Marathon Training – what they don’t tell you

I’ve seen plenty of marathon training programs around. I’ve also seen plenty of information on nutrition, building up your fitness, what to wear, why your feet hurt etc. What I haven’t seen is a list of the things that runners forget to tell you – probably because they’ve become so used to them – or how to avoid them!

You can’t run every day

If you’re a new runner, it takes some time for your muscles and bones to get used to the impact of running. It’s all very well for seasoned athletes to run long distances every day, but unless you’re lucky, it’s an easy path to injury.

I screwed this up completely, and ended up with shin splints before I even knew what shin splints were. While I’m building up my strength, I stick to the elliptical and bike on my in between days. This is one of the most important things I’ve learned in marathon training (at least for a newbie!).

Your butt hurts. A lot.

I was totally clueless when I started, so I’m not assuming you’re as shocked as I am by this one. But wow! Not only was I getting ordinary running discomfort, I didn’t really know how to activate my glutes, and then I didn’t think abut stretching them. In fact, I didn’t think about it at all.

Try a pretzel stretch. A foam roller is also worth a look.

It pays to wash your clothes

Sound odd? In an ideal world, everyone would have clean clothes all the time, but sometimes, you’ve been behind on your washing, or can’t find your shorts. That’s ok, but don’t be surprised if you get some nice red bumps on your derriere.

That rash comes from skin, sweat and those sweaty leggings you wore yesterday. When training for a marathon, you run long distances. The longer you spend in those clothes, the worse it gets. I can’t tell you how freaked out I was the first time it happened to me!

Invest in good socks

I wish someone had told me this earlier. I’ve always been a 10 for 10 pack girl. Unfortunately, wearing crappy socks leads to blisters. And blisters are unfun.

Invest in good socks

It’s ok to stop

This is an interesting one. First of all, I mean what I say, it is ok to stop and walk for awhile if you need to.

The bigger thing for me has been realising that I need to run before I run. Go with me here. Unless I get my heart rate up and let it drop again before I start running, I can’t get much further than a kilometre or so without feeling terrible. Now I do a short sprint or some sprint drills before I begin.

The 10% rule

This is a fairly common one, but it is important. Don’t try to do too much too soon. To keep your body healthy and stay motivated, don’t increase your distance or time (your choice) by more than 10% each week.

You have to eat

This one sounds simple, but I had no idea just how important it was until I started running. You simply can’t run 10+ km if your body doesn’t have the fuel to go. It’s like trying to run a car with an empty tank. What you eat the night before is critical. I.e. don’t eat a light salad and then expect to wake up for an 18km long run.

Know where the bathroom is

This isn’t a fun one, but it is important. Sometimes, especially when you’re beginning to run long distances, your body just doesn’t behave as you think it should. That peanut butter toast might not have been the best move for your body, and before you know it, you’re in the middle of a park, desperately clutching your stomach, and there’s no toilet in sight.

If possible, check out your route before a long run.

Headbands are gold

I’ve never like headbands, but as a girl with plenty of hair, I’ve come to see them as an essential part of my running outfit. In fact, anyone can use one. They stop the sweat trickling down into your eyes (and ipod earphones). The difference is incredible.

Running is not a pretty sport!

It’s not necessarily cheap

This was another moment of total ignorance for me. I thought ‘great, I’ll throw on my runners and head outdoors’ – no gym membership, no special gear.

Great, until you think about making sure you have the right shoes, and clothes that don’t chafe. And then you realise you don’t really know how to improve, so you go to a personal trainer, and then you need better socks, and then a physio when you get injured. And then you decide to get a couple of massages. Oh, and a Garmin might be nice…

You get the picture! It’s definitely worth it, but for me at least, it certainly hasn’t been cheap!

It’s time consuming

Running 4-5 days a week, and adding in a long run that is anywhere between 1 1/2 to 3 hours long is time consuming. As is the stretching, and the recovery. After a long run, chances are you’re going to want a nap or at least a break before you do anything that involves thinking or walking :-)


Your Turn

  • What do you wish you’d known when you started training for a marathon? 
  • What tips have really helped you?

Want More?

Here are more workout tips and tricks to get you started.

Top 10 tips for becoming a (better) long distance runner

What they don’t tell you before training for a marathon #2

Tips and Tricks for getting through a long run

5 ways to get the most out of your gym session


  1. Former Runner says:

    Running is an addiction

    Running is a natural thing and in the beginning we run; well because we can. We then foolishly decide to run a longer distance or for a longer time; before too long we go a bit too far and set a goal of taking part in a fun run.

    Fuelling what is now heading towards becoming yet another addiction is the human races pre-disposition to record things. Not surprisingly then we start to record our runs; firstly on scrap of paper; progressively moving to diaries or online applications. We start by recording the distance we run, then the distance and time taken. Before long we are also writing down the course we took, the time of day we ran, the weather conditions and even how we felt. The addiction then manifests itself in calculations and statistics – how many km’s have I run this week, month, year; how much more km’s this week compared to last; what is my “streak” of days run in a row.

    Before long the diary rules your life. We need to keep the km’s up to reach a certain milestone or run to break our “streak” record. Like a gambling addiction we try to hide this addiction by getting up to run before anyone others are awake; running at lunch time with your work “colleagues” or even carrying out a “reconnaissance” mission while on holiday. To compound what is now a full blown addiction, major events in your life become consigned to a footnote in your running diary below that awesome 10km run alongside the river on a clear spring day i.e. * got married today.

