Or a half marathon…How many days a week will you run? How many miles each week? How long should your long run be? These are questions I get all the time from my patients/clients who want to tackle a marathon or half marathon. Today’s blog post is going to get you to the starting line prepared, confident and motivated to smash right through the dreaded “wall” of marathons and half marathons.
When should you start training for a marathon or half marathon? Half marathoners should give themselves 12-18 weeks to prepare while marathoners will want to start anywhere from 16-24 weeks in advance of their race depending on current fitness level. It’s always better to start earlier and be able to slowly progress rather than starting too late and trying to cram 16 weeks worth of training into 12 weeks, which is a recipe for disaster (i.e. injury). Generally, the first 4-6 weeks (sometimes longer) is devoted to base training, meaning just getting used to spending time on your feet and having consistent weekly mileage. This blog post is aimed at beginners so the majority of training will be spent just building mileage and not necessarily focusing on speed or specific race pace workouts.
How many days per week should you run? Ideally, three days a week for a half marathon and three to four days for a marathon with both training plans including one long run each week or even every other week is enough to build your mileage and get you to the starting line healthy. However, this will likely vary throughout a training cycle because of work, illness, vacations, etc so it’s important to be flexible and realistic depending on what’s going on in your life. If you’re feeling great and having no issues with injuries or fatigue, you could probably add another day of running during the week. If it’s hard to fit in say four days a week or you’re getting aches and pains that don’t resolve, then it may be more beneficial to run three days a week and add a day of cross training. The non-long runs are easy-to-moderate paced and can be anywhere from 3-8 miles depending on how you’re responding and progressing throughout training.
How long should the long run be? This depends on whom you ask as well as what your current fitness and past running history (if any) entails. Some coaches advocate running 10-14 miles for a half marathon and up to 22 miles (sometimes more) for the full marathon. However, beginners usually don’t need to reach these distances if the goal is to get to the starting line healthy and finish the race. Running up to 10 miles for a half marathon and 18 miles for the marathon usually will suffice to finish the race as long as you’ve been consistent with the rest of your training throughout the week. Jack Daniels from Daniels’ Running Formula recommends beginners keep their long runs to 25-30% of their weekly mileage or not exceed 2.5 hours for marathon training. So depending on how much you run on the other days of the week your long run may not reach a very high amount, which is fine as long as you’re consistent each week and don’t try to cram in a long run if you haven’t run any other time that week.
Why do you even need a long run? Because you need a dress rehearsal to minimize surprises on race day. The long run allows you to test out crucial components of training such as clothing, shoes, hydration and nutrition types/amount/frequency you’ll use on race day so you know what to expect. Even more importantly the long run prepares you to be on your feet for an extended period of time which is one of the biggest transitions a runner has to make when moving up to the marathon/half marathon distance. If you’re completely exhausted and can barely finish an easy 3 miler after starting to do long runs, you may need to back off or give yourself more time in between the long runs. It’s common to try to get a long run in every week, but for runners who are new to marathon training it may be more beneficial to do the long run every 10-14 days instead.
The most important thing when starting marathon/half marathon training is to listen to your body. If you’re falling asleep at work, aches and pains are lingering or you find you’re snappy towards your family or friends, those are signs you should back off in your training. Taking an extra rest day or cutting back on your total mileage is usually all you need for a week or two (or more if you need it) then you can try returning to the previous amount. Keeping track of weekly mileage is key with long distance training so not only are you aware of how much time you’re spending on your feet, but also what percentage of your weekly mileage your long runs are. There is no one-size-fits-all training plan so be prepared to make a lot of adjustments along the way. Consistency is number one so if you can stick with a routine that works for you, there is no reason you won’t get to the start and finish line happy, healthy and ready to go!
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
~ Colin Powell
- Daniels’ Running Formula 2nd Edition: Jack Daniels, PhD.
- You (Only Faster): Greg McMillan, M.S.
*Photos courtesy of the Fargo Marathon