed to long run efforts early in the morning.
For your weekly long run, gradually increase the distance, starting at a minimum of 15 km and adding about 3 km each week until you reach a maximum of 32 km. This can usually be accomplished in six weeks, depending on your fitness and experience. After each 32 km run, be sure to take an easy week of lower volume and less intensity to ensure optimal recovery. After this brief rest period, build back up to 32 km. During this second buildup to 32 km, you will notice an improvement in mental and physical stamina.
You should complete at least two runs of 32 km during your 16-week training program. (Experienced runners may include more frequent long runs and of greater duration.) No matter what your level or experience is, be sure your last 32 km run is three to four weeks before race day so that you are adequately recovered before the big event.
Enjoy these long-distance runs, and do them at an easy pace. Run with a friend so you have someone to talk with. Conversation pace ensures your heart rate is not too high and that your pace is under control. For experienced runners, you will want to include some runs at marathon pace (but we will get to that in a few weeks). Until next time, happy running.
Nicole Stevenson is the ninth-fastest female marathon runner in Canadian history. She coaches many athletes, including 2010 Canadian marathon champion Krista DuChene and is a long-time competitor in the Canada Running Series.