Marathon motivation: How to stick to a 6-month training plan

Tips to help you train for a marathon

So you’ve decided to run a marathon. Whether you’ve been inspired from the comfort of your couch or you’re fulfilling the lifelong ambition of an enthusiastic club runner, you have entered a race, you’re committed to running it and you’ve given yourself plenty of time to do it. You‘ve downloaded your training plan, bought the new running shoes, invested in more lycra than you can know what to do with and chosen the charity or cause you are going to run for. Essentially you are ready. But how do you successfully negotiate the tough six months that lie ahead? 

The first thing you need to do is make sure the training plan you’ve chosen is the right one for you. There is no point downloading a plan to run your first marathon in under three hours, if you have no previous running pedigree. Be realistic about your ability and set appropriate and sensible targets. It will make training so much easier and you’ll enjoy it all more. If you have allowed yourself six months that is plenty of time to build up to marathon distance and gives you some room for manoeuvre if you have an injury to contend with. Perhaps one day you will be able to duck under three hours, but it’s a big ask for a first timer with no experience.

Once you are absolutely certain of your goal, stick to the plan because commitment is everything in terms of achieving your goals. Make sure you have the time in your professional and social life to do the training, and if you do, follow the advice of the experts who have devised your plan and do exactly what you should do when you are told to do it. Having said that, if you feel tired or unwell, don’t be afraid to skip a session. Listening to your body and recognising warning signals is another hugely important part of the process. But don’t make skipping sessions a habit. If you do, it means you’re either carrying an injury or you are just not motivated enough to follow the plan through.

Look ahead and make plans to make sure you can fit your increasingly long runs into your work schedule. You will need to do at least one long run a week, which should increase in distance by around 10 per cent a week. You are bound to have birthdays, parties, weddings and any manner of social events coming up in the next six months, so make sure you plan around that to schedule those long runs. Don’t give yourself an excuse to duck out of training.

Remember the mental aspect of marathon training is enormous. It’s extremely tough at times to get out and run when the weather is rotten or you feel tired, you have a sniffle or you just want to go to the movies instead. There are hundreds of potential excuses you could make not to go running, but stay strong and put those running shoes on. Yes it’s hard, but it will be worth it when you cross the line on marathon day.

It will definitely help if you tell everyone you know what you’re planning. Don’t be shy. You’ll be amazed how supportive your family and friends will be and you will need to rely on that support at times. When you’re having a dip, get someone to come running with you, or get someone to come round so you can have a moan. You’ll be amazed what a difference it makes, and when you’ve had a moan you’ll feel like going for that run. If you are raising money for a charity or cause, start fundraising early and organise lots of events around that. It will give you a real focus and keep you going out for those runs when you don’t feel like it.

Join a running group if you like the idea of running in company. Even if you aren’t all doing a marathon, the commitment element as well as the competitive aspect will help enormously. One of the best pieces of advice anyone running a marathon could have is to immerse themselves in running for the period of your training. Talk to other runners, listen to their stories and experiences, both from a training and race day perspective. You can pick up all sorts of useful tips on everything from nutrition to running kit and every little extra nugget of information helps. If you have a bad run it helps to know that you are not the only one. Everyone training for a long distance event has a similar experience. Negativity can be one of the most damaging aspects of a lengthy training programme, so try to avoid getting down on yourself by realising that you are not alone.

Cross training is a fantastic way of staying motivated and in shape. The monotony of training can be a killer, so breaking it up with cycling, swimming, rowing or weight training is a great way of staying mentally fresh. Don’t do too much though, because you don’t want to pick up an injury because you push it too much in the pool or on the bike. But the benefits of cross training far outweigh the risks and you will enjoy the change.

And speaking of changes, vary your training routes. You will definitely start to lose motivation if you run the same route all the time. Mix it up by running in new places. The change of scenery will keep you mentally fresh. 

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