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'26.2' - The Marathon Training Website:

Performance Improvement for the Marathon

Running a marathon can be very frustrating when you don't meet your time goal and have to really struggle to get through the final six miles. However there are some things you can do during your training to greatly improve your chances of running a successful marathon.

Marathon Training - Key Factors

Here are nine key aspects of a marathon training program that you need to consider during your marathon program.

- Weight Training
- Stretching
- Hill work
- Cross training
- Variety
- Walking breaks
- The Inner Runner
- Relaxation
- Time Off

 We’ll take an in-depth look at each of these below.

Weight Training

I used to think hey, I’m a runner why do I need to do weight training, especially for the lower body? Well, running tends to strengthen a particular set of muscles resulting in a major imbalance in the muscular make-up of your legs. This can make you more susceptible to certain types of injury, especially during long marathon training runs. Quadriceps especially can get neglected. For those of you who have already run a marathon you will know this is one of the hurting body parts after you finish.

è  You really need to be doing some weight training about three times a week (25 - 35 minutes per session is enough). I personally follow a full work-out routine to strengthen my arms, legs, lower back and abdomen.

 Upper body workouts will also help to improve your running form.


Once again the experts differ on this; some say too much stretching can be a contributor to injuries, while others recommend stretching before and after a run. I prefer to do stretching and flexibility exercises after my marathon training run because I don’t like the idea of stretching ‘cold’ muscles. Obviously you must not over-stretch to the point where you are forcing. After a long run it’s easy to see how this could do damage.

Ø      You should include a moderate stretching routine at the end of every run, especially after those marathon training long runs!


You don’t have to restrict your stretching exercises to your running time either. Yoga is a great way of improving the overall flexibility of your body.

Hill work
We all like to run a ‘flat’ marathon course (Pike’s Peak participants excepted!). So why run hills?  

è Hill training is a really good way to build up strength for the marathon distance in those muscles that don’t get so much of a workout on the flat.

 This type of training will also improve your aerobic capacity as well. However there is a huge caveat to remember when doing your hill training. Do not force the pace or strain because this is one of the easiest ways to get injured, uphill or downhill. Where possible, I like to do hills in the middle of my run, when I am warmed up, but not too tired. If there are no hills where you live, try the treadmill (elevated) or the stair climber machine at your local gym.

Cross train

marathon-training-cross-picI’m sure you’ve all heard this one before! But it definitely works, (if you have the time!). Swimming and biking are great alternatives, although too much cycling can hurt you as well. I like swimming because it is a full body exercise that does not stress the bone structure.  Running in the water (Aqua jogging) is another alternative.  However doing laps in a pool can get kind of boring.

Cycling is a good exercise for using different leg muscles, and standing on the pedals to climb hills will definitely give those quadriceps a good workout. I usually like to get out at least once a week in summer for a 1 to 2 hour ride. It's a welcome change from all those marathon training runs.


Mix it Up!


If I don’t watch out, I often end up doing all of my marathon training runs at the same pace. I tend to start thinking about other things and my body goes into ‘cruise control’ mode. On long runs the only change is slowing down as I get into the later miles...! Depending on your marathon goal, I believe there is nothing basically wrong with always training at the same pace. It just doesn’t prepare you so well for the actual race.

è If you are looking to improve your marathon race time you need to vary the intensity of your marathon training runs.

 Sometimes I will run at different speeds during the same training session, other times I will do the entire run at a faster than normal pace. These ‘tempo’ runs will enhance your aerobic capability and build strength. However - this is definitely a “listen to your body” process. If you decide to do a faster run, and find you are struggling right from the start, forget it! It is so easy to hurt yourself by over-stressing the body. You will also need more time to recover.

Remember the goal here is to train for the marathon, not a 10K!

 Walking breaks.

Introduce walking breaks, especially on those longer marathon runs. Since I hurt my hamstrings, I have used this technique to build stamina and endurance without the usual aches and pains. Simply put, walk briskly for several minutes (one to five) for every 15 to 20 (or more) minutes of running. You will be amazed at the results. Fewer next day aches and pains for one.

è  Your marathon training goal is to be able to exercise continuously for 3 hours or more and walking breaks are a great way to accomplish this while reducing the strain on your body. Try it!

 The Inner Runner

Much has been written about the ‘Zen’ of various sports, and the importance of the mental aspect in overall performance. I think this is especial true for the marathon. 

Ø      Many successful elite runners talk about visualizing themselves crossing the finish line, and this helps them in the actual race.  

I believe this can be a great help to marathoners if we can apply this technique to some of the key points in the race. For example imagine yourself at the 20 mile mark, tired but overcoming the feeling of ‘hitting the wall’. This positive image will remain with you and help to get you through this critical stage on the actual race day.


è In most sports you are going to perform better if you are relaxed, both mentally and physically.


Look at the lead pack of any major marathon – do they look like they are working as hard as they really are? No - they have settled into a steady relaxed pace, (albeit at 5 minutes per mile!). As you run, try to consciously relax your neck, arms, hands and legs. You will run much more smoothly and easily. In colder weather I notice my hands will tend to clench into fists, and I have to go through this relaxation process to loosen up. 

Time Off

Professional athletes are very aware of feeling “burned out” mentally as much as physically. If you train all the time for your marathon I guarantee this will happen to you… I know there are many people out there who run every day but I do not subscribe to that philosophy at all. Make sure you build “time off” into your marathon training schedule. This doesn’t mean cross training either.  

Sometimes taking 2 or 3 days away from your training program and from exercising in general can be a tremendous benefit.

 You’ll come back feeling refreshed and Gung Ho! But, you have to plan for this - otherwise you’ll end up feeling guilty about missing your training runs.   

Count your ‘day off’ as a training day!


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