Even for the most accomplished world-class runners, marathon training cycles still challenge the body physically and mentally. Weeks of high-mileage running and hours spent on roads and trails on long runs can produce tired legs and sore muscles and joints. However, knowing how to maintain a balanced approach to marathon training can keep your body feeling fresh and make running those seemingly endless miles more pleasant.
Easy mileage should form the foundation of any marathon training program, allowing you to slowly increase your mileage without increasing the amount of strain on your body. Easy runs, which do less damage to muscles and tissue and thus require less recovery time, should be run at a pace 6 percent to 10 percent slower than your projected marathon pace, or slow enough to maintain a conversation with a running partner. Use your easy runs to build aerobic fitness and burn fat. As your overall fitness improves, slowly increase your weekly mileage by no more than 10 percent.
The Long Run
While easy runs should form the bulk of the mileage run during a marathon training program, the long run is the most critical single component of your marathon training program. Most marathon training plans call for a weekly long run of 16 to 22 miles, with three to four long runs of 20 to 22 miles at the peak of the program. During these long runs, you must focus on slowing to a pace 45 seconds to a minute slower than your marathon pace, preventing your body from depleting its carbohydrate and glycogen energy reserves too quickly. To supplement energy stores and keep your body feeling hydrated and fresh, you can break up your long run by stopping for water every 30 minutes or consuming an energy gel every 45 to 60 minutes.
The hours immediately following a long run can make as much of an impact on your training as the hours spent on the roads or trails during a long run. You should begin re-hydrating to replace lost fluids. You can weigh yourself to find how much weight you've lost in fluids during the long run, then drink 16 ounces of water for every pound lost. You also should begin refueling with a post-race meal of around 1,500 calories, with about 60 percent of those calories coming from complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, pasta, rice or whole-wheat bread. The post-run meal also should include about 20 percent lean protein, aiding muscle recovery. A balanced meal including carbohydrates and proteins rejuvenates tired muscles, helping you feel fresher the following day.
Taking a Break
Even if you diligently follow your training program and boost your recovery through proper diet and hydration, you may still be prone to injury or fatigue. When you are left feeling too sore or too tired to run, you should listen to your body and do the one thing marathon runners often dread the most -- cut back on running. During a cutback week, you can trim your mileage by as much as 50 percent, using the extra time away from running to rest tired muscles, ice aching joints and get a good night's rest. You also can keep your muscles fresh and loose during a cutback week by stretching or cross-training, whether by lifting weights, cycling, swimming or playing another sport.