Having a successful Chicago Marathon experience starts with proper training.
And if crossing the iconic Chicago Marathon finish line strong is what you dream of, you’re in the right place.
The Chicago Marathon is more than just a race; it’s an experience of a lifetime. That’s why it’s important to give your best during your training. To ensure you’re well-prepared for the race, consider starting your training at least four months before the race day.
This timeline should be sufficient, even if you’re a beginner with limited running experience.
In this guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to finish strong on race day and maybe even achieve a new personal best (PB).
So, what makes Chicago Marathon training so special? Let’s find out…
How Long Does It Take To Train For The Chicago Marathon?
The starting date for your training plan depends on several factors: your current fitness level, your running experience, and the time goal you’ve set for yourself.
For the best chance of success, it’s advisable to start your training 16-20 weeks before the marathon date. This timeline allows you to gradually build your endurance and reach your peak performance.
The initial phase of training focuses on establishing a solid foundation and maintaining consistent running habits for 4-8 weeks.
Then, as you approach the 12-week mark before the race (usually around mid-July), you can begin your personalized Chicago Marathon training plan.
While the ideal training timeline may not work for everyone due to various commitments, there are alternative training options available. Depending on your schedule and experience level, you can opt for a 48, 36, or a minimum of 12-week training plan.
If you’re an experienced runner aiming for a specific time goal, it’s advisable to begin your specific training 12 weeks before the marathon.
Now that you’re aware of the recommended training timeline, let’s dive into the training approach for the Chicago Marathon.
How To Train For The Chicago Marathon
Preparing for the Chicago Marathon requires more than just running. Your training plan should encompass several key elements that serve as essential building blocks.
These elements include:
- Easy Runs
- Long Runs
- Cross Training
- Strength Training
- Recovery And Nutrition
Having easy runs scheduled in your running plan is very important for improving your overall fitness and building weekly volume.
Maintaining a relaxed and conversational pace is the key to nailing easy runs.
You want to make sure that the pace you’re moving at doesn’t leave you gasping for air. In fact, you must be able to comfortably have a conversation with a running partner.
So, Why Do We Do Easy Runs?
Easy runs serve many purposes in your training plan, including:
- Aerobic Base Building
- Mental Break
After a strenuous or hard session, easy runs come in handy to facilitate recovery.
Easy runs help your body recover after those hard-core, sweat-dripping, intense workouts. Your muscles get a break from high-impact forces, and your body can flush out any waste that builds up during those tough sessions.
Aerobic Base Building:
Easy runs play a crucial role in your training by helping to build your aerobic base, enhance cardiovascular fitness, and boost endurance. Here’s how they do it:
Easy runs stimulate the growth of capillaries, the tiny blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. More capillaries mean a better oxygen supply to your working muscles.
They also increase the number of mitochondria in your cells.
Mitochondria are like the energy factories of your cells, and having more of them means your muscles can produce energy more efficiently through pathways that use oxygen which is more efficient.
Improved Use of Oxygen
Easy runs help your body become better at using the available oxygen.
This is very important for endurance activities because the better your body can deliver and use that oxygen, the longer and stronger you can go.
Mentally, easy runs provide a break from the stress of high-intensity training. They offer you a chance to enjoy your time on the road or trails without the pressure of meeting specific paces or performance goals.
So, these easy runs may seem, well, easy, but they’re actually doing a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make you a stronger and more efficient runner.
Long runs are extended training sessions during which you cover a significantly greater distance than your regular training runs.
Long runs have several benefits, but their main objective is to increase your endurance and develop the ability to provide your muscles with the energy they need for various distances, from 5k to marathons.
Long runs are important not only for building endurance but also for enhancing your running efficiency.
When you spend more time on your feet during these extended runs, you’re training your body to maintain a steady pace over long distances more efficiently. It’s all about getting your body used to the marathon grind.
Long runs are not just about building physical endurance; they also offer a valuable chance to experiment with your nutrition and fueling strategies for the race day.
The longest run, typically scheduled 3 to 4 weeks before the marathon, is a crucial part of your training.
It serves as a pivotal milestone in both your mental and physical preparations.
This run is your opportunity to gauge your readiness for the marathon distance and instill the confidence and assurance needed for the big race day.
So, it’s not just about the mileage; it’s about fine-tuning your entire marathon game plan.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Long Runs:
- Running too hard during long runs is a common mistake. Long runs should be run at an easy pace.
- Increasing long run distances too quickly week after week can lead to overtraining and injury.
- Taking too many or too long breaks during long runs can distort the average pace and underestimate the actual running effort.
Cross-training is a training approach that spices up your exercise routine by incorporating activities different from your primary sport, in this case, running.
Including cross-training in your training plan is essential for a well-rounded fitness routine.
Why Is Cross-Training Important?
Cross-training allows us to engage in activities that benefit our cardiovascular system and work our muscles without the strain of repetitive, high-impact movements in running.
Running is high impact in nature, which can put stress on our muscles and joints.
In the context of preparing for the Chicago Marathon, cross-training is valuable. It diversifies your training routines and minimizes the risk of injuries.
For most amateur runners, running 4-5 days a week is sufficient.
If you have more time for training, incorporating strength training and cross-training will offer greater benefits with a lower risk of injury compared to adding more running sessions.
There are many cross-training activities that can complement your running routine. The choice of activity depends on your personal preferences, fitness goals, and the equipment or facilities available to you.
Here are some popular cross-training options you could consider:
Swimming provides a full-body, low-impact workout that improves cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength, and endurance. It’s gentle on your joints and offers excellent aerobic exercise.
Biking, whether indoors on a stationary bike or outdoors on a road or mountain bike, is an excellent way to build leg strength and cardiovascular fitness while reducing the impact on your joints and muscles.
