Marathon Training Plans and Principles Tips

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Trim Your Cross Training With Your Marathon Taper

Tapering for a marathon? Don't forget to taper your cross training, too, during the week of your big race.

That doesn't mean avoid any activity, but the week before a marathon you won't get any stronger by doing your usual twice weekly weight room circuit training, or whatever your cross training of choice may be. If you can give your muscles that extra rest, they will be fresher on race day, and you can ease back into your cross training a week or two after the marathon, depending on your experience and how you are feeling post-race.


Get Long Run Ready

Long runs are an important part of marathon training. If you are new to marathons, you might wonder how to keep focused on a long run.

Here are some ideas:

-Bring your tunes: Personally, I don't like listening to music while running, but if you do, there's no reason not to pick your favorite tunes for a long run. Alternatively, download a podcast or two that you have been meaning to listen to. Three 1-hour shows and you've probably covered most of your 20-mile run.

-Bring fluid. Even if it's cool, you don't want to do a 20-mile run without water or your sports drink of choice. If you don't like carrying it on you,plan your long run as repeating several loops, and plant a bottle in a stratgegic location that you will run by 4-5 times.

-Bring a friend. If you have a running buddy who can do the long runs with you, great. If not, ask a friend or spouse to come along on a bike (you can let them carry the water, and the conversation).


Use Bad Weather as An Excuse To Try New Workouts

If you are stuck in an area that has been hit hard by winter weather, you are frustrataed. Frustrated runners who can't run can be hard to live with, so try these tips for coping with bad weather:

-Do more housework. If you are stuck inside due and can't run due to bad weather, give yourself a little more indoor activity, such as doing laudry or cleaning the bathroom.

-Take a nap. Naps are underrated for distance runners. Enjoy part of your snowbound day indoors by setting aside a half and hour for an afternoon nap. You might be surprised how good you feel.

-Walk outside. Take a walk if the sidewalks are passable. Or even if they aren't walking through the snow (wear boots with some support) can be a great form of cross training, and it might be your only way out if you have plans for before the plows come through.


Marthon Week: Less Running, More Stretching

Tapering during the last week before your big marathon can be harder than training. If all has gone well, you feel good, you want to run more, but you will thank yourself if you plan at least two days of not running during the last week before the marathon. If you have been feeling tired, fit in three rest days. And on the days that you do run, keep the distance a few miles shorter than your normal training distance.

For example, if your normal weekday run is about an hour, cut it down to about 40 minutes, and one day make it 30 minutes. You'll get your running fix, but you'll be letting your muscles rest up for marathon day. Take the extra time that you aren't running and do some stretching both before and after you run.


Adapt Your Marathon Schedule for Fall

Changing from summer to fall often means a change in schedule. Things might pick up at work, children are back in school, and the days are getting shorter. You should be in the middle of your fall marathon training at this point, thinking about tapering soon if your marathon is in late Sept. or early Oct.

If changing schedules challenge your marathon training plans, take the time to look at the fall calendar a few weeks in advance. Enlist some help to take the kids to soccer practice on Saturday morning so you can get that last long run in. Or enjoy the option of doing your run in the midmorning, once the kids are off to school, and the temperatures aren't shooting up the way they did in the summer.

Remember that as marathon training plans are meant to be modified, and with some planning, you can change your schedule with the seasons and be just as ready for marathon day.


Strategic Sports Massage Can Help with Marathon Training

If you are a beginning marathoner several months into your marathon training, you are probably experiencing some soreness and stiffness as your muscles adapt to the longer distances and tougher workouts. A month or so before your marathon can be a great time for a sports massage.

Be sure to keep in mind that sports massage is more intensive than a relaxation massage--someone will be putting pressure on the tight spots to break up knotty muscles, and that can hurt, but that's normal.

If you haven't had a sports massage before, you might feel a slightly different soreness for a day or so, but then you should feel re-energized to make it through the last few long runs before you start tapering for your marathon. If you get hooked on sports massage, schedule another one for a few days before the marathon.

Ask other runners to recommend a sports massage therapist in your area, or check out the American Massage Therapy Association's "find a massage therapist" database.


Maintain Marathon Training When Hot Weather Hits

When summer weather really sizzles, remember that marathon training schedules aren't written in stone. If you see that it is going to be up near 100 degrees on a given Saturday, take your planned 16- to 20-mile run down to a 13-miler, bring plenty of water, and do your longer run on the next weekend, or even if you get two bad weeks in a row, two weeks of 13-milers as a long run won't hurt your marathon training, either.

Even if your marathon is in the early fall, if you have been able to get several weeks of 13- to 16-milers for your long runs, you can get in a 20 a few weeks before your marathon and you should be in good shape, whether you are a beginning marathoner or more experienced.

