How to train for a marathon – 5 top tips

12 April 2022

Jane Hannah

Marathon runners

So, you are thinking about running a marathon, maybe it’s your first or even your tenth? But ‘how to train for a marathon?’ is usually on people’s minds at this stage. How often do I run? Where do I find the time to fit training in? What do I wear? What do I need to eat and drink? And what about injuries? 

I am hoping this blog will help answer these questions and support you with your marathon preparation. I have completed about 10 marathons now, as well as six long-distance triathlons (which include a marathon at the end!), so some of my tips come from my personal journey. I have also included lots of useful links so you can find out more to support you on your marathon journey.

Top Tip 1 – Know your ‘Why’

First of all, dig deep and think about your ‘why’. Ask yourself, ‘Why am I going to run a marathon?’ Take some time to do this and go as deep as you can to unearth yours. Check out this short video by Simon Sinek to help you with this.

Why the why?

Well, let’s be honest, there will be times when all you want to do is stay in bed rather than put your trainers on. Times when the wind is blowing or the rain is coming down, or when your feet hurt and your muscles ache, or worse still when you have picked up a niggle. But, having and knowing your why will be what you can draw on when the last thing you want to do is pull on your trainers!

Your why is your emotional connection to the marathon. The deeper you go the greater your association with the why. You don’t have to share it with anyone if it’s really personal, but you need to know it. Equally you might want to pin it up on the fridge, or some people even get it tattooed!

My why

It took me about 3 marathons and 2 Ironman triathlons before I gave my why any thought. It only came about when a colleague asked me the question one Tuesday. Firstly, he asked me why I looked so tired. To which I explained about Triple Tuesdays which included a swim, strength and run session. He then looked at me puzzled and simply asked, ‘Why?’ I stopped and thought, ‘I honestly don’t know “why?”’ I had never been asked it by anyone or asked it of myself.

 I am now much closer to understanding my why. One element of it is the control I have with training and racing. What I mean by this is that how I show up, what effort I put in and what I therefore get out of each session is within my control. There is a lot in life which is out of our control. I think a lot about the quote ‘control the controllables’. This is something that can be used by individuals, teams or organisations.

An example of controlling the controllables for your marathon journey is that you cannot control who else rocks up on the start line, so don’t make your goal that you want to win. However, do make a goal more along the lines of doing your best in every moment because you can control that. This includes training and race day. The really personal bit, which I don’t mind sharing with you, is that the training really helps me control my weight. As a larger than life child and teenager it is important to me now to not be like that anymore. 

To help you with this, have a quick look at ‘C is for Controlling the Controllables’ and do some of the exercises included.

Top Tip 2 – Plan your journey

how to train for a marathon

At Compass for Life, myself and all our other Navigators give you the perfect framework to plan your journey up to and including marathon day. Let me take you through our cardinals to explain how to use this for your journey to train for a marathon.

Super North Star

First, you need a Super North Star – having a Super North Star unleashes the adventurer within you. Where you take opportunities to live the life you want and become the best version of yourself. 

When it comes to training for a marathon your Super North Star could be anything like the below (but remember dig deep and link to your why):

• Finish a marathon

• Run a whole marathon without walking

• Raise ££ for a certain charity

• To get a personal best (if it is not your first marathon)

• Finish the marathon with a smile on my face

I always think that first times in life are about enjoyment and the experience such as finishing a marathon with a smile on your face and wanting to do another. Too much pressure and basing a Super North Star on a time goal or winning might not bring the enjoyment to the experience. And if you want to win, then you will probably be writing your own blogs rather than reading mine!

For all races this year my Super North Star is to be the best I can and not look back wondering if I could have done better. This comes down to doing your best in that moment, so if slowing down was the best choice in that moment rather than stopping then this is the best I could have done.


Ethos relates to your values and behaviours which are critical to achieving your Super North Star. If your ethos is ethical and authentic you are on the correct path.

When it comes to training for a marathon ethos relates to your personal values which you would translate from everyday life into your commitment to the marathon. For me, my values in racing are:

• Honesty

• 100% in that moment

• Belief

• Trust 

‘Honesty’ relates to owning the decisions I make during my training and on race day. ‘Belief’ is that I can do the challenge and trust in the process I have been through with my coach to get to the start line and in the race strategy. 

Do you already have personal values? Even if it’s not something you have engrained or written down, I bet you do. This is a super short Ted Talk by Jennifer Jones on unleashing your core values to get your started.