Yoga improves flexibility, balance, and core strength, which are beneficial for runners. It can also help with relaxation and stress reduction.
Pilates focuses on core strength, flexibility, and overall body awareness, making it a good complement to running.
Hiking on trails or in natural settings can provide a cardiovascular workout while also allowing you to enjoy the outdoors.
Dancing, whether it’s Zumba, hip-hop, ballet, or any other style, can be a fun way to improve cardiovascular fitness, coordination, and agility.
Just like cross-training, adding strength training is a vital component of a well-rounded training plan and is essential for preventing injuries and enhancing running performance.
It targets smaller muscle groups responsible for balance and support, which are crucial for maintaining proper form and technique during runs.
This reduces the risk of injuries, making it particularly valuable for individuals prone to injuries and aging athletes.
Additionally, strength training contributes to more efficient running. It can improve running economy by 4%–6%, allowing you to run with reduced fatigue.
To maximize the benefits of strength training, it’s essential to integrate it into your training plan using a concept called “periodization.”
What Is Periodization And Why It’s Important To Periodize Your Strength Training
Periodization is a structured approach to strength training planning. It involves breaking your training plan into distinct phases, each with specific goals.
These phases are organized logically to align with different aspects of your overall training plan.
Periodization is crucial because it ensures that your strength training complements the goals of each training phase.
For example, you might have phases focused on building a strong foundation, improving speed, or tapering for a race.
This means that strength training isn’t just a generic routine but is specifically designed to enhance running performance during that particular phase.
So, How Do You Plan Your Strength Training
Start by aligning your strength training with your overall yearly training plan. Take into consideration your race schedule and other important events throughout the year.
Divide your training year into well-defined phases, each with its own set of goals. These phases may include foundational strength building, improving speed, and race preparation.
Next, break down each phase into weekly plans, determining the frequency of your strength training sessions (e.g., 2-3 times per week).
Gradually increase the intensity and volume of your strength training as you progress through the phases. This can involve adding weights, increasing repetitions, or altering exercises.
Adapt your strength training to complement your running training during each phase.
For example, focus on foundational strength during base-building phases, and incorporate plyometric or high-intensity exercises during speed or race preparation phases.
Finally, ensure that your strength training plan incorporates adequate rest and recovery days. This is essential to prevent overtraining and promote muscle recovery, ultimately keeping you on track for a successful running season.
Making sure you do the correct strength training is important. The good news is we’ve created a free strength training plan for runners that you can download by clicking here.
How To Do Strength Training During Your Taper
Just as we focus on tapering leading up to a recovery week or an event, the same principle applies to your strength training.
During the week of a race or your recovery period, reduce your strength training.
Here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Shorter Race Distances (5K, 10K, Half-Marathon):
- Two weeks before the race, maintain a lighter load in your strength training.
- During race week, keep strength training sessions light. Include easier band and core sessions as well as foot core exercises.
Longer Race Distances (Marathon, Ultra-Marathon):
- Two weeks before the race, significantly reduce the load of your strength training, possibly having just one lighter session.
- In race week, you can choose to omit strength training sessions altogether and focus on foot core exercises and mobility.
Recovery And Nutrition
Nutrition plays a crucial role in marathon training, as it directly impacts your performance.
A well-balanced diet is essential, encompassing a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and the necessary micro and macronutrients.
If you find yourself struggling with fatigue and drowsiness following your morning training sessions, it may signal a need for improvement in both post-training and in-training nutrition.
While training naturally induces fatigue, a significant portion of it can be mitigated by enhancing your nutritional intake.
Rest days are often underestimated by many runners.
Yet they are integral to achieving the full benefits of your training.
During these rest days, your body has the opportunity to adapt and progress based on the training you’ve undertaken. Failing to prioritize adequate recovery puts your training gains at risk.
Taking the time to recover after your runs is what enables you to return more prepared for your next session.
Why Are Recovery And Nutrition As Important As Running?
Recovery and nutrition are not to be underestimated; they are just as critical as the act of running itself.
Their roles are pivotal in preventing injuries, enhancing performance, and nurturing your overall well-being.
During exercise, your body undergoes minor stress and damage, and recovery is the vital process that facilitates repair and improvement.
This repair translates into enhanced fitness, speed, and strength, equipping you for future workouts and challenges.
Failing to prioritize recovery can increase the risk of injuries and illnesses and potentially affect your progress.
It’s very important that you allow your body the necessary time to fully recover, enabling it to compensate for the physical demands of the training.
Nutrition is equally paramount for recovery, as it furnishes the essential nutrients required to repair and rebuild damaged muscles and tissues.
A balanced diet, consisting of carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats, plays a crucial role in replenishing glycogen stores, repairing muscle fibers, and reducing inflammation.
Expert Tips For Race Day
Here are some expert tips to ensure a successful race day:
- Plan Your Travel Route and Arrive Early: Arriving at the starting line with plenty of time to spare allows you to mentally and physically prepare for the race ahead.
- Familiarize Yourself with the Starting Area and Course Map: Take the time to understand the layout of the starting area and study the course map. This helps you avoid any last-minute confusion and prepares you for any turns on the route. Check out our article on the Chicago Marathon route.
- Stick to Familiar Equipment and Nutrition: Race day is not the time to test new equipment or nutrition strategies. Stick with the gear and nutrition that you have used and tested during your training.
- Pace Yourself and Stay Hydrated: Maintain a consistent and manageable effort throughout the race. Pay attention to your body’s signals and adjust your effort if needed. Stay properly hydrated to sustain your energy levels.
These tips will help you approach race day with confidence, ensuring that you perform at your best and enjoy a successful and fulfilling running experience.