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How to Create a Marathon Training Program

If you're ready to start putting together a marathon program, start by running whatever distance you can currently run, and gradually build up your mileage until you’ve reached the point where you can cover 20 or more miles in your training. You should allow four months of training before tackling the marathon.

A weekly training schedule

The beginning program outlined here is very simple. From Monday through Saturday, you do basically the same thing. You run a little and cross-train a lot. These activities put less wear and tear on your joints and keep you fresh and motivated about your running.

The only thing that changes in this program is the Sunday long run, which gets longer and longer. Cross-training may include other aerobic activities such as swimming or cycling. Here’s a schedule of what your typical week of training should look like:

  • Sunday: Long run

  • Monday: REST

  • Tuesday: Weights or cross-training

  • Wednesday: Run from 30 to 45 minutes

  • Thursday: Weights or cross-training

  • Friday: Run from 30 to 45 minutes

  • Saturday: Walk or cross-training

The weekly long run

The long run teaches your body how to burn carbohydrates and fat efficiently and how to deal with the mental and physical strains of running for long periods of time.

Build up your marathon training mileage by following this schedule for your weekly long runs. You can alternate the long runs with faster-paced runs or workouts in hilly areas, if you like.

Long Run Schedule (one day per week)
Week Miles
1 6
2 8
3 10
4 6
5 12 to 13
6 6
7 15 to 16
8 7
9 18 to 19
10 8
11 20 to 22
12 10
13 10
14 22 to 24
15 8 to 10
16 8 to 10
17 The marathon (26.2)

Don’t worry about going fast during your long marathon training runs. Your challenge is to go long. That means you should run slowly, maybe a minute slower than your normal training pace. You should also take walking breaks — a minute of walking for every 3 to 5 minutes of running.

Tips for making it through the long runs

There’s no way around it. If you want to run a marathon, you’ve got to do the long runs. Here are some tips on how to survive these long runs and maybe even make them enjoyable!

  • Start early in the day. Do your long run on Saturday or Sunday morning. Most people have jobs, families, and responsibilities, even on weekends. An early start allows the runner to still have a good part of the day after the run for other activities. A morning run also keeps you from training in the hottest part of the day.

  • Make sure that you plan a route with access to water. Maybe you can map out a route that passes by a water fountain in a local park. Or you may have to run loops that pass by your car or home several times so that you can grab water each time.

  • Restock your energy supplies. Doing a 20-miler on an empty stomach is not a great idea. The advent of energy bars and gels has made it easier for endurance athletes to get the calories they need. But, of course, you can also munch on a banana or a bagel when you get up. Because everyone has different food requirements during exercise, experiment to see what works best for you during a long run. Then take that knowledge with you into the race. You might try a bar or a gel packet before your run, and then another halfway through.

  • Seek out the company of friends and training partners. In marathon training, running companions become more essential than ever. Why? Because you’re going to eventually get to the point where your long runs will keep you out on the roads for 2 or even 3 hours. That’s a long time! Make it pleasant and stimulating by running with others.

  • Look at the long runs not as punishment or an ordeal but as a challenge in and of themselves. They can be rewarding, fulfilling, and even fun. Above all, they are essential to your marathon preparation.

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