Marathon Training Plan & Schedule
As more and more runners turn to the marathon to prove their running mettle, a sensible marathon training schedule is more important than ever for building safely to peak performance.
Posted Friday, 5 April, 2013
Befitting its Greek roots, the marathon unfolds as a classic drama, carrying equal doses of comedy and tragedy, euphoria and agony. For much of the time since this piece of road-running theater was revived in the 1896 Athens Olympics, the starring roles of the marathon were reserved largely for a relatively small band of running fanatics. But in the last two decades, something amazing has happened: the rise of the average-Joe marathoner.
As the second running boom captures more and more new runners, they are turning in increasing numbers to the marathon to prove their mettle. The masses have embraced the marathon and vice versa.
Cool Running celebrates this trend, with a caveat that should be obvious: you do not have to run the marathon to be a "real" runner (some of the world's top runners have never run one). It is true that crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles delivers a feeling of gratification and accomplishment like no other, but a similar sense accompanies the finish of a well run 10K, or a fast mile.
Build to the Marathon
New runners in particular should not feel pressed to rush to the marathon; to begin the racing experience with the marathon is to start at the wrong end. Give yourself time and experience racing the shorter distances. Running a marathon is not something to be done lightly or without adequate preparation and training. It requires seriousness and dedication.
There are as many reasons to run a marathon as there are marathoners, but running to finish, to survive, is at the core of every marathon experience. In the words of the late running guru Dr. George Sheehan, "The truth is that every runner in a marathon is a survivor or nothing, including the winner."
While virtually any runner can complete a marathon with enough training and determination, large reservoirs of both are required. You should not run a marathon unless you have at least a year of running experience behind you to prepare both mind and muscle for the miles and months of training ahead. Make sure, too, that you review Cool Running's tips for running injury prevention in the Aches & Pains section.
Preparing for a marathon, after all, is no easy thing. It is a big, big time commitment, and for most it demands vast amounts of energy -- physical, mental and emotional. The pay-off, of course, is equally enormous. Enhanced strength, confidence and stoicism are the treasures reaped by all marathon athletes, whatever their ability.
Marathon Miles Aplenty
All marathon training programs have one thing in common: lots and lots and lots of miles. The unchanging fact of the marathon is that your body has to be well prepared to endure the strain and relentless miles of the long road. You have to put the miles in the bank.
Here at Cool Running, we feel it's a matter of degree. Relative to most marathon programs, the overall weekly mileage of our 20-week schedule is fairly moderate. But don't think you're getting off easy. While the overall mileage might seem breezy, the twice-monthly long runs are... long. You will run the full marathon distance at least once during your buildup to the race. If you take these (very) long runs at a sensible pace and combine them with moderate mileage during the week, these marathon programs will bring you to peak condition for race day. Long slow distance is the key.
There is a widespread notion that running the full 26 miles during training is a bad idea, that you are somehow weakening yourself. On the contrary, we tend to think that tackling the full distance for the first time while pushing a race pace is much riskier. Practice makes perfect, and you have to train the distance to race the distance. Here we emphasize the word "race." These marathon training programs are intended for runners who are seeking to run for time, which is different than running to finish, a goal of many first-timers.
For runners whose chief goal is simply to get across the finish line, there's not much need to run beyond 20 miles. See the notes accompanying our beginner's program to make the necessary adjustments.
Keep in mind, of course, that there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all training program. While the marathon training schedules offered here are solid and dependable, you should feel free to tinker with them and make them your own. Adapt them to your own rhythms.
By following a marathon training schedule, you will develop gradually through four training phases: endurance, strength, speed and tapering (for more info on these, check out "Road Rhythms," our survey of the training cycle). Before you embark on one of the marathon training plans, though, be sure you're in shape to follow that particular training schedule. Each program includes a schedule for a "pre-training week" to help you gauge your fitness. If you are not already able to run the mileage for that week comfortably, take a few weeks to build gradually to that level, adding one mile to your long run every week. You should be able to run that pre-training schedule comfortably for four to five weeks. Then lace up, you're ready for the road.
Our training programs are designed for runners of varying abilities. The advanced program includes many weeks with no days off, and the competitive program includes none. Instead of days of complete rest, these schedules build in easy days of relatively light mileage. There exists a philosophical difference in approach to training -- whether to take the day off entirely or to simply go light on the miles for a couple of days. For the advanced and competitive schedules, we've chosen the latter. For those who would prefer the former, however, those light days can be replaced by days of complete rest. Do what feels comfortable for you.
Marathon Training Schedules
For runners who currently run 15 to 25 miles per week and expect to run the marathon in about 4 hours for men, or 4:20 for women. You should have at least one year of running experience.
For runners who currently run 25 to 50 miles per week and expect to run the marathon in under 3:30 for men, or 3:50 for women.
For runners who currently run 40 to 60 miles per week and expect to run the marathon in under 3:00 for men, or 3:20 for women.
For runners who currently run over 50 miles per week and expect to run the marathon in under 2:30 for men, or 2:50 for women.