You have committed yourself to train for a marathon. The journey is long and will require a tremendous amount of time and sacrifice, the forebears of anything worth pursuing. Your preparations will challenge you on both physical and mental planes, the likes of which you have never experienced. There will be times when you are on top of the world. There will be others, when all you want to do is quit. There will be sunny days, snowy days and everything in between. As you embark upon this expedition, let these tips help guide you toward your goal.
Have a Plan
Anyone who has ever had a good coach knows the importance of having a plan. As we get older, we can also appreciate why our coach got so frustrated when we veered away from his or her instructions. Perhaps we don't always appreciate our coach's foresight. But, with age comes wisdom, and we start to recognize that all of our training should have a very specific purpose.
As you head into marathon training, you should be able to identify the different types of training days and how they relate to your upcoming race. Your training plan should address your specific limiters, and provide a gradual increase of stress through volume and/or intensity.
Without an appropriate plan, most runners will increase their volume and/or intensity much too quickly resulting in injury or burnout, which kill consistency—the key to unlocking your potential.
Go Easy on the Easy Days
Recovery days should focus on just that—recovery. Too many runners try to use these days to further develop fitness. That should not be the purpose of the day. Take the opportunity to allow your body to heal from whatever stresses it has recently endured. It's a time to let blood move through your system promoting lean muscle repair.
Failure to allow muscle repair will lead to peripheral fatigue (i.e. tired legs), and then sub-par performances in your coming workouts. It becomes an infinite vicious cycle, typically ending in burnout and/or injury. Use recovery workouts, today, to prepare yourself to push your limiters tomorrow.
Go Hard on the Hard Days
Hard days should always be approached at a best sustainable effort. If you are planning to do five, one-mile repeats, then they should be paced at the highest intensity that you can maintain for five of them; not four, not six.
If paced properly, the last interval will be run at an all out effort, but will result in a time/pace that is either equal, or slightly faster, than the previous four. You want to be able to walk away from your best effort days very spent, with little to nothing left in the tank. To do so, you really need to focus on taking the easy days very easy, so that you do not enter the hard days with any residual fatigue. These are the ying and yang of effective run training.
As far as recovery from hard efforts: If a workout leaves you greatly taxed, saying "whew, that was tough," it should be followed by a day focused on recovery.
Ease Into Your Workouts
Think of your training like an elastic band. You get much more out of it from a long slow stretch, than from a quick and sudden snap. Take this approach to every single workout that you do. The idea is to allow your soft tissue to progressively adapt to larger and larger loads of stress.
Don't leave the door at the intensity that you plan to hold for the day. This will spike your HR, and push you more towards anaerobic energy utilization, rather than making your aerobic physiology more robust.
Instead, start your runs on the easier side, increasing the intensity as your body becomes more adapted to the workload. This will help to prevent injury, and ensure that your runs get faster and faster throughout. This is especially important in the heat, where the body has a more difficult time cooling itself, and on treadmills.
There is little to be gained, both physically and mentally, by overloading your system too early into a workout, and then slogging through its remainder. Show some early restraint early on and always finish strong.