You will have better weeks to get in a few longer runs in the ear


Making the Best of It

Here's another tip inspired by a quote from legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died in June 2010 at age 99:

"Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out."

To me, this translates into the following marathon training tip: If your planned training run doesn't go as planned, don't beat yourself up about it, and don't give up. One run when you felt tired, ran slower, or bagged your speed workout in favor of a steady run does not mean that your marathon is doomed. Much of marathon training is just getting the miles in--you don't have to hit a magic number on a heart rate monitor to benefit from a 5-mile run, not in my experience. So don't get discouraged if (and when) you tweak your training plans. Instead, make the best of it--you got your miles in, and that's what will help you as much as anything on marathon day.


Don't Sweat Your Schedule Changes

Marathon training does require planning, but it's important to remember that training schedules aren't written in stone, and you won't jeopardize your race if you can't get in a 20-mile run on the weekend you planned due to excessive bad weather, family emergencies, or illness/injury.

Just look ahead, and do that 20-mile the following weekend. Or if you know that you are going out of town for Memorial Day, for example, do your longer run the week before, and take an easier weekd of shorter runs when you're away from home and probably won't know your exact mileage. The important thing about marathon training is to be consistent, and get in the mileage over the weeks and months leading up to the race. Do that, and it doesn't matter whether you did that long run on this Saturday or that Sunday. Or even on a Monday, if that works for you.


Mental Toughness Matters

Experienced marathoners know, and beginning runners learn, that mental toughness and confidence are as important to a marathon training plan as logging the miles.

Doing your long run even though it's raining, or staying in to finish the race even though you aren't going to make your goal time, are examples of mental toughness that will give you the confidence in your ability to see something through. This confidence and mental toughness will help you achieve marathon goals, and goals in other areas of your life.

So when a run or a race doesn't go your way, feel good about the fact that you finished. And remember the old(?) saying, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

How do I know my best pace for running a marathon?

Finding Your Consistent Pace

Your ideal marathon pace should be something that you can keep up consistently. My best marathons are those when my times for each mile have been within a minute of each other. Resist the urge to run the first mile too fast, although your adrenaline is pumping and you want to get off to a good start. When you pass the first mile, that is one of the few times you can check your watch. If you usually train at an 8:30 pace and you ran the first mile at 6:47, you need to relax immediately. After that, stop checking your watch at every mile.

Once you have passed the first mile and adjusted your pace if necessary, find a rhythm that is a little faster than your training runs, (too fast to comfortably carry on a conversation, but not so fast that you are wearing yourself out). Some miles will be slower than others, but that’s OK. And it’s OK to talk to people, too, especially if you are running with a friend. Sometimes it’s more important (and more fun) to keep each other going and talk than to pick up the pace and not talk. On the flip side, don’t panic if your first mile is as much as 2-3 minutes slower than your training pace because you are caught in the crowd of 20,000 people at the start. Starting slow conserves your energy and helps you loosen up. You have 26.2 miles to make up a few minutes if you need to.

Will running on hills help my marathon training?

Hill Running: Just Do It, But Watch Your Quads

Running up and down hills will certainly make you stronger. Some runners do “hill repeats” by finding a hill and running up and down several times. The potential problem with hill repeats is that running downhill takes a toll on the quadriceps muscles, which are often weak in distance runners who don't make the effort to strengthen them with cross-training exercises.

You don't need to run hill repeats to reap the benefits, though. Finding a long training run that includes some rolling hills, if possible. Not every long run has to be hilly, but even if you can do a hilly long run once or twice during your marathon training, you will get the endurance benefits of a long run and the strength building benefits of hills. Don't run up and down the stairs. This type of running is jarring to the knees, and you are more likely to trip on stairs than you are to trip on a sloping street.

What are the mental aspects of marathon training?

Mind Games: The Mental Side Of Marathons

Running a marathon is an intense physical activity, no doubt about it. But successful marathoners recognize that there is a mental side, too. Knowing that you are well prepared for the marathon will boost your confidence. That preparation comes from training. During your training you have learned that you can complete long runs and run again the next day, you have learned what flavor of energy gel you like best, and you have learned that good quality socks are worth the money.

Also, and it sounds cliché, but a positive attitude is an asset during a marathon. If you find yourself slowing down or stopping to walk because it is 85 degrees, or you went out too fast, or you tried that weird gel at mile 15, tell yourself that your first goal is to finish, and you can almost always do that, unless you are truly ill or injured.