Strategist is being a pathfinder that searches for the best route to get to your Super North Star. A clear plan is needed which is derived from facts and analysis with realistic milestones and contingencies.

This is the fun bit which many of you would have jumped straight to had we not have stopped and unearthed your why and then the goal!

How to train for a marathon is a journey; it’s not just the day that you take your place on the start line needing to have a wee (trust me, even if you have just been you will think you need to go again!). You need to be realistic about where your running ability is at the outset of the journey. If you haven’t pulled on those trainers since being a kid, then the strategy needs to build you up slowly with milestones like a 5km, 10km, half marathon and so on. Or, if you are a regular park runner on a Saturday, then a key milestone could be to run a 10km race.

There are lots of running clubs, coaches and online plans to follow and it can be quite overwhelming deciding where to start. But a good place to start is your local running club. It’s a great way to meet new running buddies and access coaches for a minimal cost (visit England Athletics to find your local club or Run Together group). Remember that when you commit to others that you are going to join them for a run, you are accountable and much more likely to get out there even when the weather might not be ideal!

Warrior Spirit

Warrior spirit is our final cardinal and refers to your strength of character, your desire to step into the pressure zone and fight for what you believe (aka your WHY). It is where you develop the appropriate skills set and mental and physical resilience to achieve your Super North Star. Remember you are courageous, committed and determined to succeed.

How many people do you know who have said over the years that they want to run a marathon? And have they? You however, are reading up about how to train for a marathon and this displays your Warrior spirit. Don’t forget, training for a marathon isn’t just the physical side. You also need to prepare mentally because, trust me, those last 6 miles will hurt, both mentally and physically. You will have all sorts of mental chatter complaining that it hurts, that you want to walk or even quit. But your Warrior spirit will get you through this.

I have worked hard on my mental strength over the last few years as I want to go into races knowing I have the tools to quieten my mind when it’s screaming negativity at me! I want to share some books and listens to help you. Just knowing you have the tools will make a huge difference on the day, so much so you probably won’t even need them. But just in case!



  • Mel Robbins – Can you really high 5 your way to happiness
  • John McAvoy – How to completely turn your life around

Top Tip 3 – mix it up

How to train for a marathon

Now, I know we are talking about how to train for a marathon here which will of course include a lot of running. But, I believe mixing up your training has huge benefits and can reduce the likelihood of picking up injuries (check out this article on the benefits of cross-training for running). Running involves a lot of pressure on the joints from pounding the streets. Whereas, for example, cycling is low impact but is amazing for your aerobic and endurance.

Yoga is my new-found love. Whether it’s ten minutes in the morning, or an hour, I try really hard to include some every day to get a good stretch. Yoga is great as the whole family can get involved. You can do it in your PJs and YouTube has all that you need (Yoga with Adrienne is who I love). A bit of strength training is also great so you can fire up those muscles when you run. Bur, if you don’t have time for that, then yoga is where your benefits will come as it will strengthen as well.

Mixing it up also means mixing up your running routine. If you go out and run the same speed and distance all the time, then you are likely to wonder why you are not getting any better. Therefore, each week factor in a long run which is completed at a slower pace than you would want to run on the day (by at least a minute). Then you need an efforts session (also known as interval or fartlek) which means doing shorter bursts as hard as you can with recovery in between. This might be 1 minute running as fast as you can which is followed by a short recovery period of walking. Then there is your tempo run. But, don’t worry if you don’t understand all of this because joining a local club or working with a coach means they will help you with all this – definitely do this to reduce your ‘decision making fatigue’. Unless you love all the data of course (I don’t).

Have a read here about setting your training zones to ensure you are getting the most out of every session that you do.

Top tip 4 – get some rest

I know, I know, you are training for a marathon so need to be on the go all the time, but trust me you need rest as well. Your body makes its biggest improvements when at rest. It allows muscles to repair the micro-tears that occur during running which means they grow back stronger. This also means prioritising your sleep, not compromising it (bed not Netflix please!). Aim to give yourself the opportunity to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.

Sleep is the one time our brain is able to switch off the sympathetic nervous system which is the one responsible for our stress response. Rest will help to rebuild and recharge us physically and mentally each night.

Top Tip 5 – enjoy it and smile

Smiling is key to your running journey as ultimately when we enjoy something we are going to want to do it more. Also, there is always someone around with a camera who will take pleasure at clicking a picture of you and putting it all over social media and of course we want to look our best!

Have you found these tips on how to train for a marathon useful? Have you got any top tips of your own? Leave us a comment or share your thoughts on social media. 

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