Running a marathon is one of the most challenging endeavors a person can undertake. It requires endurance, strength, and resilience. But as difficult as it is, running a marathon doesn’t have to be as miserable as some may believe. Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned marathon runner looking to improve your time, having a bit of knowledge can make your marathon journey not only achievable but enjoyable too.
When it comes to marathon training, most people think it’s all about mileage. However, it’s not just about how much mileage you can handle; it’s about how well you can recover from the stress of running. To understand this concept, you must first comprehend how your body works. Essentially, the human body is an adaptive organism. When faced with stress, the body adapts to handle it. For instance, when you catch a cold, your body eventually builds immunity. Running works the same way. If you run regularly, your body becomes better at handling the stress of running, and you become a better runner.
This means adopting a regime of both harder and easier runs. This includes long runs followed by shorter runs, hillier runs with flatter runs, faster runs with slower runs, and road runs with trail runs. Additionally, it’s essential to adjust your training to fit your lifestyle by scheduling easier training on higher stress days, such as Mondays and Fridays.
Recovery strategies like these enable you to handle day-to-day training.
However, to avoid injury and overtraining during the three to four months of marathon training, it’s crucial to schedule an easier week every month or so. During this easier week, you should reduce your volume by 40 to 50 percent to give your body a chance to recharge and get ready for more training. By following this “hard/easy” regime, your running will become more consistent, allowing you to gradually increase the amount of training and push the adaptation process higher and higher, making you fitter and fitter.
The one thing that all marathon runners have in common is self-doubt. No marathon runner ever lines up without wondering if they have done enough training. But how much is enough? Olympic marathoners train twice a day and clock up to 250k a week. However, if your goal is simply to finish, then 70 to 80k is plenty. As long as that includes a weekly long run that gradually builds up to 30k, you’ll be able to complete your marathon.
However, before you get started, you must first be able to run three or more days a week and cover one hour without too much difficulty. Once you’ve reached this level, you can begin training for a marathon. But to enjoy the process and run closer to your potential, it’s better to spend two to three months building up to a half marathon, take a break, and then spend another two to three months building up to a full marathon. The general rule of thumb is to increase your runs by no more than 10 percent per week. So if your longest run is currently one hour, then in six to eight weeks, you should comfortably be able to handle a two-hour run, making you ready for a half marathon.
Endurance for runners involves two basic elements: aerobic endurance and muscular endurance. Aerobic endurance is the ability of the heart to pump large volumes of blood to supply the working muscles with oxygen, while muscular endurance is the ability of your leg muscles to propel the body for the required length of time while withstanding the impact.
The best way to achieve both these elements is by running at least every second day, but you’ll progress faster if you can build up to running two or three days in a row and then take a day off. Most people can get through a marathon on a diet of three or four runs per week, but if you want to enjoy the experience, then four or five runs per week is better. Anyone serious about exploring their potential would be looking at five to seven runs a week.
As well as consistency, the type of running you do has a big bearing on the consistency needed to develop endurance. To be able to stay consistent, you can’t do this regular running too fast. If you run too hard, you tire earlier which means you have to stop or reduce the amount of running, which means you won’t be building endurance.
The key is to do your regular running at around 65 to 75 percent of maximum heart rate, which is an effort where you could still hold some sort of conversation while running. For most people, this is also the effort/pace they’ll run in their marathon.
You can also improve endurance by alternating longer runs with shorter runs. So if most of your runs are currently 60 minutes long, try changing to alternate 75-minute and 45-minute runs, and you’ll notice very quick improvements in fitness. This is the process of adaptation we talked about earlier, where the longer runs continually push the boundaries of your endurance while the shorter run allows you to recover for another longer run.
Over time, the goal is to build one long run per week up to 3 hours or 30-35k. You should also try and do these longer runs on the road. Road running gets a bad rap because of injury risk, but for marathon running, you need to get the body conditioned to that impact, and the safest way to do this is doing the longer runs on the road and the easier runs off-road to aid recovery.
