With outdoor exercise being one of the few activities that allowed us to leave our homes during lockdown, an estimated seven million people across the UK started running or jogging during the COVID-19 crisis. * According to Public Health England, between March 2020 and July 2021, the NHS’ free Couch to 5K app was downloaded 2.36 million times. Indeed, when we surveyed over 19,000 of our members in 2020, 33% said that they were running to stay active while our centres were closed.
Make no mistake, there are now millions of Brits pounding the pavement up and down the country, reaping the abundant mental and physical benefits that running can deliver. Regular running has been shown to reduce the risk of long-term illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke, as well as help individuals to maintain a healthier weight and improve mood.
So, if you’re one of the said millions – you’re on your fourth pair of trainers, you know your entire county like the back of your hand and, you’re ready for the next challenge – what next? A marathon, of course!
But, how do you go about training for a marathon? What, exactly, is involved in marathon training? How long do you need to prepare? Where are the best UK marathons? How do you even begin?
First of all, you may find our blog from earlier this year on setting SMART goals helpful. You’ve decided to run a marathon this year – now use the SMART goals toolkit to get organised. Set specific, measurable, realistic goals with incremental, time-based deadlines and agree to your commitment by writing it down.
You could say that you want to run a half-marathon by the summer – it’s a specific goal – a half marathon. You can measure your progress week by week, month by month by following a marathon plan (more on that in a moment) and sticking to it. By writing it down, you’ve agreed to and, therefore, committed to your goal. It’s also realistic – a half marathon, not a full one. Finally, you’ve made it time-based by saying you want to do this by the summer.
Marathon training plans
So, you’ve set your goal – and have organised yourself using the SMART goals toolkit. Now you need a plan.
Marathon training plans can take you on a journey of anywhere from six to 20 weeks, so, once you’ve set your goal, chosen your marathon, and secured your place, you’ll want to find a plan that works for you.
Many of the biggest and most well-established marathons have training plans on their website that you can download for free. The plans vary according to experience – from beginner’s training plans to those geared for improvers and those that are well advanced and experienced.
Another interesting and fun route to marathon training is through charitable fundraising. Many of the UK’s largest charities have marathon teams and guaranteed places at various marathons throughout the year. You can either secure a place on the marathon then join a charity team – or, join a charity team to secure one of their places. Either way, you join the team and pledge to fundraise a minimum amount for the charity – usually around £2,000.
The benefit of joining a charity team – beyond raising much-needed funds for wonderful national charities! – is that you also gain all the team benefits – many of which include marathon training plans, as well as training guides, free access to running apps with audio runs, coach and physio tips and bespoke training days. Perhaps best of all, you also get to enjoy post-race celebrations, a team running vest and a dedicated cheering squad on the big day!
Check out your marathon’s website for more information on charity teams and fundraising, but many of the major charities include: Sarcoma UK, Epilepsy Society, Save the Children, Shelter, Prostate Cancer Research, Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Mental Health Foundation, British Heart Foundation, Macmillan, Barnardo’s, Mind, Cancer Research, Make a Wish, Hospice and so many more.
In addition to the above, there are – literally – thousands of books, websites, magazines, and, if you’re tech-savvy, apps that are designed for specific wearable tech – like the Nike Running Club, Strava, and Map My Run apps that can be used with your iPhone or Apple Watch. Plus, don’t forget our very own Places Locker app which allows you to track your running and add your favourite playlist to listen to at the same time! The options are endless, you just have to find the right plan for you.
How we can help!
Don’t forget, we’re here to help! We want you to achieve your goals and are here to help you every step of the way! Strength training and conditioning are important for any runner but are especially important when you’re training for a marathon.
During your training, most plans encourage you to run three to five times a week, increasing your mileage as you get closer to the big day. On your non-running days, it’s important to cross-train and do low-intensity exercises, ensuring your legs get a rest and have time to recover.
Our Fitness Operations Manager, Sam Bryant gives this advice, “Very rarely do marathon runners complete the whole distance when training for it. Try not to ‘overtrain’ by simply running. To train for a marathon, you need to balance your indoor and outdoor running with non-impact cardio options such as cross trainers to help minimise injuries. Also, try and spend time working on your endurance with strength training – for example, high reps with lower weights. We can help with flexibility and developmental stretching sessions in the gym – or, you could also try yoga and Pilates style classes to increase your flexibility.”
All our memberships include ongoing support and advice from our fitness team. We can design a bespoke, digital programme that helps you to cross-train, build your endurance and increase your flexibility. Simply let the fitness team know when your marathon is, and we’ll do all we can to help you get across that finish line!
So, are you ready to step outside of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to a voyage of self-discovery? You’ll be rewarded with the experience of joining a community of runners all coming together for the same common goal – surrounded by people supporting you and cheering you on. Plus, the feeling of personal accomplishment that will last a lifetime. You’ve got this, and, we’ve definitely got you!
Some of the best, most well-established UK marathons
Liverpool Rock ‘n Roll Marathon
Milton Keynes Marathon
Great North Run