What does a marathon training routine look like? Apart from running training, what else should you include in your fitness programme? Is it important to do strength training before a marathon? What strength training exercises would be beneficial to marathon runners? Read on to find out all the answers.
How often and for how long do you run every week in preparation for the marathon?
Depending on the time of the year, I run between 50 to 80k per week, usually split into 5 different runs. Long-distance runs are obviously essential when preparing to run a marathon. In anticipation of the run in Berlin, I’ve increased my long-distance runs from 20k to 35.
Interval training, Fartlek, pace changes and mountain sprints are all different ways I work on my pace. Every runner’s aim is to become faster, so, in my opinion, tempo runs are a crucial part of your training routine alongside more relaxed endurance runs. Tempo runs serve to improve your stamina, speed and overall resilience. All three are decisive factors for your marathon finish time.
The last quarter of my running training is taken up by threshold, or T-pace, running. The main goal of this is to raise your anaerobic threshold. Training at the limit between your aerobic threshold and your anaerobic threshold is particularly effective. Training at race pace also helps you reach and maintain the pace more easily during the marathon.
Last but not least, you need a good recovery run, where you run really slowly to allow your body to recover from and adapt to an increase in training intensity. Everyone knows that, when it comes to running, recovery is just as important in your training as pushing your limits.
For my marathon preparation, I go running every day, sometimes even twice a day. I usually start off very early in the morning with a plain run. I’ll cover different distances depending on how I’m feeling on that particular morning and how fresh my legs feel. I usually run between 16 and 22k at different paces.
Two or three times a week I’ll run twice in one day. The first run, before breakfast, will be at a swift pace. The second run of the day will then be a tempo run or a progression one. I try to speed up by 5 seconds every kilometre and I’ll run the last kilometre at top speed.
My favourite kind of run has always been a long-distance tempo run, between 18 and 22k. I really enjoy working in a couple of kilometres at a near-marathon pace. I must admit, though, that I hate interval training and hardly ever practise it. It might be because, when I was younger, I didn’t really know how to do interval training and I didn’t have the chance to try it properly. Now and again I’ll take part in training competitions. They’re a great way of finding out where I’m at and what I’m capable of achieving during a real competition. These races range from 10k to half-marathon distances.
Alongside these runs, which are often tiring, I also complete two to three more relaxed long-distance runs. I do this by supporting beginner runners as a leader of the Falk Cierpinski running group. I use this as a shake-out run as part of my marathon training routine.
This means that I rack up about 140 to 160k every week.
Is it important for you to do additional training alongside your running?
A lot of runners neglect their strength, stability and mobility training. But based on my personal and professional experience, I can’t emphasise enough how important this training is for runners.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen a big improvement in my running performance partly thanks to having followed a holistic athletics training programme. It’s made me stronger and faster, enabling me to achieve new personal bests. I’ve also been able to rid myself of the little aches and pains most runners suffer from. It was only after integrating this training into my schedule that I felt ready for marathon distances.
You also have to understand that improving yourself constantly is not just a case of racking up the miles. Above all, you need to make sure you stay healthy. Obviously, it’s important that marathon runners run a lot, but to be able to do this in the first place takes a lot more than just covering a certain distance. That’s why additional strength training is incredibly important.
I find strength training essential. Some mornings I really don’t feel like going for a run, so instead, I’ll get on my cyclocross bike and churn out 40 to 50k to start the day off right.
For me, cycling is a good way to work on my stamina. I try to integrate as much cycling as possible into my everyday life alongside my usual running training. I always cycle to uni, for example, and if I need to go shopping or to an appointment, I’ll go on my bike instead of taking the tram.
Before I got into running, I used to be a swimmer - I swam regularly for 8 years-, so swimming also forms part of my marathon training. It’s a really good alternative sport: it’s gentle on your joints but is perfect for training your stamina and breathing. I also use it for recovery purposes, as I find that the resistance of the water has a massaging effect on my muscles. Depending on how much time I have, I’ll spend between one and one and a half hours in the water, covering around 3 to 4k. I throw in a few crawl sprints between lengths too.
Apart from the three endurance sports I’ve already mentioned, strength and stability training also form part of my everyday life alongside running training. I strength train daily, and I’ve got a specific routine for it. For me, it’s particularly important because I’ve had a lot of problems with injuries and aches and pains whilst running. I use stability training as a preventative method against these issues.
What’s your special runners’ strength training programme like?
When preparing for a marathon, I do strength training at the gym two to three times a week. I also practice yoga once or twice a week. Overall, my programme is based on three basic training types:
Mobility exercises: dynamic mobility exercises are exercises that prepare you for specific movements. They improve mobility and activate your muscles.
Functional exercises: these train your entire body on a physiological level. You work on mobility, balance and coordination by practising exercises that require the use of several muscle groups at once.
Balancing exercises: by training both sides separately, any muscle imbalance is corrected. Most people have specific exercises that they prefer. Mine are lunges of any kind, with or without equipment. You can do them anywhere at any time and they can serve different purposes:
Simple lunges are a great warm-up exercise to activate your muscles. I use them as part of my warm-up programme alongside some other running ABCs before starting a tempo run. Lunges with rotation are great too - to be a good runner, you need well-balanced upper body muscles to stabilise your hips and keep your posture upright. A simple exercise like a lunge with rotation trains all of these muscles beautifully.
Lunges with TRX suspension are ideal for training the entire chain of muscles powering your legs. They can help stabilise your leg axis and strengthen proprioception. Doing this exercise on one leg will eventually balance out any differences between your left leg and your right leg. On top of all that, the hip flexor in the passive leg will stretch gently during the exercise, making sure both of your legs are perfectly prepared for a marathon - in my case, the one in Berlin.
My fitness workouts last between 20 and 45 minutes, and I focus on different muscle groups in turn. One of my favourite exercises for core muscles is the Russian twist performed with a 5 to 10kg-weight plate. You just sit up straight, lift your legs off the floor slightly, take the weight in your hands and rotate your upper body from left to right. Another of my favourite exercises is the plank. I find normal planks too easy, so I make mine more dynamic or unstable, i.e. by doing side planks or rotating my torso during a normal plank.
During strength training sessions, I try to work all of the muscle groups. Even the arms and upper body need training - if you have a stable and efficient upper body posture during a marathon run, you save energy and can achieve a faster pace. Classic exercises for this are push-ups, bench presses with barbells or dumbbells, and rowing with barbells or dumbbells.
After very tiring competitions or tough workouts, I also like to practise some yoga. It helps me calm down, while also working my balance and mobility.
I often switch up my training with a fascia roll or Blackroll. They’re great for loosening up your muscles, stretching your fascia and releasing any knots.
Both Julia and Max from our Keller Sports x Nike Marathon team ensure they incorporate additional strength training alongside their running training when preparing for a marathon - it’s essential for stability, injury prevention and improved endurance during a marathon-distance run.
How do you train for marathons? How do you work on your fitness when you’re not running? Do you incorporate special runners’ strength training into your pre-marathon workouts? Have you already run a marathon before? Are you training for one now? Let us know where you’re at!