Strength is also essential for improving endurance. Regardless of how hilly your marathon might be, some well-placed hill work in your training will help you handle any marathon better. Hills build added leg strength and aerobic endurance, which makes you more efficient, conserves energy and gives you more chance of lasting the distance. But hill work also requires more recovery, so limit hilly runs to one or two per week.
One hilly run might include several shorter, sharper hills. Another run might include longer, more gradual hills. But otherwise, these are normal runs, but on hillier terrain. The exception is if your marathon is a hilly course; in this case, some of your long runs should be hilly.
Remember, endurance is everything when it comes to running, and the key is to stay consistent, gradually build up your distance and intensity, and incorporate strength training to improve your endurance and handle any challenges that come your way.
The Importance of Speed in Running
While relaxed running is great for fitness and enjoyment, exploring your potential and improving efficiency requires incorporating faster and higher intensity running into your training.
There are three key reasons why speed is important:
- Biomechanical efficiency: running at a faster but still aerobic effort helps you use less energy and become more efficient.
- Oxygen uptake: higher intensity running improves your aerobic capacity and ability to maintain speed.
- Pace judgment: training at different speeds helps you develop a better sense of pacing.
To improve efficiency, include faster workouts in your training once or twice a week. These might include:
- Tempo Runs: a 90-minute run with 30-60 minutes at marathon goal pace or 30 minutes at half marathon pace.
- Time Trials: a 60-minute run that includes a 5k to 10k time trial or race.
- Interval Sessions: a 60 to 90-minute run that alternates 5 minutes at 10k pace with 2-5 minutes of easy running. Start with three reps and build up to six.
For someone who currently runs at least three times per week and can comfortably run for 60 minutes non-stop, the following four-month marathon schedule is a good example:
- Start by building up for a half marathon and then continue on to the full marathon.
- Follow a hard day/easy day approach and have an easier week every month.
- Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your runs to ensure consistency, as consistency is always king in running.
|1||Rest||45-minute run at an easy pace||30-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||60-minute run at an easy pace||60-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|2||Rest||45-minute run at an easy pace||30-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||60-minute run at an easy pace||70-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|3||Rest||50-minute run at an easy pace||35-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||65-minute run at an easy pace||75-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|4||Rest||50-minute run at an easy pace||40-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||65-minute run at an easy pace||80-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|5||Rest||55-minute run at an easy pace||45-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||70-minute run at an easy pace||85-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|6||Rest||55-minute run at an easy pace||50-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||70-minute run at an easy pace||90-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|7||Rest||60-minute run at an easy pace||55-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||75-minute run at an easy pace||95-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|8||Rest||60-minute run at an easy pace||60-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||75-minute run at an easy pace||100-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|9||Rest||65-minute run at an easy pace||60-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||80-minute run at an easy pace||110-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|10||Rest||65-minute run at an easy pace||65-minute tempo run at marathon pace||Rest||80-minute run at an easy pace||120-minute run alternating 5 min at 10K pace w/ 2 min easy||Rest|
|11||Rest||80-minute run at a steady pace||60-minute tempo run (35 min at half marathon pace)||Cross-training||65-minute easy run||130-minute long run||Rest|
|12||Rest||80-minute run at a steady pace||65-minute tempo run (40 min at half marathon pace)||Cross-training||70-minute easy run Saturday||140-minute long run Sunday|
|13||Rest day||90 min steady pace||70 min tempo run (45 min @ HM)||Cross-training||75 min easy run||150 min long run||Rest day|
|14||Rest day||90 min steady pace||75-min tempo run (50 min @ HM)||Cross-training||80 min easy run||160 min long run||Rest day|
|15||Rest day||100 min steady pace||80 min tempo run (55 min @ HM)||Cross-training||85 min easy run||170 min long run||Rest day|
|16||Rest day||50 min steady pace||30 min tempo run (10 min @ M)||Rest day||Rest day||Marathon Race||Rest day|