Training for a marathon

This year sees the first-ever Birmingham International Marathon. Ironman and ultra-fit champion Hywel Davies has some tips on how best to navigate the 26.2 miles

If you were going to sit an exam tomorrow, you wouldn’t spend one night trying to learn everything about the subject and expect to be at your best. Likewise, preparing to run a marathon involves planning your training progressively and being consistent so that it becomes a habit and enjoyable journey towards your key event. Here’s my 10 tips for reaching the start – and the finish – line!

1: Give yourself at least 20 weeks to train

No matter what your starting point, breaking your training up into four or five monthly blocks will give you a new focus and and motivation. If you are a complete beginner, then the build-up can be longer. Spend more time building up the ‘base’ miles where you are slowly training your body to run slowly for increasing distances.

2: Learn to run slow

The biggest mistake people make is in trying to run fast too often. Up to 80 per cent of your running should be slower than your marathon pace and should feel easy. This means you recover quicker, and progress with less injury and cope with longer runs.

3: Set goals

Setting milestones for each month or week keeps you motivated. This may be something to complete, such as running four times in a week, over 30 miles in a week, etc. They can also be performance goals such as a time for a park run, 10k or training run. Be realistic though and don’t set goals that are too high.

4: More is not always better

Running more miles sounds like a great way to improve but there are runners who achieve well at marathons on less than 30 miles a week and some that run well over 100. You must progress slowly each week. A good rule is 10 per cent per week. This can be 10 per cent more distance, or time or added onto your longest run.

5: Be patient

Training for a marathon takes time. The improvements are small daily amounts and by working in monthly blocks it may be three or four weeks before you see any changes in your fitness.

6: Mix it up

There are lots of things that you can change in your training to make it more enjoyable – the venue (off road, parks, footpaths, track), type of training session (intervals, run/walk, progressive pace), who you run with and when, different distractions (music, audiobooks, podcasts, conversations). As you get towards eight weeks out from the marathon, you will need to increase the speed work so be creative with treadmills, track, hill climbs and stair runs.

7: Set yourself challenges

The more you can overcome challenges during training, the stronger you will get mentally on marathon day. There are things you can do to ‘toughen’ you up – run when its raining, run all the hills, run laps that pass your house pushing harder each time to the end of a road, run into headwinds.

8: Rest and recover well

Rest is as important as training, especially as you get closer to the race. Don’t make the mistake of spending all day travelling or on your feet the day before. Make sure you eat properly, drink lots of water and get regular sports massages.

9: Get comfortable kit

You will be spending a long time running, so clothing has to feel comfortable. Socks, vests, thermals, gloves, hats and even rucksacks and headphones have to sit comfortably so they are not an excuse to stop. Try before you buy and borrow from others to test.

10: Make it an experience

Although you may have entered a big race, try to involve people who have been part of the journey. This could be a weekend in the host city, or a day of shopping or having a celebratory meal AFTER the event. As you invest so much effort and time into this, make the whole race weekend an experience, even if the run itself does not go exactly to plan.

The inaugural Birmingham International Marathon is on Sunday 15 October. Starting at Alexander Stadium, the home of British athletics, the course will take in a number of Brum’s most iconic landmarks before finishing at Millennium Point. Full details at

Hywel Davies is a multi-world record holder and multiple European and British age group triathlon champion, UK Double Ironman record-holder and five-time UK Ultrafit champion. For a full training plan contact him at twitter @tribe_coaching