    Addictions in all forms are hard to shake, but unlike gambling, sex, cigarettes or alcohol, running in moderation is good for you. It’s the diary that is the problem.

    By all means record your training runs, but watch out for those unscrupulous individuals peddling bigger and better diaries and make sure you resist the temptation to try something a little more exotic in order to avoid the addiction that running can cause.

    I know, I’ve been there and have lived to tell the tale.

  2. This is an awesome post! You’re so right- many of those things you learn by default, as a new runner. I didn’t train for a marathon until I had been running (casually) for ten years so I had a chance to do some reading and researching along the way, and had a good idea of how to train and what to expect. I can relate to so many of those- how time consuming it is, the not-necessarily-cheap realization, finding bathrooms along the way, experimenting with fuel… so true. The only thing I’d add is I’ve also learned to balance running with some strength training or cross training (usually spinning for me) which helps prevent injury. I did zero s/t for years as a runner, and had a few injuries that could have been avoided if I paid more attention to overall strength.
    Thanks for stopping by my blog, glad to connect with you!
    Laura @ Mommy Run Fast recently posted Mixing protein powder and runnersMy Profile

    • admin says:

      Hi Laura! Your blog is great, I’m really glad I found it :-D

      You’re totally right about the strength training, though I’m still learning, so it’ll take me some time to find my own balance. I suspect running for awhile and then tackling a marathon is probably the more reasonable approach too!

      x Kate

  3. Melanie says:

    Thanks for this post! I never realized how expensive running was going to be… buying plus sized running clothes is not cheap. Thanks for commenting on my blog. I learned the sock thing after my first 5K. But then after changing socks I still got blisters and I realized it was my shoes. My shoes were wides and they needed to be normal width. I got fitted with the wides at a running store but I had told the guy that I thought wides gave me more stability… wrong! They just gave me blisters. New PINK shoes will be used on my long run tomorrow :)
    Melanie recently posted 8 no wait 9 miles!!My Profile

  4. Melanie says:

    I was also wondering are you doing the elliptical on your not long running days? or on your strength training days?
    Melanie recently posted 8 no wait 9 miles!!My Profile

    • Kate says:

      Hey Melanie, given that you just ran 9 miles I feel that you are the guru at the moment!!!

      I do a long elliptical the day after my long run, before my rest day. I also use the elliptical for interval training (I do strength and intervals on the same day). Elliptical is my way of making sure I don’t run on two consecutive days.

      Do you do much cross training?

      x Kate

  5. CMC says:

    You’re so right on the cost! Even just having to buy a few gels every week for the long run ends up adding up! Plus increased food costs…oh well. Worth it!

    • Kate says:

      Oh yeah, I completely got about the increase in food! You’re right though, definitely worth it. In fact, I’m writing this as I eat a huge bowl of oats and fruit, having gone for a run. My poor boyfriend is astounded at just how much I can eat. Are you in training at the moment?

      x Kate

  6. Great post. Very helpful information. I actually am embarrassed to admit I didn’t think about the washing your clothes thing. I often fall into the system of wearing the same pants again and again until they smell or get something on them (ok a few days) but by the 3rd day I’m super itchy and don’t know why. Now I do. ( ;
    Julie (@ROJRunning) recently posted Friday Food : Wild Planet Tuna, BBQ Style!My Profile

    • Kate says:

      I know! I actually copped a bit of flack on reedit for not washing my clothes enough, but after polling my friends, we’ve realized that most people don’t want to ruin their gym gear through over washing-it’s a fine line!

  7. Brian says:

    great post! It is important for new runners to realize how much goes into the sport and training for races. Most of the time, people just think that it should be a cake walk, all you have to do is “run.”
    Brian recently posted 14 Weeks til the GunMy Profile

  8. Mindy Artze says:

    this is awesome! Thank you
    Mindy Artze recently posted Last chance for #WomenHalf giveaway!My Profile

  9. MegG says:

    This was completely right on! Definitely sharing it. While I’ve been a runner for a very long time, switching from a track athlete to a long distance runner was not as easy as my big ego would have had me believe. The “okay to walk” thing and the 10% rule were so foreign to me. Now after getting injured during my first marathon I’ve gone much easier on myself both mentally and physically.
    MegG recently posted In My Twenties Tuesday: I voted!My Profile

  10. Yeah, the little red bumps…Not cool!

    I totally was nodding along with all of this!! Great post!
    Cherie @ Cherie Runs This recently posted 13.1 miles of awesomeness later, I’m an Official Half Marathoner!My Profile

  11. Hey Kate!

    Oh my gosh, these posts about training have actually been so helpful for me, being a bit of a noob runner!
    I mean, the only race I’ve ever done was Nike She Runs (13km), I totally didn’t train properly, had no idea what I was doing, and ended up with a stress fracture in my femur. Not fun, at ALL.

    So naturally, I’m trying to almost start running again and be reeaaally smart about it.
    Currently, the most I run is 9km, but of course I want to increase and train for a half-marathon eventually; but I’m so scared my body just won’t be able to handle it!
    Have you had any problems with injuries as you increased your distances?

    Do you ever get sore feet or arches after a run? I never know what’s a normal, nothing-to-worry about runner’s ache, and what’s a sign of injury…

    Thanks so much! :)

    Kloe x
    Kloe @ Running Shoes & Chocolate Mousse recently posted Valentine’s Edition: Things I Love.My Profile

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