Yeah, yeah, yeah. The race isn’t until May! I’ve got plenty of time to start training. It’s not even the end of the year yet. Famous last words of an aspiring marathoner who realizes in March that they are in deep, deep trouble.
My advice: Start now. Don’t wait until January and the “official” start of the training program for the Ottawa Marathon (or any other spring race).
December is the time to start laying down a solid foundation that you can build on all the way up to 42.2km in May. December is the time to form those habits that will keep you going through the winter, and through the weeks and months of tough training.
Think of December as your pre-season. Use the month to start ramping up your training so that by the middle of January you can run 15km on any given Sunday without giving it much thought. Get into the habit of running four times a week so you have your routine in place for when the five-day-a-week running starts.
Don’t push too hard right now though. The idea is to run easy and get your cardio in place and leg strength up to where it needs to be. Maybe an easy tempo run (5 or 6km) on Tuesday, a bit longer on Thursday (8km steady) and then and easy run on Saturday (5km) before your longish Sunday run. If you haven’t run much lately, start with 10km on Sunday and build up each weekend by a couple of kilometres until you are running 16-18km.
Make sure to get outside on Sundays, no matter what the weather is. December weather can be pretty variable, and it provides an opportunity to figure out what to wear in different weather conditions. Figure out when to wear tights and when to go with pants. Get an idea of whether a long sleeve shirt will be good enough, or whether to add arm warmers and a short-sleeve over (or even a jacket). Find out if you are okay with regular runners or whether a pair of winter shoes will be required to keep you comfortable and safe.
These runs aren’t as important so if you get it wrong, it’s not a big deal. Better to figure it all out now than to have a problem during a cold 26km run that you don’t want to have to cut short. Make notes in your training log (you keep one, right?). Keep track of what you wore, how you felt and what the weather was like including the temperature, winds and whether it was sunny or not. You’ll appreciate being able to reference that later.
Be ready to put in the big mileage
The Running Room marathon training schedule (that’s the one I follow and recommend for first-timers) starts off pretty slowly in the first few weeks. But once you hit the middle of February, it’s Sunday after Sunday of runs over 20km. The best way to be ready for that rapid escalation in intensity is to put in the pre-season training in December.
Get out there!