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Training Tips

How to Help Clients Training for a Marathon

 ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, CPT, How to Help Clients Training for a Marathon, Marathon

One great way for your clients to keep themselves motivated and focused on their health and fitness is to have a goal to train towards. One common goal that comes up from time to time is trying to run a marathon.

This can seem like a crazy challenge, but for many able-bodied individuals, it isn’t outside the realm of possibility. It’s a challenge that’s as much mental as it is physical, and will be very demanding.

So, how do you help your clients who are looking to run a marathon?

What is a Marathon?

A marathon is a distance race totaling 26.2 miles (42.2 km). The story goes that in the 5th century BCE, the Greeks fought the Persians at the Battle of Marathon. Pheidippides, after fighting in the battle, was tasked with reporting the Greek victory, and he ran the entire way from the battlefield to the assembly, a run totaling 26.2 miles.

As such, this story gave rise to one of the oldest remaining Olympic events, with the first marathon at the Olympics starting in 1896. As such, it’s an extremely popular and lauded accomplishment that challenges all participants.

What Makes Marathon Training Unique?

The distance is what separates marathon runners, or marathoners, from shorter-distanced competitions, like 5k races.

The distance is one that many will never touch, even when walking. It is a grueling course that forces the runner to build up physical and mental endurance to get to the finish line. Even experienced runners will often struggle in a marathon.

But legs are not the only thing taxed by marathons. The entire body in one way, shape, or form will be engaged. Imagine just the effort it takes to swing your arms or keep your core engaged for several hours at a time. A proper marathon training plan will ensure that the entire body is prepared for the impact of the race.

Safety Concerns When Considering a Training Program

There are a host of problems that can get in the way of safely training. Even before race day itself, marathon training programs are rigorous to the extreme.

First, your client needs to get permission from their doctor before starting a marathon training program. Clients need to ensure they are in good enough health to train safely.

Furthermore, experience is often an important factor. Your legs need time to develop to take the impact that running such distances will entail. If they haven’t had much experience running more than 3-5 miles a day, then they need to likely start with shorter races and build up.

Running injuries are no small matter. On the light end, you can expect clients to deal with common issues like shin splints and even stress fractures. On the heavy end, you could be looking at possible ligament tears, joint injuries, and a whole host of other issues.

Checking in on their day-to-day health is going to be imperative to ensure any tweaks to a marathon training schedule are made early, to prevent small injuries from becoming large ones.

So, for those who are beginner runners, you might consider getting them to get their feet wet with a shorter race, like a 5k or 10k run. And even those who would consider themselves to be intermediate runners might want to tackle a half marathon before committing to a full marathon.

Finally, when it comes to running shoes, make sure that your clients are getting the types of shoes they need for their own feet. Everyone is different, every brand unique, and when it comes to running shoes, marathon runners should get sized by a professional if they haven’t before.

Working With Coaches

Just like everything else in life, it can be helpful to have a coach. A running coach may offer slightly different services than a personal trainer. Running coaches conceive of their clients’ lives through specifically the lens of performance while running. This is in terms of nutrition and exercise.

This doesn’t mean a personal trainer won’t be able to help—some trainers know how to plan a running program, plus they know the essentials of fitness. However, it can be helpful for a trainer to work in coordination with the client’s running coach to ensure that all bases are covered, and that they aren’t receiving contradictory advice from two different sources.

The best advice here is to let the coach determine the running schedule, then for you, the personal trainer, to take the off days and put together a cross-training program.

What Marathon Training Plans Look Like

Many marathon training schedules take place over 16-20 weeks, depending on ability level.

Overall, weeks will contain a similar theme throughout, with run distances steadily increasing throughout training. However, they are not always about daily mileage, but rather physical and mental toughness. Eventually, weekly mileage will become important, but initially, it’s about getting their legs conditioned properly. This is why it’s so important to balance their regular fitness programming with their running programming.

For beginners, each week breaks down into various types of runs, from basic jogging to speed work and long runs. Being that marathons are long-distance races, it becomes necessary to increase mileage and pace throughout training.

Usually, there will be several miles per day of focused training during the week with a weekend day selected for the long run. These will start humbly at 2-3 miles (once the trainee can run that distance), and will eventually accelerate to up to 20 or so miles before the race.

Most marathon training schedules are set so that the actual distance of the marathon isn’t attempted until race day itself.

How You Can Help Most as a Personal Trainer

When talking about personal training, your best value to your client is going to be to work on strength training that will help their bodies to supplement the running program. Think about the basic movement of running.

The runner’s core will be engaged most of the time, their back will keep their frame upright and breathing properly, and the arms will be swinging for several hours.

Additionally, it can be helpful on lighter days to add some leg resistance, but this is dependent upon their running schedule. The biggest risk factor you’re going to look at will be in terms of overuse injuries.

You want to develop your client’s blood vessels to optimize their VO2 max as well as push their lactate threshold ever higher—an essential component of completing a marathon.

Overall, Do No Harm

Overtraining is very possible, especially for new marathon runners. It can be helpful, from a safety perspective, to monitor heart rate during workouts. This can help to direct future workouts to help them achieve the cardiovascular strength necessary to succeed at race pace.

Experienced endurance athletes likely have lower blood pressure, but for new athletes, this probably should be monitored from time to time to ensure that the significant increase in activity doesn’t adversely affect them.

Also, just to reiterate, make certain that your client has the permission of their doctor to train for and compete in a marathon. Only a doctor can make that determination; checking blood pressure is simply a precaution to ensure that, in between doctor’s visits, they are staying in a healthy range.

Encouragement and Positivity

In addition to the excruciating physical effort required to compete in a marathon, strong mental focus and stamina are also essential. So, make sure that your client is taking time to focus on spiritual and mental wellbeing in their lives.

Hitting plateaus and days when they simply won’t want to train do not have to derail the entire process. Their ability to recover from the lows during a grueling schedule will help them to bounce back on race day.

The best way you can help here is to be a constant source of encouragement and positive energy. At the end of the day, it’s their will that will get them across the finish line. Train that no differently than you train their bodies, and they will be ready to tackle anything the course throws at them.

Love working with athletes and want to take your training to the next level? Check out the ISSA’s Strength and Conditioning course to help athletes achieve their optimal performance!

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