Have you always secretly wanted to run a 5K—but felt too scared to try? Or are you an experienced runner hoping to take your marathoning ways to the next level? Or maybe you’re somewhere in the middle; you’ve done a 5K or a 10K, but you’re not quite sure about training for a full marathon?
We’ve got you covered with our Every Woman’s Guide. Here you’ll find our training tips for every woman’s fitness level. For She’s Fit members, fitness is a way of life and takes place both inside and outside the gym. Here’s how we recommend you get ready to run, no matter who you are.
A special word about marathons
Any run from the 5K to the ultra marathon demands special training. However, when it comes to marathons (and anything longer), you really need to be sure you’re getting the right training in, and that you’re doing enough to get yourself ready. In general, even seasoned runners train for marathons for 16 to 20 weeks, running three to five times or more during every one of those weeks.
Ideally you should have a solid base of running under your belt before attempting a marathon—say, three to six months of consistent running, at least three to five times each week. Running six miles at a time should feel comfortable to you, and hopefully you will have finished several 5K races already.
These things only matter because going from nothing to marathon increases your chances of having a bad experience, including being injured. No one wants that.
Training for runs: the basics
Your goal here is to get your body used to running long distances, and to handling running for long periods of time. It helps to create a training plan so you can stay organized and push yourself in a safe, controlled way. Don’t increase your running volume in the first week of training by more than ten percent of where your starting point is, and build up gradually.
If you’re aiming for a marathon and you’re newer to running, aim for 15 to 20 miles in your first week over the course of four or five days. Build up slowly until you peak at 35 to 40 miles in a week over four or five days. (You can see why it’s better to have closer to six months to train if you’re a beginner!)
If you’re a beginner who’s aiming for a shorter run, you can start with a lower goal; just make sure you’re still pushing yourself a bit. Remember, you’re supposed to be growing here, so it shouldn’t be too comfortable.
A more experienced runner can probably handle a shorter run like a 5K or a 10K with relative ease. However, even more seasoned runners should train for marathons; just start with a higher number of miles per week—say 35 miles over four to five days. Target your peak for training at 50 miles or more over four to five days.
Runners at all experience levels should make one of their weekly runs a long, slow run at a pace that allows them to maintain a conversation. The idea is that you include one of these each week, slowly building up the distance. These longer “talking” runs culminate in at least one long “dress rehearsal” run you build into your training plan.
These longer runs are crucial for preparing your body to take the punishment of longer races. It’s not just your basic cardio and muscle strength that’s needed here; you’re also preparing your bones, brain, heart, joints, feet, and lungs specifically for what you’ll need on race day. You don’t want to run a full-length marathon before your race, because it’s too risky in terms of injuries; you do want to regularly run long distances.
Your “dress rehearsal” run also helps you stick to an important rule: never do anything new on race day. This is a rule to live and run by. Never try new shoes, new clothes, new meals, or new anything else on race day!
Supplement running with other training
Many runners just run, but there are major benefits to supplementing your running with other fitness training. Cross-training in particular is excellent for runners because it builds flexibility and strength in muscles that runners don’t use as much, and corrects muscular imbalances to help prevent injury.
As a runner, choose the cross-training options that benefit you most on race day: cross-country ski machines, elliptical trainers, stationary bikes, and water running are all excellent options. As you cross-train maintain your heart rate at or above 220 minus your age. You can substitute high quality cross-training for 25 to 30 percent of your miles in a week if you want to mix up your training.
Eat right for running
When you’re running for long distances, you have to be very careful about what you eat. Of course what you eat during training matters, but it’s even more critical just before, during, and just after the race. Obviously if you don’t eat enough you won’t make it, but if you eat too much, you’ll find yourself having an emergency on the road. In addition, many long distance runners find themselves unable to tolerate many processed foods that they once ate with ease.
Who knew that eating would be so tricky for long distance running?
If you’re going to be running for more than one hour, you need a meal that’s high in carbohydrates and low in fiber three to four hours before you start; aim for about 50 grams of carbohydrates. Add in lean protein for very long runs. This timeframe gives you a chance to digest the food, minimizing your risk of cramping and other stomach trouble.
While you’re running for more than an hour at a stretch, you should take in carbohydrates to keep your energy level up and your blood sugar even. Ideally you’ll consume 10 to 20 grams of carbohydrates for every 20 minutes of exercise. Energy gels, energy chews, sports drinks, and foods like raisins and honey can all get you what you need while running.
Within 30 to 60 minutes after you run, make sure you eat a mixture of protein and carbohydrates to ensure your body recovers. The proteins help your muscles repair themselves, and the carbohydrates replenish your energy reserves. For long runs, your recovery meal should include about 15 to 25 grams of lean protein and 50 to 75 grams of carbohydrates.
As you train, perform a sweat test to see how much water you’re losing as you run. Weigh yourself just before and after you run; any weight loss is water loss, and you must replenish at least that much fluid.
Before each run, drink six to eight ounces of clear liquid, whether it’s water, sports drink, tea, or even coffee. As you run, drink three to six ounces every 15 to 20 minutes. If your run is less than one hour, drinking water is fine. If you’re running for more than one hour at a time, sports drinks with carbohydrates and electrolytes which replenish sodium are usually a better choice.
The bottom line
We’ve covered the basics of training for a long run, supplementing your running with other training, and how to eat and drink right for marathon training. In Part Two of our Every Woman’s Guide to Training for a Run, we get into how to choose a route, avoiding injury, staying motivated, gearing up, and coping with challenges.