Join any neighborhood weekly training group for runs and workouts.
Regular early training boosts your daily energy, strengthens your muscles, spirit, and brains.
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.