Ask a Running Coach: 5 Tips from Pros for a Spring Marathon

Need help getting to the 26.2-mile finish line of a spring marathon? Ask a running coach. 

There’s a lot to think about when you’re training to run 26.2 miles. 

And if you’ve been running fewer miles during the winter months, some training days might feel like a chore. Yes? 

So how do you get ready for a spring marathon?

  • Run a million miles. 
  • Just wing it, and hope for the best. 
  • Ask the Mysterious Force for help. 
  • Or maybe tap into the power of your charmed running shoes that carried you to the finish line of your last race.

OK, if this looks anything like your spring marathon training plan, a DNF could be in your future. 

Or at least a lot of unnecessary suffering, cursing, and post-race regret.

Training for a spring marathon doesn’t have to be ugly, even if you’re emerging from some lower-mileage months. 

Looking for a little help to run a spring marathon? Ask a running coach

We caught up with 5 running coaches to help you out. 

In this article, they’ll share their best spring marathon training tips for:

  • Weekly mileage
  • Strength training
  • Rest days
  • Nutrition
  • Motivation & mindset 
Running coach Chris Knighton is the founder and head coach of Knighton Runs Marathon Coaching. He recently published the book "Run Faster Marathons: The Proven Path to PR."

1. The smart way to increase weekly mileage for a marathon

Q: Why should you increase mileage carefully?

CHRIS: If you increase it too quickly or do not simultaneously prioritize your recovery between runs, the increase in mileage will likely backfire in the form of injury or stagnation.

Q: What is the optimal amount of mileage for a runner?

CHRIS: If your goal is to become the fastest runner you can be, then the optimal amount of mileage is the highest amount you can handle while still enjoying running and without getting hurt. 

The key to increasing your weekly running mileage is to do it gradually and patiently.

Q: Why does mileage matter for marathon training?

CHRIS: Running more is the best thing you can do to become a better distance runner.

  • Running itself gives you all the physiological benefits you need to run faster and longer. 
  • All cross training and supplemental exercise is purely meant to allow you to run more and lower risk of injury. These activities do not necessarily make you a better runner by themselves.

By running more mileage...

  • You spend more time on your feet. 
  • Your heart therefore spends more time pumping hard, building your aerobic engine ever more powerful. 
  • You stress and rebuild your skeletal-muscular system more.
  • You become a stronger athlete who can handle even more frequency and intensity.

Q: Does the law of diminishing returns apply to marathon training?

CHRIS: There is a point for all athletes in which they hit their upper limit for mileage. Every individual can only handle so much mentally and physically, but until you get there, more mileage is very often the right answer.

Q: How should you increase your mileage from season to season?

CHRIS: A general rule of thumb is to not increase your peak mileage more than 10 miles per week from training season to season. If you successfully run 30 miles per week before your first marathon, in your next season you could train up to 40. If that goes well, consider going up to 50 in the next season.

Q: Any other advice for runners ramping up miles for a spring marathon?

CHRIS: Being patient with your spring marathon training and intentionally delaying the growth of your mileage over the years will give you a longer and healthier career in distance running. There is no prize awarded for rushing to high-mileage. 

Running coach Erin Rock is a USA Triathlon coach, National Academy of Sports Medicine personal trainer, and competitive multisport masters athlete with a 3:03 marathon PR.

2. Make strength training part of your plan to run a marathon

Q: How do you incorporate strength training to prepare for a marathon?

ERIN: Strength training while building for a marathon should be as efficient and simple as possible. 

  • It is easy to get overwhelmed by long, complicated programs. 
  • In reality, you can cover the basics in two or three 20-30 minute sessions a week. 
  • Even yoga for runners can help build a base of strength in between formal lifting sessions.

Q: What kind of movements work to help runners build strength?

ERIN: Keep every strength training session simple. After a 3-5:00 light cardio warm up, aim to hit the five basic movements:

  • Squat
  • Hinge
  • Push
  • Pull
  • Loaded carry

Q: What's a sample strength training workout for runners look like?

ERIN: Do 8 to 10 repetitions of each exercise, then move on to the next exercise. Perform the circuit 2-3 times. 

  • Goblet Squat
  • Single-Leg Deadlift
  • Push-Ups
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Dumbbell Farmer Carry for 1 minute (walking with tall posture while holding a pair of dumbbells at your sides.) 

Running through the circuit 2-3x while doing 8-10 receptions of each exercise (and a minute on the carries). This circuit workout for runners shouldn't keep you in the gym longer than watching a Seinfeld episode.

