There are simply oodles of marathon training programmes - in a nutshell a 20 week plan for a beginner consists of 3-4 runs, one rest day, and 2 cross training days in between the runs ie any other sport that uses the body differently - such as spinning, cycling, HITS, swmimming - whatever you enjoy. Everyone leads busy lives so it also needs to fit in with work, family and other committments and interests; it needs to be right for you. If like me you can't follow the rigidity of a programme and want to do it yourself and with flexibility, here's what i've boiled it down to and without injury so far:
I found that running 4 times a week i actually felt tired on the runs so reduced it to 3 a week. I do one long run a week at a weekend and have been building up 2 miles every other week since reaching a comfortable 8 miles so therefore the increases are: 10, 12, 14, 16, and my max run will be 20 miles as I know the last 6 miles I CAN DO and by then i think its more mind over matter!
Running tempo and Speed work
I'm also trying to get my speed up - more so I can be more flexible with who i run with without worrying about slowing them down, and general fitness you need to keep challenging the body for it to improve.
Cross training: pilates, HITS, yoga
In terms of cross training, I'm lucky in my professsion in that i teach 3 pilates classes a week and i also attend one class where i can focus on me rather than my class members and helping them to get it right. Core work is crucial for keeping form whilst running particularly in the longer runs when one starts to tire. Poor form can lead to injuries. I also practice yoga weekly (advice here is to find a teacher you really like - thanks Neeta Madahar!). I've also chosen to include a high intensity element (HITS) which is a 45minute cross training class whereby its mix of jumps, lunges, corework and plyometric exercises in 20 seconds intervals allows you to push yourself and the muscles keep working and buring calories post exercise - you can make yourself neary sick if you really push it! Thanks Carol Vahnisburg for these fab classes!!
Along the way a couple of event runs can help where motivation starts to flag - for example a half marathon in the 4-6 weeks prior to the marathon should (I hope!) feel like a walk in the park! Wokingham half 9th Feb.
Finding friends to run with is key for me - it's all about the chat! Without company I start distracting myself by texting and phoning people, especially work-related as running is my 'think-time' although sometimes i return from a run and i honestly couldn't tell you where i've been - which i guess is a kind to my kind of meditation - my brain has been completely clear!!!
Massage - prevention is way way better than cure!
It wouldn't be complete if I neglected to push my wares, so, be sure to include massage into your training schedule - make time for it even though you're already too busy. I've been massaging my own achilles whenever they feel slightly twingy. Post event massage is key for lessening the aches that you would feel otherwise the next day and therefore means you can continue with your training programme rather than having to take days off to recover. Pre event massage is key for getting into the zone and getting the body warmed up and ready to hit the ground running. But perhaps most importantly of all is the ongoing maintenance or rather 'prevention' massage - far better to prepare oneself properly and prevent injury than to try and recover fitness once you've got an injury.
Be ware of how your body feels always but particularly on your long runs. Adjust what you're doing, ensure your body is aligned, engage core to maintain form. Try to be light on your feet, to soften each impact (ie every step!).