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18 Marathons Later, Here's What I've Learned

Dec. 13, 2019

By Lindsay McClelland

Training to run a marathon is hard work. Even if you’re following a training plan, you’re bound to have questions.
 
After running 18 marathons, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about training for one. Here are my answers to commonly asked questions about training for a marathon.

Should I run every day?

This is a really personal one. It depends on what your current running base is, how well you recover and how much time you have.

If you’re training for your first marathon, training for four or five days per week is a great way to get started without putting yourself at risk for injury. Runners with higher mileage training plans might run six or seven days a week, but it’s definitely not necessary.

During marathon training, recovery is just as important as running the miles — so building in rest days and easy runs are a must!

Should I join a training group?

100% yes! Training groups are such a great way to learn from other runners’ experiences, socialize and improve your own running. Having running buddies to share the miles with will keep you more accountable — and make those long runs go by so much faster.

There are training groups for pretty much everyone. But, if you can’t find one you love or that fits into your schedule, there are tons of online support groups, too.

There’s definitely a time and a place for solo, introspective runs, but in my opinion there’s nothing better than a long run with friends!

How many miles should I run each week?

Weekly mileage depends on a few different factors, including experience. If you’re new to running, starting out with 60-mile weeks is a sure way to get injured. I know people who have run amazing marathons on as little as 30 miles per week, as well as others who have put in more than 80 miles per week.

A great way to plan out your weekly mileage is to start by looking at how far your longest run is and planning the rest of your workouts and mileage from there. I’m a big believer in quality over quantity, so if your mid-week runs need to be shorter, so be it.

Should my total mileage increase every week of training?

Not necessarily.

A general rule is to increase your mileage by no more than 10% each week. With that said, rest weeks are a good way to help your body recover and keep it fresh. Every three or four weeks, drop the mileage down before picking it back up again the next week.

Additionally, in the weeks leading up to race day, you’ll want to do what’s called a taper. Taper is exactly what it sounds like — it’s a reduction in mileage so you can recover completely before race day. During race week you may only run a few days, and focus on relaxing instead.

Do I need to run the full 26 miles while training?

Definitely not! The longest training run I’ve done while preparing for a marathon was 23 miles, and my shortest training run was 16 miles.

I’ve found that sometimes it’s more helpful to focus on the time on my feet rather than how many miles I’m actually running. A long run that is three to four hours (or your predicted finish time) can be a good guide.

What’s more important while training: running a certain distance or for a set amount of time?

It’s really a personal preference and based on the training plan you’re following. For a run/walk plan, it might be easier for you to structure by time. But, if you like seeing a round number on your watch or training journal, then tracking by distance is the way to go.

When it comes to marathon training, so much of the preparation is mental. I’ve always found that getting my long runs in is more important for my mental preparation than my physical.

How long is the ideal walking break?

It really depends on your training plan. If you’re on a run/walk plan, just stay consistent and stick with your plan. If you’re aiming to run your entire marathon, pace yourself at the beginning so you don’t have to resort to walking breaks.

I’ve found that walking breaks take more of a mental toll than anything else — especially if they come when I’m really hurting! In marathons, I try to break things up into manageable increments, like: Just make it to the next water stop. When I get there, I’ll reward myself by walking through the water stop, but then I know I need to pick it up again. The longer the break, the harder it can be to get started again.

How do you get over a bad run?

Bad runs are going to happen, but you have to remember that a bad run is better than no run at all.

Every time I have a bad run, I think about how lucky I am to be able to run in the first place. It’s a gratitude thing.

Of course, if your bad run is due to pain or injury, the best thing to do is rest and recover. Sometimes bad runs are also an indication of overtraining, which means you should definitely take a few days off to let your body recalibrate.

How important are shoes, really?

You’ll be spending a lot of time in your shoes, so get a pair you love. Wearing worn out shoes or ones that aren’t designed for running can also be a recipe for pain and injury.

If you’ve never been fitted for running shoes before, visit your local running store. They’ll properly measure your feet (did you know you should go up a half or full size in your running shoes?) and check for any weaknesses that shoes can help correct — like flat feet and pronation.

What’s your favorite type of cross training during marathon prep?

I’m a big believer in building strength and mobility during marathon training. I always incorporate weight lifting into my training plan, with a focus on areas that tend to weaken if you’re just running (your glutes, hamstrings and core).

I also try to practice yoga three or four times a week, even if it’s just a short flow after a run. This combination has been really important for me to get faster and stay healthy.

Do you train when you’re sick?

If I’m not feeling well and have a big workout coming up, I’ll definitely modify it or skip it completely if I’m really not feeling up to it. The key here is to listen to your body.

What do I do if I get a cramp?

Cramps are the worst! They’re usually an indication that you aren’t getting enough of something that you need — like oxygen or electrolytes.

For tight calf cramps, take some time to stretch and boost your hydration. For side stitches, you might be able to slow down and keep running, or walk until the pain subsides.

Either way, fueling your body properly before and during long runs will help prevent cramps from taking over.

What do you do to prevent injuries?

I would love to get massages after every long run, but I just can’t afford it — self-care at home is what I stick to. Yoga, foam rolling and strength training are my go-to choices.

If my muscles are really tight from a long run, foam rolling (or rolling on a lacrosse ball) helps loosen things up. I also recommend a good Epsom salt bath to soothe those sore muscles.

I have a history of hip injuries, so I know that I need to keep up with maintenance physical therapy work to stay healthy. These strengthening exercises are often really simple and “boring,” but they do make a difference. If I start to feel an injury flare up, I take care of it immediately. Sometimes that means icing, sometimes it means skipping a workout. The more you get to know and understand your body and its limits, the easier this becomes.

About Lindsay

Lindsay McClelland is a digital marketing professional, ERYT-200 yoga teacher, former collegiate swimmer, marathon runner and soon to be first-time mom. Her running adventures have taken her to 18 marathons including the Boston Marathon (twice!). Lindsay is a race ambassador for the Chevron Houston Marathon, one of her favorite races. Now based in Charlotte, NC, Lindsay catalogues her fitness adventures and stories from the trails and the road on her blog, Loving Life on the Run.
Lindsay McClelland running the Houston half marathon
Lindsay at mile 12 of the 2019 Aramco Houston Half Marathon.