Q: Will lifting weight make you big, bulky and slow?

ERIN: Don't be afraid to move heavy weights. We all know the weakling stereotype of the marathon runner. Put down your 5-pound pink dumbbell and stop contributing to the problem. Grab a barbell, throw some plates on it, and move real weight.

Q: What's the big payoff from lifting weights when you run a marathon?

ERIN: Stay consistent on the weight training, and your bombproof quads and glutes of steel will thank you at mile 25 during your spring marathon. 

Tucker Grose is a running coach and founder of Training with Tucker. He's finished the Boston Marathon multiple times with a 2:41 PR. And he's ran many ultramarathons. He also holds the course record at the Lost Cat 50K in Vermont.

3. Take a rest day to improve performance

Q: Should you run every day to train for a marathon?

TUCKER: If you love running, or you're an all-in kind of person when it comes to training for a spring marathon, you might be tempted to run more miles. You know...

  • Run hard EVERY day
  • Run as many miles as you can
  • Maybe two-a-day runs if your schedule allows
  • And ramp up miles every weekend

It's a recipe all right. But it's a recipe for burnout and running-related injuries. 

Q: What do you recommend for rest days to train for a marathon?

TUCKER: Minimum 1 day completely off from training each week. Take more as needed. 

Running coach Kayla Slater is a registered dietitian, plant-based marathon runner, and founder of Plant-Based Performance Nutrition and Run Coaching.

4. Eat right to fuel your run

Q: What should you eat before a run?

KAYLA: Before short training runs (less than 60 min), it’s recommended to eat a small snack of carbohydrates and some fats/protein. 

Try a piece of toast with peanut butter or banana at least 10-15 minutes before. Simple carbs are best before a run. 

For training runs more than 60 min (or long run days), you want to still eat carbohydrates and some fats/protein, but should eat more. 

Give yourself at least 2 hours or more to digest.

Q: What should you eat during a run?

KAYLA: For any run over 60 minutes, you should be fueling during your run.

Why? During a long run our body will use up glucose from your glycogen stores in your muscles after an hour, so you want to replace them so you don’t run out of energy.

Fuel every 45-60 minutes with at least 30g of carbs. This could include gels or chews. My plant-based runners like to use dates to replace some of their gels during marathon training.

Q: What should you eat after running?

KAYLA: For post-run nutrition, you want to fuel with protein and carbohydrates within 2 hours. It is best to eat some protein within 45 min-1 hour if you can to help your muscles recover.

Q: How should you eat for a race?

KAYLA: 

  • The night before: Make sure to eat a good meal the night before including carbs! 
  • Race morning: Make sure to eat a well balanced breakfast 2-4 hours before race.
  • Race fueling: Have your fuel secured on you to take every 45-60 minutes and electrolytes and salt pills. 
  • Race fluids: For fluids, there are usually fluid stations, you can alternate water and electrolytes on the course. How much will depend on the person and heat/humidity. 
  • Post-race: I recommend runners have a protein shake or recovery drink right after, then eat a well-balanced meal within 2 hours for recovery. 
Running coach Kyle Kranz is the founder of Plant-Based Run Coaching and hosts a podcast by the same name. He's finished multiple marathons and ultras, and coached hundreds of runners to the finish line and better health.

5. How to manage your mind and motivation to run a marathon

Q: How do you get your mind right and stay motivated to train for a marathon?

KYLE: My best advice for motivation and mindset for spring marathon training or anything else, is that you must have empathy with your future-self when it comes to making decisions. That's all motivation is.

Think about it like this...

If you go for that raining-cold spring run or if you bail on it, how will you feel in:

  • An hour
  • A day
  • A month...

Chances are you'll be totally HAPPY with your decision to head out for that workout in the rain once you get going! 

Crush your spring marathon training goals

Are you running a spring marathon?

In just a few weeks, thousands of runners will hit the road to run the most popular 26.2-mile race in the world...The Boston Marathon.

Maybe you're running another spring marathon. Or if you're looking for a spring marathon, check out this useful resource.

Between now and stepping up to the starting line of a spring marathon, If you work on:

  • Weekly mileage
  • Strength training
  • Rest days
  • Nutrition
  • Motivation & mindset...

You'll be ready to go the distance.

Good luck!

🏃‍♂️🏃‍♀️ What's your favorite spring marathon? Tell us about it in the comments.👇 

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Evan Jensen
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...

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