If you want to do a marathon it’s helpful to find a good training plan that works for you and use it during your next training cycle. Following a good plan can make training more enjoyable, help you improve your marathon time, and allow you to enjoy your marathon experience through proper nutrition, pacing and fitness.
Training for a marathon is not easy. The miles alone are tough to fit into an already busy schedule. Throw in the physiological complexities of needing the right nutrition, hydration and pacing work, and it’s enough to make anyone (even the pros) run and hide.
This year, because you’re reading this article, you’ll be better prepared. However, it won’t be complicated or messy. We’re going to give you a simple six-month plan to follow so that you’re ready for a marathon. The plan will give you a distance to run each week, broken down into individual workouts. Along with it are recommendations on how to find the correct pace for a given workout, race day nutrition, and staying healthy throughout the process.
This first three months will be focused on gaining strength and endurance, developing an aerobic base, and finishing it off with a half marathon trial run. The second part will tell you how to gain higher-end fitness, taper for the marathon, and work out those last minute details.
Training should be simple. Don’t get bogged down in the minutiae of why, let a coach do that. For you, the most important thing is to believe in what you’re doing and have faith that it will get you to your goal.
My plans are based on a four-week training block, three weeks of increasing mileage with one week of rest, or lower mileage. This is a good schedule that will stress the body, and allow it to recover enough to get the most out of your training.
Weeks are roughly scheduled so that you have rest days between hard days, and days off are evenly spaced throughout the week. I believe that the more consistent you can be by spreading out the mileage over the course of the week, the better your fitness and running will become. That’s why you’ll see 4-5 days of running each week.
This plan is based on the assumption that you’re at a point where running 5-6 miles at a sustained pace is relatively comfortable. I’ve tried to increase mileage responsibly. However, if it becomes too much then feel free to back off, move days around and be flexible with the plan. Take one week at a time. It will look intimidating if you jump to the last couple of big weeks before the marathon but as you gain fitness, those long runs and workouts will become easier. The last thing I want is for you to end up injured and unmotivated, so use it how you see fit and most of all, stay healthy.
Use your long runs to work on your nutrition during the race. Training will never simulate a race, but it’s the best thing you have to figuring out what works ahead of time. You’ll want to shoot for 200-400cal/hr during the marathon and so you’ll need to find a good product (usually gel) that will get you through. Also try to get 300mg of sodium (S-caps, Metasalt, or Roctane electrolytes are good) and 20-24oz of water per hour.
Figure out all your race gear in advance, and run with it to make sure it works. The last thing you want is to try out a new pair of shorts and find out that you’re chaffing in them the first three miles. So wear your shirt, shorts, hydration gear, shoes and socks on training runs to make sure you know what works.
Shoes are obviously an important part of your gear, so finding the right pair is crucial. The best way to do that is not to take a recommendation, but to go to a running store and get fit by a professional. There are shoes out there that worked well for your best friend but would be the worst ones you could get for yourself. Everyone is different.
Make sure your easy runs are easy, and the hard ones are hard. The biggest mistake people make when they’re starting out is running their easy days too hard. You’ll benefit aerobically by going a little slower on your easy days than going too fast.
I’ve put some intervals and tempo pace workouts into the plan not because you need them to get through the marathon, but because they’ll help you enjoy the experience more. Changing your pace breaks the monotony of easy runs, gives you better fitness and makes your goal more attainable.
I did not put any strength training into the plan, but one of the best ways to stay healthy and injury-free is to add strength training into your routine. By implementing a 30-minute workout 2-3 times a week, you’ll see huge benefits over the long run. This doesn’t have to be done at a gym with weights, either. Body weight, high rep/low weight core, and leg exercises are ideal.