How To Train For A Marathon
It doesn’t matter what time you can run for the distance I am a firm supporter of anyone who is willing to run the distance.
The marathon is tough, regardless if you have a set time and have trained hard for it or if this will be your first.
I wanted to write a detailed post on some key stategies that can assist you in attacking the classic 26.2 mile distance.
I have had a love-hate relationship with this race since I began running marathons back in 2002.
I ran the 2002 New York City Marathon as a part of an Armed Forces Team that was running for Lung Cancer Research.
We were to start in last place, wait for every runner to cross the start line and than, and only than, were permitted to start the race.
What happened than, running out of fuel and not hydrating properly, is something that I have dealt with even to this day.
Has it happened to you? If it has, you have landed on the right site and post.
#1-BE WILLING TO PUT IN WORK
No one in their right mind will run a marathon without doing SOME form of training.
Can people run one without running a step.
How to train for a marathon can be answered easily.
How interested are you?
Sure, but how fulfilling is anything without the knowledge of knowing first hand that you are 100% prepared? I would say, doubtful.
You have to have the initiative to really put in the mileage and train to run a great marathon time.
Mileage is individual.
You answer the question of how to train for a marathon by focusing more on quality over quantity.
If you have a specific goal in mind for the distance, you have to training a specific way.
I don’t care what you may have heard about having to run ‘100 miles a week’ to run a great marathon.
#2 DON’T GET CAUGHT UP IN THE ‘HIGH MILEAGE’ HOOPLA
You do NOT have to run high mileage to be strong at the distance.
I have run as high as 142 miles in a week and had better results running 80 miles per week training for marathons.
That being said, the more you do it, the obvious feelings you initially have when trying to get fit subside and training can be quite enjoyable.
Is it boring?
Well that is a question that will be answered differently by different people.
It can be boring and fun at the same time.
There will be times no one will care if you are out on the road or not.
YOU need to take the initiative and commit to your goal and surround yourself with close friends for inspiration, and stick with a strong community i.e. run dream achieve, that understands your hard work.
The great University of Oregon distance coach, Bill Bowerman, said it best in regards to folks who seem to think high mileage is the secret. ‘If someone tells you, hey I ran 100 miles this week, how far did you run?” Ignore them! What the hell difference does it make?…the magic is in the individual, not the 100 miles’.
I thought high mileage was the secret for some time but learned otherwise.
My professional coach while with the Army World Class Athlete Program, Lisa Rainsberger, the last American female to win the Boston Marathon (2.34.04) really taught me the importance of not focusing so much on the mileage and focusing more on the workouts themselves and the ‘quality’ of the training sessions.
You can run 100 miles a week, continually for months on end but if your goal is to run a 4 hour marathon, which is 9.09 per mile pace.
Do you think you will reach your goal specifically on high mileage alone at 11 min pace or slower with no focus on 9.09 pace?
I would say that it would be a challenge. You have to train at that pace and practice it as often as possible and, over time, extend the distance of those runs.
#3 LONG EASY RUNS ARE GOOD FOR ENDURANCE, LONG ‘PACE FOCUSED’ RUNS BRING RESULTS
This is probably the most important tactic I learned from the three greatest coaches I have worked with, Lisa, Dr. Joe Vigil and Jack Hazen (my collegiate coach) in regards to excelling at the marathon distance.
Easy long runs are great, especially during your base building (if you a first-timer this simply means the build-up of mileage) phase but if you want to hit your target time you need to practice your dream pace.
If there is any training technique I could share with the rundreamachieve community it would be this. I didn’t really ‘get it‘ until I was assigned Lisa Rainsberger as my coach with the Army WCAP team.
Long runs were NOT fun, we’re concentrated around interspersing hard, easy and moderate effort miles within a 20-22 mile long run.
I have listed a few workouts I did while training in colorado springs and continue to utilize to this day below.
It doesn’t matter what level of runner you are.
You could be a beginner or elite you can tweak your long runs to mimic mine.
For example, if your goal is to run 4 hours for the marathon try doing your long run with the first 50% of it relaxed (conversation pace) with the last 50% at 9.09 per mile pace.
Long run examples
*these are only done AFTER I have spent weeks running easy, relaxed mileage*
- 20 mile run at 5.30-45 per mile pace
- 19 mile run with 3 mile warmup, 3 at 6.30 pace, 5 at 6.00 pace, 5 at 5.45 with the last 4 miles at goal pace (which, at the time, was 5.25 pace)
- 20 miles with the first 4 at 6.00 pace, 1 mile at 4.50 pace, 4 miles at 6.00 pace, 1 mile at 4.50, 6 miles at 5.50 pace, 1 mile at 4.50, 3 mile cool-down
- 2 mile warmup, 10 miles at 5.25 pace (or as close to it as I could get), 8 miles easy (7.30 pace)
There are countless variations you could do.