Most athletes, and runners are no exception, tend to be superstitious, and if you have your “lucky training socks” or your “racing bandana” that no one else knows about, it's normal. Just don't let superstition paralyze you and keep you from feeling good about the marathon if something goes awry. If the dog hid your “lucky socks” the day before the race, that's why you have more than one pair on hand, and if you can't find chocolate gel, strawberry will be lucky, too.

What are tempo runs and how can they help my marathon training?

Tempo Runs: Speed Without The Track

If you want to work some speed into your marathon training but you don't like running around a track or don't have access to one, try working some tempo runs into your distance runs. Check out the short distance section for an example of a more intense tempo run, but you can create a less regimented version. Here's how to do it:

  • During any medium distance run during the week, simply pick a point on your route or a time on your watch, and pick up the pace for 5 minutes.
  • Don't sprint; keep the pace at about 80 percent of your maximum effort.
  • Then slow done and run at a relaxed pace for 10 minutes, then do another 5-minute pickup.
Not wearing a watch? Pick up the pace until you reach the end of the street. Create your own tempo runs; pick up the pace for 3 minutes, or 10 minutes, or even 20 minutes, during the middle of a weekday run. But when the schedule calls for an easy run, keep those runs easy. Tempo runs are the equivalent of a track workout or hill workout.

Do I need to do speed work when training for a marathon?

The Need For Speed: It's Your Choice

Many marathon training plans call for speed workouts as a way to build strength. That's fine, and you may run a faster marathon if you do speed work as part of your training, but the strength you build by cross training delivers similar benefits if tempo runs or intervals don't appeal to you. If your marathon goal is to finish, the most important thing you can do to train is simply to run, at a comfortable pace, most days a week, and to get that long run in once a week.

If you enjoy running interval workouts on a track and you regularly do speed workouts with fellow runners, it won't hurt your marathon training, but don't do strenuous workouts two days in a row. Your muscles need time to recover. Some advanced marathon training plans call for more than one speed workout or tempo run per week. If you are following this type of plan, be sure to factor an easy day between the speed days.

For example, do your speed workouts or hill workouts on Monday and Wednesday, or Tuesday and Thursday, and run some easy, short runs or cross-train on the alternate days. If you do a tempo run on Monday, run an easy 4-8 miles on Tuesday, and that's a good day to do some weight lifting. If you are doing one speed workout or hill workout in a week, try to do it on Tuesday or Wednesday so you have time to recover before your weekend long run.

Do I need to take a day off and not run while training for a marathon?

The Power Of Rest: Don't Skip A Day Off

When I was a college student competing in track and cross-country running, I ran 7 days a week. I was lucky I didn't get injured, but your body can get away with more when you are 20 years old. When I started training for marathons after college, I researched some basic marathon training plans and all the ones I found recommended at least one rest day of no running. Some plans call for two rest days. Some runners like to take Sunday off after a long run on Saturday, others like to take a day off during the week when they need some extra time during the day for something else, or they make a spur-of-the moment decision to take a day off on a cold, rainy Tuesday.

Rest doesn't mean lying on the sofa all day, although that's fine. You can bike, swim, chase your kids, or go shopping. Just don't run. Those muscles that you use in running will know that they aren't being used to run, and they will recover more effectively, even if you are engaged in some other activity.

Do I need to run each mile at a certain time to complete a marathon?

Don't Let Your Time Overtake You

Following a specific time puts pressure on you that you don't need, and it doesn't allow for variables. For example, you might have a slightly slower mile before you make that pit stop when nature calls, and you'll make up for it with a faster mile because you will feel better.

Try to run the marathon at a steady but comfortable pace, and pick it up when you feel good, and try to hold the pace when you start to get tired. Rather than focusing on the fact that your last mile was 20 seconds slower than the mile before that, tell yourself, “I'm going to pick out a person ahead of me and pass them within this next mile.” Don't sprint; instead focus on catching up to that person gradually, without exerting more than 80 percent of your maximum effort. Once you pass that person (which may take only 200 yards), pick someone else, and before you know it you will have picked up your pace slightly, but not so fast that you feel worn out.

What should my marathon time be?

Great Expectations: Three Marathon Goals

There are three layers of goals in running a marathon. The first goal is to finish, and if you train smart, you should be able to accomplish that. The second goal is to finish feeling (relatively) good. If you train well and take care of yourself, and pace yourself during the marathon, you should finish on your feet and uninjured. You might be exhausted and wondering, “Has anyone seen a finish line around here?” during the last few miles, but that is different from staggering across the finish line in pain because you ran too fast for the first 10 miles.

