Preparing for a Marathon
This two-part series will take you from the beginning of your training right to the finish line, and you will not need to become a full time runner/triathlete. Let’s start with the marathon. Contrary to what many people believe, it really is not that difficult.
As a general rule of thumb, it is recommended that you start your training sixteen weeks prior to the date of competition. Does that mean that you can’t do the marathon if the race is 3 months away? No. It’s just that you will be better prepared for the race the longer you train for it.
The Long Run
The three biggest and most important parts of your training will be your long run, walking breaks, and consistency. Let’s first cover the long run. This is by far the most important training part to any marathon training plan. This will determine whether or not you finish the race or “bonk” out at the 20 mile mark. This is the one day of the week that will get progressively longer and more difficult as the weeks go on. Typically you should do this run on the same day each week that the marathon will be on. This means that if your marathon is on a Sunday, do your long run every Sunday. This just gets you in the habit and routine of running long on that day. The goal with the long run is to progressively reach a point where you are doing twenty miles continuously. Try shooting for two to three twenty mile runs prior to the marathon. “But how do I run for twenty miles continuously if I’ve never run more than three or four in my life?” you might ask. Remember, that’s why it’s ideal to train for sixteen weeks. You need to crawl before you can walk, right?
This is also where the walking breaks come into play. Let’s say your first week of training your long run is two miles. Your walking break will occur at the first mile mark and will last for one minute. So you will have one walking break for one minute. After a couple of weeks of training let’s say your long run is up to four miles. You will now have three walking breaks (one after each mile, without counting the last one since you will be done with the run) that last for one minute each for a total of three minutes walking. You might say to yourself, “Well that means that I will be walking for a total of 19 minutes during my long runs of twenty miles, won’t the race take me forever to finish this way”? Quite the opposite. Since you are “walking”, which by the way is a fast walk, you are actually resting your body and gearing it up for the times in between your “walks” that you will be running the race. Your body will thank you towards the end of the race for taking all of those walking breaks.
The rest of the week will consist of much shorter runs that will keep you moving at a faster pace than your long run. For example, you could go out for three runs in addition to your long run. This would consist of two shorter runs and one medium run. During your runs, focus on time and not mileage. You get to the point where you know what your pace is (eight-minute mile, nine-minute mile, etc.) and instead of shooting for a specific amount of mileage, you go for a specific amount of time.
So for example, during the first month of training, a typical week might look like this:
- Tuesday—run for 30 minutes
- Thursday—run for 35 minutes
- Friday—run for 45 minutes
- Sunday—run for 50 minutes
During all of your runs outside of your long run, it is up to you whether or not you take walking breaks. You might want to get your body used to that as much as possible, in which case you will take the walking breaks. There are some people who only do that for the long runs. Let’s say for example that your pace is about an 8:00 minute mile, you would take your walking breaks after every eighth minute. Now, these are your numbers. Someone else who is a beginner might not be as fast. That person might do 12:00 minute miles, so their walking breaks are after every twelfth minute. It’s all relative to the person. The beauty is that this type of training can be applied to everyone though, regardless of how fast or slow you are. You have to know what you’re capable of doing personally.
Another component to all of your marathon preparation is consistency, especially with your long runs. In order to finish the race it is crucial that you do all of your long runs and to make the most progress, be sure to increase your long runs each week. In order to avoid overuse or injury, limit the amount of your increase to 10 percent of the total amount you are running for that week. So whether you are tracking your progress by mileage or minutes, never make too big of a jump in your training time/distance. This is another reason why sixteen weeks of training is a good idea. It is a gradual progression that will not burn you out yet still have you physically and mentally ready for the big day!!
So remember: long runs, walking breaks, and consistency. If you follow all of these and drink lots of water during your training and during the race, you will finish with a big smile on your face. Knowing that you are helping others will make it even sweeter!!