If you want to run a 3 hour marathon and your goal pace is 6.52 pace you could build yourself up from doing 8-10 mile runs easy (early on) to 20-22 mile runs with the first 5 miles at 8 min pace, 5 miles at 6.52 pace, 5 miles at 8 min pace with the last 5 miles at 6.52 pace.
Now, if this seems daunting, perhaps FAR too hard, I agree but keep in mind you want to first build into fitness before you jump into harder paced long runs.
Remember, foundation first, results later.
I can assure you, you can handle goal race pace workouts, afteryou have put in a long period of ‘easy’ mileage and your confidence will grow knowing you have held your goal pace in training for long period with no help.
Think of a race as simply a long run with people to help you and an audience of cheering fans getting you to the end.
#4 BE PATIENT, BE PATIENT AND….BE PATIENT
You want to learn and if I still have your attention, after this long, than I should get down on my knees and pray for your competition cause you are going to do some big things in the future with your running.
I have had countless set backs.
I have done workouts over the years where I was absolutely certain I was going to run a new personal best and missed the mark.
It is important to be motivated but the marathon is not a 5K.
You can’t go out the first mile in 4.40 like in a 5K and still hold on.
You do that in a marathon and you might be catching a quick bus ride home.
SO much goes on.
#5 IMPLEMENT FARTLEK RUNS INTO YOUR TRAINING REGIMENT
The Kenyans I have trained and lived with over the years are a HUGE fan of fartlek runs.
Simply put, it means ‘speed play’.
You change your paces. You can do a 5 mile run with the first 2 miles relaxed, than run 1 min hard followed by 1 min easy with a 2 mile cool-down.
These can be done on the track or the roads.
For example, you could do a lap at goal pace with a lap jog, back into a lap at goal pace with a lap jog and repeat it 10 times.
I had the fortunate (at the time unfortunate) opportunity to experience my first REAL fartlek run training with 2.11 marathoner (Gilbert Rutto of Kenya).
I was still in college at the time and his plan was to do a 60- minute run with 1 minute hard followed by 1 minute easy.
I was wearing a Garmin at the time and our hard pace was 4.50 and ‘easy’ pace was 5.50 pace.
Needless to say, it was unpleasant and probably one of the hardest workouts I ever did but the training effect is what you are looking for.
HOW CAN A FARTLEK RUN HELP MY MARATHON?
Fartleks are so important because they teach you to change pace when your tired.
You can utilize fartlek runs to teach yourself to accelerate when you feel like your slowing down or you feel like your on autopilot.
You can use it as a racing strategy to see where your competition stands within the race.
Runners World did a short but to-the-point article on fartleks which could be of use for you.
There are countless ways to do these.
You could be out on the road doing your run and sprint to one light pole, jog to the next, back into a sprint to the next pole and repeat.
It will build up your strength and stamina to overcome settling into one pace.
You have trained at various speeds so you know going into your race you can change your pace up anyway you please because you have done the work in training.
Fartleks can vary in time too.
You could do a 5,4,3,2,1 workout where you run 5 minutes on, 5 minutes off, 4 minutes on, 4 minutes off and so on.
The great thing about these runs are you can tune them to whatever set time and pace you wish.
Implement a fartlek run into your weekly training and you will be one step closer to running your best marathon.
#6 FOCUS ON CONSISTENCY IN YOUR TRAINING AND STICK TO IT
Like Coach Vigil said in the above video, “If you miss a day, your out of it….you don’t miss”.
You have to get in a set schedule where, no matter what, you ARE going to commit to this goal, regardless if it is a time goal or just to finish.
Look at what the top runners do and implement it into your training.
I can tell you first hand what runners who excel do.
They are 1) fully committed to their goals 2) are not afraid to fell 3) consistently put in training, week after week…Keep Coach Vigil’s words in mind, “If you are going to eat today, you run today”.
I am not saying a day off is going to be detrimental to your preparation.
More often than not, many runners get so caught up in how many miles they ran for the week that they fell to listen to their bodies and overtrain.
Vigil is a VERY disciplined person and coach.
His words many not apply for the person just learning about the marathon or someone who has different goals but the message is the same.
You have to have a high level of motivation to do anything that is hard and the marathon is.
I would advise a 12 to 16 week plan of solid training.
That doesn’t mean running for a couple days, taking a week off, running a full week, taking two days off etc.
You have to be patient with your build up, don’t rush!
Your body WILL adapt and with time you will grow even more consistent.
I hope you can take away some things from this post that you can add to your training tool kit.
The marathon can be humbling but when you incorporate race pace efforts, hard (and easy) long runs, easy runs to help your muscles repair and rebuild, fartleks.
Consistency will bring you to the starting line with no regrets and all the motivation you could possibly need to get you to the finish line achieving your goal.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Please feel free to leave a comment. I hope this was helpful.
Please send me your feedback as to what areas of training you are would like written about. Any area I can assist you with.
How to train for a marathon can be summed up in three words. Patience and persistence.