Push your marathon potential further than ever before

Key training principles explained

Measure your effort Training for a marathon is all about running with purpose. How 'easy' should your easy runs be? How fast should you do your long runs? Here's how to assess your current level of fitness, and translate that into appropriate race and training paces.

Do a time trial. Go to a track and jog an easy lap or two for a warm-up, then time yourself running four laps, which is about one mile. Record your time. Plug your one-mile time into the calculator at runnersworld.co.uk/calculators to get your training paces. Repeat the time trial every two weeks or so to track your progress.

Repeat the time trial every two weeks or so to track your progress

Repeat the time trial every two weeks or so to track your progress

Do a tune-up. If you're been training for a while, race a 5K, 10K or half marathon and plug your time into the RW race time predictor and training calculator (as above) to determine your marathon potential and suitable training paces. Repeat that race six weeks before the marathon to see how much you've improved.

Yasso 800s. These gauge fitness and predict race performance. After a warm-up, do 6-8x800m with 400m recovery jogs. You should be spent after the last rep. The average of your 800 times is an indication of how fast you can run a marathon in hours and minutes instead of minutes and seconds. Plug that time unto a training calculator to get your training paces.

Head’s up!

You've trained your body, now it's time to turn your mind to... well, your mind. Inflate your 'athletic IQ' to give your marathon performance a boost

Whether you're trying to finish your first race, nail a PB or increase your weekly mileage, runners who are most successful in achieving their goals have a high 'athletic intelligence'. That's a catchy way of saying these athletes are skilled at reading their body's cues and making the necessary on the spot adjustments to their pace, form or attitude to power through their training runs and races, says Dominic Micklewright, a sports psychologist at the University of Essex. Here's how you can raise your athletic IQ to reach your full performance potential.

1.    Tune in to your body Many runners try to ignore the various twinges and aches they experience during a workout. Rather than spending the run dismissing these sensations, 'pay attention and learn what they mean', says Micklewright. Your goal is to get to the point where you know your body so well that you can distinguish between the fatigue and muscle burning that's part of pushing through or what could be the start of an injury. ‘It’s only by listening to your body’s cues that you know what they’re telling you,’ he says.

Many runners try to ignore the various twinges and aches they experience during a workout

Many runners try to ignore the various twinges and aches they experience during a workout

IQ BOOOSTER > Leave your gadgets at home. At least for the next few workouts, says John Raglin, a sports psychologist at Indiana University, US. You’ll learn to rely less on the objective data that you’re receiving from your heartrate monitor or GPS and more on the wisdom your body is providing. It also helps to do a self-check every mile or so, adds Cindra Kamphoff, a sports psychology consultant and professor at Minnesota State University, US. ‘Just take a moment to consider how your legs feel and how your heart feels, she says. “That way you’re reminding yourself to take in those body cues and decide what to do with the information push through, back off or bail.”

2.    Plan for (a little) pain Running your PB is going to hurt – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. If you expect and prepare for this discomfort, ‘then you can reframe how you think of pain,’ says Kamphoff who’s studies the mental strategies of both recreational and elite marathoners. This kind of preparation also teaches you what you’re capable of tolerating. ‘Pain you expect is easier to cope with, especially if you’re confident you can handle it,’ Micklewright says. Studies show that recreational runners tend to listen to music or daydream to distract their minds from their pain, whereas top runners zone in on it. ‘May elites tell me they push harder to overcome discomfort,’ says Kamphoff. ‘They step it up a notch, and say they soon feel better.’

IQ BOOSTER > Set small mid-run goals. Most of the top runners Kamphoff studied talked about changing up their workouts and races. For example, say you set out for a six-mile tempo run and at mile one you’re just not feeling it. Instead of giving in to the urge to turn around, tell yourself your new goal is to just make it to mile two. At mile two, reassess and challenge yourself to a new target. ‘Often we bail too early,’ she says. ‘Setting mid-run goals makes it less overwhelming. At mile 15 you shouldn’t be thinking about mile 20 – you need to be in the present.’

3.    Stay positive Sometimes, the only way to learn where your personal strengths and limits lie is to make a mistake, says Micklewright. ‘How do you know how far you can push yourself until you push yourself just a little too far?’ he says. That kind of experience helps you find your limits and gain a better understanding of what you are capable of, both physically and mentally.

IQ BOOSTER > Do a post-run self-evaluation. ‘Most elite marathoners don’t talk about poor workouts,’ says Kamphoff. ‘They focus on what went well in the workout.’ That could be simply saying that you went out for your run, or it could be using your stretch time to replay the workout in your mind and list the best thing or two that happened. “If runners, who tend to want perfection 100 percent of the time, can learn to stay positive while they’re pushing through the difficult parts of training, they’ll build their confidence and see better performance results.”

In any race you need to imagine yourself strong

In any race you need to imagine yourself strong

4.    Control your self-image Research has shown that marathoners who expect to hit the wall do indeed hit it, says Kamphoff. ‘In any race you need to imagine yourself strong,’ she says. ‘Pay attention to the images in your mind, and be ready to adjust them if you need to talk yourself out of a tough spot.’

IQ BOOSTER > Write a performance statement. This is a brief sentiment that will become your mantra – it’s something you can say to yourself when you start to drag. It’s important to draft something that’s personal and that will have meaning to you, but it should address pushing through fatigue and/or discomfort. Good examples include ‘I am mentally and physically strong’ or ‘Push, I can do this’. This statement will also double as a visual cue. ‘Having it down in black and white gives it more power,’ she says. ‘So I tell runners to post their statement where they’ll see it before a workout.’

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