The third goal is your finishing time. Many marathoners have a Boston Marathon qualifying time as their goal, and that's fine, but beginners in particular should not fixate on a specific time. And don't fixate on those time charts that project what your marathon time will be based on 5K and 10K times; the marathon is a unique race, and a lot can happen in 26.2 miles. Pick an approximate time that you think you can manage, such as “under 5 hours,” or “under 4 hours” and remember that if you don't meet that goal, your primary goal was to finish.

What is the most important part of marathon training?

Weekly Long Run: The Main Ingredient In Marathon Training

Want a recipe for marathon success? Be sure to include a long run once a week for 10-12 weeks. The length of that long run varies, but it's recommended that you two or three training runs of at least 20 miles during the few months before the marathon.

The key is to stagger the weeks for the longest runs. Running 20 miles on two consecutive Saturdays is feasible, but it is not necessary and it is not the best way to train because your body doesn't have much time to recover.

Assuming that you are running at least 20 miles a week for 5-8 miles at a time, start by running 8-10 miles one weekend. The next weekend, run 10-12 miles, and then next weekend, try for 12-15 miles, but the weekend after that, drop back to 10 miles. Then run 15 miles again the next week, and then try 15-18 miles, and then 20 miles.

If you are a more experienced runner who runs 30-40 miles a week, and you are used to running 10 miles at a time, start your marathon training long runs with 13 miles, then try 16-17 miles the next week, then drop back to 13 miles the next week, then do 17 miles again the next week, then 20 miles the week after that. The week after a 20-mile run, make your “long run” 10-13 miles, or less if you are new to long distances and you still feel tired. Repeat this pattern at least one more time before the marathon, working up to a second 20-mile run and then backing down.

Of course you don't have to do your long runs on the weekends, but that is usually the time when people have a few hours to spend. But if you have Wednesday mornings free, and that's a better time for you than Saturday morning, adjust your training schedule accordingly.

How much do I need to run each week to rrain for a marathon?

Don't Be A Mileage Monger

When you start training for a marathon, give yourself at least 3 months to build up your mileage. Gradually building up mileage is the best way to avoid an overuse injury. As you build up your mileage, don't increase your weekly mileage total by more than 10 percent per week. If your goal is to finish the marathon feeling reasonably good, you probably don't need to run much more than 50 miles a week, total. Once you have reached 40-50 miles, which includes your weekday runs and your weekend long run, you can hold steady at that level of mileage and you will be able to complete the marathon, especially if you build strength with cross-training workouts such as biking, weight lifting, and yoga. Remember that your muscles get stronger during periods of rest, and not every week will be a high-mileage week, which is a good thing.

What if I can't follow my marathon training plan?

Training Plans Are Made For Tweaking

Don't become obsessed with your training plan. Your marathon will not be ruined if you didn't run seven miles on Thursday because you were up all night with a sick child or if you were on a business trip.

Training plans are made for adjustment. Use them as guides, and adapt them to suit yourself, your life, your goals, and unforeseen circumstances such as injuries or bad weather. As long as you can do a long run once a week during most weeks leading up to the marathon, you will be able to complete the race. If you want to do speed workouts and hill workouts, that's great, just don't worry if you miss a few.

During the week, listen to your body and run mostly middle distances, from 5-8 miles, at a comfortable pace. Find a training plan that seems to suit your needs and goals and adapt it. If you want to do some speed work one week but not the next week, that's fine. There is no one plan that guarantees better results than any other plan. Check out to give you some ideas for basic training plans depending on your goals.


Acclimation is the Key to Summer Survival

Are you training for a fall marathon? If you started training in the spring but are new to running, you may be in for a surprise when the summer heat kicks in.

The best way to manage long training runs in the summer is to acclimate yourself to the heat with some shorter runs. If your training schedule calls for 13 miles and it is a hot day, go for 10 instead, to get used to the heat, and then do the 13 the next week.


Take it to Twenty

By late summer, it's time to be getting up to a 20-mile run, if you haven't already. If you have done a 20 earlier in the summer, get another one in during August. I like to do 2-3 runs of at least 20 miles before a marathon. Just make sure the last 20 is at least a month before race day, so you have time to taper.

If you haven't done a 20 by mid-August, fit one into your schedule, but don't jump from 13-14 to a 20-miler. Get at least one 16-18 mile run under your feet to boost your confidence.


Spring Training for Fall Marathons

If you are thinking of a fall marathon, spring is the time to sign up and start training. Many of the big fall marathons, such as the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC, in October, open for online registration in the spring.

If you survive the online lottery and get into your fall marathon of choice, spring is a great time to get a good mileage base, especially if you didn't run much during the winter. If you are new to marathons, don't worry about a training plan just yet; start building up until you feel comfortable running for at least 45 minutes 3 or 4 times a week. Then investigate some specific training plans, such as those available at

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