Training for a Marathon

In June, one of our members, Michael, ran 15 marathons in 15 consecutive days in aid of the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation. The epic journey was the culmination of a full year of training, preparation, and planning, and he completed the magnificent feat relatively unscathed. There are certain things that went into Michaels training that we also include in the programs of the dozens of runners that we have help prepare for the Dublin Marathon each year. With the Dublin Marathon around 3 months out from now, it is the perfect time to get your house in order for it.

Firstly, lets establish a couple of facts that you need to consider when preparing for any marathon.

  1. If you are injured, you wont be running any marathon. 
  2. There is life beyond your chosen event, and you should train accordingly. 
  3. Simply going out for runs in preparation will at best result in a very sub-optimal run, or at worst an injury. See point #1.

So here are some essential ingredients if you want to have a successful run in to the marathon, an enjoyable event, and a functioning body in the after math;


  1. A work/ recovery based plan.

Skipping recovery is the #1 most common thing among runners. Who needs recovery anyway? You become a better runner by training hard and running lots, right? Wrong. You get better during your recovery, NOT during your training. In all my years training runners, I have come to realize that most runners take ‘recovery days’, or ‘deload’ weeks when they become sick, injured, or run down. Let me be clear, and if your only take one thing from this article, let it be this; you NEED to take recovery before you need it, not when you need it. Taking it at planned intervals means you will have gradual breakdown and rebuilding, resulting in consistent improvement. Taking recovery when you need it as opposed to before you need it results in loss of training adaptation, a longer time to get back to where you were, overall less improvement in the medium-long term, and a vicious cycle of training tired, and fending off injury and illness. I know it can be tempting to just keep on truckin’ with the hard sessions when the body is feeling good, but you need to adopt a more ‘scientific’ approach to your training. Train hard for 2-4 weeks (I prefer 3), and take a week of low-load training. With this method, you will keep improving consistently and indefinitely, all while increasing your capacity, gaining energy, and staying on top of your game. Training hard without these recovery troughs is like being on a runaway train, bound to crash into a wall very soon. You might make more initial gains in your training sessions, but remember that there are no medals given out in training sessions, and also that building training gains and getting better is a marathon not a sprint (pardon the pun). Be patient, take recovery weeks, and realize that slow and steady improvement over a prolonged period of time beats drastic and dramatic short-term improvement every time.


  1. Strength Training

The most important injury proofing, resilience building, energy giving, efficiency producing thing that you can do as a runner is to start a specific, tailored, simple, no-nonsense strength training program that you can progress over the course of the months leading into a marathon. Building strength, mobility, durability, power, and an efficient body should be at the very top of your list when it comes to the training adaptations that you are seeking. One of the biggest reasons that we get such great progress with our runners is because their level of running and the ‘running training age’ is often quite advanced, or at least WAY more advanced than their ‘strength training age’. When we star with the strength-training program, integrating postural correction, core work, hip and ankle mobility, plyometrics, upper body, and lower body, it is as if we are increasing the horsepower of the engine! Not strength training is like having a car with 6 cylinders, and only using 3 of them to run your engine. Having the right strength-training program in place opens up those 6 cylinders and allows you to eat road!


  1. A Nutritional Strategy

As with every point on this post, this one warrants a whole series of articles, so I want to keep it simple. Developing a nutritional strategy to support your training efforts can be a daunting prospect, and each individual can have varying requirements based on goals, lifestyle, work schedules etc. Here are a few key times that you should address your nutrition and get the right things in place.

  1. Breakfast
  2. Before training
  3. Immediately after training
  4. At work
  5. Evening dinner. 


Without going in real-deep here, there are certain things that you should most certainly aim for regardless of lifestyle and competition considerations. I’ve included sleep here too.

  1. Drink 2-3 litres of water daily
  2. Make sure you are matching your protein requirements daily (I aim for 2g of protein per kg of bodyweight)
  3. Get 8 hours of sleep per night
  4. Eat 3-5 meals per day that include a protein source, carb source, and plenty of vegetables.
  5. Don’t eat crap……EVEN if its packaged up as some sooper-dooper performance enhancing miracle food.

Check out Danny Lennon’s blog over at SinmaNutrition for more on the food side of things.


  1. A Recovery Protocol

With a lot of things including work tasks, training, reading etc, I ilke to do a bit of planning in advance in order to save time, effort, and brain power, and pains in the ass. Recovery is one of these things as well. Regardless of whether you intend on showing the field a clean pair of heels, or if you want to just make it through to the other side, you should have a recovery checklist prepared in advance that you can call upon immediately after hard training sessions, and races. Recovery protocols can and should differ depending on you current circumstances (time, equipment, tight spots, personal requirements etc), so this isn’t a definitive list, but as an example, you could aim to do something like this straight after a race.

  1. Drink a recovery smoothie straight after
  2. Go through a predefined dynamic mobility routine (5 minutes)
  3. Perform a few choice foam rolling exercise (5 minutes)
  4. Hit up 2-3 static stretches (5 minutes)
  5. Shower off
  6. Eat a meal that includes a protein source, carb source, and plenty of vegetables
  7. Aim to drink 1-2 liters of water in the hours after the race/ tough session


  1. Build a Routine. 

Having a routine that you can ‘just do’, is one of the most important aspects of making training progress, allowing your body and mind some ‘down-time’, and allowing you to maintain a high level of training, while also tending to the other important things in your life such as work, family, hobbies etc. Personally, I have pretty much had the same weekly training schedule since January. I know what sessions I am doing Monday-Sunday, and have space for impromptu sessions, or sporadic activities such as a morning walking on the railings. This gives me the perfect balance between consistency in training, and keeping things interesting with random sessions here or there if I feel like them. I take not wanting to do random sessions here or there as a sign that I am not 100% fresh, and that I need to recovery more, take a break, or mix it up a bit. When I’m excited about doing an extra little session here or there, such as spending 30 minutes with the juggling balls, I know I am training well and recovering from my heavy sessions adequately.

So there you have it. 5 things that you might not find in the running magazine that we use with our runners at ACLAÍ to keep them in tip-top shape. If you are interested in coming on board with us and implementing your own plan for the Dublin Marathon, or any other Marathon, click here to book a complimentary consultation with me, and we can have a chat, make a plan, and get the ball rolling.

This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.