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How to train for your second marathon

By Henry Howard

One of my coaching clients, Jared, just finished his first marathon, a very good 3:24 at the challenging Los Angeles Marathon. Like many other first-time marathoners (and runners in general) his attention soon started turning to his next goal race.

Jared had lots of questions about training, picking out races in between (he was already registered for a fall marathon), and nutrition and hydration. They were thoughtful questions, many of which are common among new marathon runners.

That gave me the idea for this post, a helpful resource guide for those preparing for their second marathon. And, it should be noted, that many of the tips in here can be put to good use by those training for their first ultra, or marathoners who are still somewhat new to the 26.2-mile distance.

Answers to nine common questions about running your second marathon:

Question: How soon after my first marathon should I do my second?

Answer: You’ve just completed your longest run to date, and most likely, your most strenuous physical activity. Recover fully first. That doesn’t mean lounge on the couch for a month. But three or so days of active recovery — walking, yoga, cycling and/or swimming — would be a great way to help the body heal. As far as the next marathon, a full training cycle of four to six months would be a good approach so that you are not piling on too much stress to the body over a short time period. After all, it’s not just the miles on race day, it’s the overall training load, too.

Question: Is this race a good one for me?

Answer: Yes, if it fires you up! Find a race that excites you. Maybe that’s a destination race, or one that will challenge you or is located in one of your favorite cities. Pick one out that will give you a personal “why” and help you keep going when the training gets tough.

Question: All of the major marathons I’m interested in are full or don’t make sense logistically. What other options do I have?

Answer: There are many marathons to choose from. Look around for a smaller race closer to home, which will reduce your race-day anxiety. This makes it easier for traveling, practicing on part or all of the course, and for family and friends to cheer you on.

Question: How many races should I do leading up to the marathon?

Answer: It depends on many factors. Among those: whether you are injured or prone to injury, whether the other races help keep you motivated or specifically trained for your goal marathon, and how they fit within the training cycle. For my athlete who I referenced before, his next marathon is approximately eight months after the Los Angeles Marathon. I recommended he find a couple of half marathons in the interim so that we could test his speed and fitness, and keep him motivated throughout the summer and early fall. For an injury-prone runner with a shorter turnaround between marathons, I would recommend one half marathon at the most.

Question: How do I increase my mileage?

Answer: Be patient. Ramping up mileage too quickly is a common cause of injuries for runners. There are several ways that you can increase your weekly mileage but make sure that your plan accounts for your specific needs, experience and fitness level. Some athletes increase their number of running days. Others ramp up the number of workouts by incorporating doubles. I would not recommend doubles for masters athletes or for lesser experienced runners. Four to five runs each week are pretty standard for those looking to do a marathon or even qualify For Boston. As you build up the miles slowly, you will naturally get stronger and faster. But don’t add too many miles too soon. If you are designing your own training plan, listen to your body and be sure to back off the miles when your body is signaling it needs a break. And build in recovery weeks to let the body heal and rest. You can still run during these weeks but consider it a step back in mileage before continuing where you left off.

Question: I want to get faster. What do I need to do in my training to accomplish that?

Answer: Keep showing up and doing the work. It’s a process. Much like building a house, you need a solid foundation first. Get your body used to running regularly. Instead, incorporate regular speed workouts into your training but keep the vast majority of your runs easy. (Here’s why.) A week’s worth of running workouts may include a long run with hills, and a series of short to medium runs with intervals. Regular bursts of speed amid easy running during training help fast-twitch muscles develop while allowing the runner to recover fully for the next time. Those short intervals can be on flat ground like a track or uphill.

Question: I bonked hard near the end of the race. How do I avoid that for next time?

Answer: It’s fairly common for first-time marathoners (and even experienced ones) to bonk. Oftentimes, the issue relates to nutrition and hydration. In long endurance events, getting behind on calories is a recipe for a disaster. In preparation for your next marathon or other endurance event, use the long training runs to practice nutrition and hydration. This is important so that you know what foods your stomach can tolerate while running and understand the limitations. While you shouldn’t run 26.2 miles as a practice run for a marathon, understanding what you can tolerate at miles 13, 17 and 20 will go a long way to getting you to that finish line, bonk-free. Additionally, check out the race website in advance to learn what their aid stations will have on hand. You can practice with those items, then either choose to use their handouts or prepare to carry and use your own.

Question: What sort of cross- and/or strength-training workouts would be best for me?

Answer: Again, the right answer is contingent on a lot of variables specific to you, your fitness level, injury history, experience, goals, available equipment and more. I incorporate weekly cross-training workouts into each of the training plans for my athletes. That may mean biking for some and elliptical for others. They also are assigned regular core and strength training workouts, as well as yoga. These movements help strengthen and add flexibility to the muscles, tendons and ligaments that are used when we are pounding out the miles. And, as we age, dynamic warmups and foam rolling become more critical as they help you remain flexible and limit injuries.

Question: I cobbled together a plan for my first marathon. What resources should I look at to help me train and race more effectively?

Answer: My best recommendation is to hire a coach who can guide you through workouts, keep you motivated, and answer questions specific to your fitness level, individual needs and experience. Downloading and following a generic training plan can work for some but a good coach can lift you beyond a general guideline that is not specifically geared to you. It’s been an honor for me to accompany Jared and other athletes on their running journeys. If you are interested in a coach, I am open to having a free, no-obligation call to see if we are a good fit. You can contact me through this page.


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