Training for Your Marathon: Sifting through the apps, gear, online coaching and group clinics. What’s right for you?

It’s not uncommon to hear people say that training for a marathon changed their life. It’s also true that the biggest life change in 2020 for runners may be HOW they train, thanks to a plethora of accessible clinics, gear and new technology taking the running world by storm. It can be overwhelming to figure out what the best fit is for your training goals!

Do I need to shell out for a Fitbit? Can I actually train without signing up for Strava? Do I need that new pair of foam-soled, carbon fibre shoes that cost half my mortgage? If questions like this have been hampering your training efforts, you’re not alone.

Start with Simple Basics – Running Gear

If you ask Phil Marsh, running coach and Eastern Ontario Regional Manager for Running Room, the right tools for training start in one place – and it’s not about gadgets, even though they come in handy.

“It all starts at your feet,” he grins. Of course, with new shoe designs making waves in running circles – from minimalist footwear to the controversial foam Nike Vaporfly – choosing the right shoe can get complicated, and fast.

“Go get your foot and gait tested and checked,” Phil says. “The right shoe for you has got nothing to do with price or brand, it’s all about foot type.”

Then, he insists, the most important thing you can do is to start running, and that technology is an aid, not the be all end all.

“Technology is rapid,” he says, pausing thoughtfully. “If you look at every safety feature we have in our cars, they all came from Nascar or Formula 1. Antilock brakes, airbags, traction control…” he trails off for a second. “It trickles down into consumer cars. It’s the same thing with running.”

Phil points to an encounter with world class runner, Sebastian Coe at a press conference. “Wearable heart monitors were just coming out – this was before Garmin, mind you – and that technology was a big deal. Someone asked Coe if he would have used a heart rate monitor if they had been available when he was training, and he said something along the lines of It wouldn’t make sense not to use something that can help you know more about your training and your body,” Phil recalls. “I admit technology gives an advantage, but there is a down side, too.”

He points to the nature of online apps, lamenting that we are developing a generation of people who aren’t just unplugging and going out for a run, thanks to a fixation on social media and biometrics. That’s why good old fashioned “analog” training methods are where he prefers to hang his advice. Running Room offers a wide range of Running Clinics, a free run club, and other community events to get you training with people IRL, where your success doesn’t depend on being tethered to an app or pricey smartwatch.

“We’re proud to offer a safe space for men and women, a fun atmosphere, and a community.

That’s sorely lacking these days. A lot of people are struggling to find a community and seek it online. But, when you join others for a run, you get groups of diverse people. You could be on a run with a cabinet minister, a mechanic, a fashion photographer, a stay-at-home dad… Running becomes the commonality and a marathon becomes the great equalizer.”

Coaching Goes Digital – Training with Apps

So you’ve got your basics covered – your shoes and your running group – now what? When used correctly, there are a range of apps that can come in handy to keep you motivated, help you reach a PB, or even protect your health. Many of the options on the market offer the same general features – heart rate tracking, pace, and more – but require that you purchase a smartwatch to work.

Others, like RunCoach, track your metrics and use that information to create a training schedule customized for your fitness level and goals. The plus side is that you don’t have to buy a new device – you can track your workouts just using the app on your existing smartphone.RunCoach app

“Not everyone has a separate device to track activity,” explains Hiruni Wijayaratne, Marketing & Sales Director for RunCoach, which also syncs up with FitBit, Garmin, Apple Watch, Runkeeper, Apple Health App and Strava, just to name a few. “It works with everything – even without any extra devices. Sure, it can be a pain to run with your phone, but most people do anyway for music or safety,” she says.

The first step with RunCoach involves answering a few questions, like how far you’ve run before and about your general fitness. Then, the app sets some realistic goals through a calendar and an adaptive training program. It’s based around your schedule, and will send you email prompts if you go on vacation and slack on your training commitments. Maybe even more importantly, the app will tell you if you’re overtraining.

“Our number one goal is to get people to the start line healthy,” Hiruni explains. “Unrealistic workouts will cause injuries. Running isn’t a linear sport. There’s no xyz to get a PB. It’s what works for the athlete, not a one-size-fits-all thing.”

Making use of their native features and audio cues can help keep you going when you start to hit a wall – and even before you hit the pavement – by handpicking content, such as videos on how to stretch and running drills, that suit your fitness plan.

And did you know, when you register for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend, you’re automatically signed up for a RunCoach account, with an option for runners to upgrade to the Gold Level with a hefty race weekend discount?

“People who use RunCoach Gold are trying to run a PB or qualify for Boston – they’re very goal oriented,” says Hiruni. That includes one-on-one text conversations with real coaches for additional support.

The main appeal of the app is the virtual community shared by runners of all levels. You can see what other people are doing training for the same race and that there are 5000 other people suffering alongside you while training in the frigid Canadian winter. Strava Art

Other apps that help runners stay connected, informed and motivated are just a few clicks away. The Motigo app (official partner of Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend) lets you record and program your own cheers and mantras on race day. Garmin Connect (free with the Garmin devices) offers incredibly detailed biometrics. And the ever popular Strava has connected an online community of runners and even launched a brand new art form.

Ultimately, training for your marathon has changed, but technology hasn’t replaced the basics. Instead, we can use technology to enhance the tried and true method of just getting out there and going for that run.

Gear up for Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend on May 23-24, 2020!

Register for the Scotiabank Ottawa Marathon 2020