RW's 60-Second Guides: Marathon Running

A handle on training for the big one, for the time-pressed

Posted: 8 December 2005

These guides are for people in an enormous hurry. There's some very useful further reading at the bottom of the page...

Congratulations – you're going to run a great marathon! So now what?

Marathon training through the winter can be a cold and lonely business; finding a training partner or group to run with will make it more sociable. Signing up for our marathon newsletters will provide virtual support too – you’ll get a weekly bulletin with training advice and all the latest marathon news to help you keep focused.

Now is the time to assess your fitness and set a realistic goal for 23 April. If you follow a schedule that’s appropriate to you, there will be opportunities further down the line – perhaps a half-marathon after a few weeks – to gauge your progress, and if necessary adjust your target time.

Your training schedule should involve a healthy mixture of fast and slow running, one pillar of which is the weekly long run, which you should aim to do comfortably at 45-60 seconds per mile slower than your predicted marathon pace. Eventually, this run will be up to 22 miles or three and a half hours, depending on your speed. No matter what your eventual aim, you should build up your mileage slowly, increasing your long run by no more than two miles a week, with walk breaks if necessary.

Training for a marathon places high demands on your body. You will need to eat well, in both quality and quantity, paying special attention to fuelling during and after long runs. You may also find you need more sleep – an extra 30-45 minutes a night. Having difficulty nodding off – and then struggling to get up the next morning – could mean that you are over-training. As you’ll see in our schedules, you will benefit from having an occasional easy week – usually one in four – to allow your body to recover from the impact of training.

Don’t underestimate the importance of recovery: do no more than a short, gentle run the day after a long run, eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 20 minutes of finishing training (if you can’t face a tuna sandwich, try a sports recovery drink), and brave the discomfort of cold baths and sport massage.

If illness or injury interrupts your training, don’t play catch-up. If you’ve missed four weeks or more in the last 10 weeks of the programme, you may be best to postpone your entry until 2008; if it’s less than that, concentrate on the long runs and be prepared to lower your goal by 15 minutes if needs be. And at the end of the schedule, don’t be tempted to train when you should be easing off: a three-week taper will leave you in the best possible shape to run the race you want, and enjoy it.

Marathon strides: Five next steps

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Discuss this article

I've just read the 60 second guide to marathon and I'm probably being really dim, but could some one explain some thing to me...

Why is it you should do your long run at 45 - 60 seconds slower than your estimated marathon pace? Surely you should train at the pace you think you'll be running the marathon at - not slower.

Or have I missed some thing...

Posted: 10/01/2006 at 14:29

It depends on what you want to achieve. If you are just hoping to get round and are going to run it quite slowly, then you can probably get away with doing long runs at mara pace.

If you are running a marathon at a reasonable pace (faster than 4hrs30? - how long's a piece of string?) then you'll find that doing your long runs at marathon pace will take too much out of you. You are better doing shorter marathon pace runs midweek and doing the weekends slowly
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 14:44

Ok, I'm with you now. Running slower and cutting the risk of injury makes sense. Sorry to be so full questions here, but is it sensible to run a marathon at a pace faster than you've trained at? I'm not questioning the experts here, I hasten to add - I'm just a bit bamboozled!
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 15:08

Blondie: When race day comes, you'll have been cutting your mileage down drastically for a couple of weeks, you'll be well rested and you'll have eaten exactly the right things for a couple of days beforehand(theoretically).- And you'll be expecting to be a bit sore and battered the next day and to take up to a month to get back into running hard.- All of this is because on race day, you expect to be putting more effort into it.- giving it your 110%.

When you're training, you need to be able to go out day after day, week after week.- you won't be well rested, you wont have long recoveries.

If you think about it like that then you can see why you wouldn't want to be effectively racing every time you train.
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 15:13

During your training each session works on different aspects of your running. The speed sessions help you increase your pace. Hill sessions build strength in your legs. Fast runs (up to about 10 miles) teach you to run distances at a faster pace. Long runs build stamina and teach your body to use its fuel effectively. On race day all of these things come together to allow you to run further and faster.

If you try to do all of those things on a long run you will wear yourself out and you increase the risk of injury.
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 15:14

Got it! Now you put it like that - training day after is quite different to running a marathon on one day. Makes sense now. Gosh, those blonde genes do kick in every now and then. Thank you every one.
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 15:16

"is it sensible to run a marathon at a pace faster than you've trained at?" ooohhh. i wouldn't try it. i would agree with all the other advice on this forum about mixing the sessions and doing long runs very slowly to allow recovery. the traditional advice that was given to me was to start so slowly that it felt easy, and that 20 miles should be considered half way. so, it should feel relatively stress free until around the 18-20 mile mark. the last 6 are the hardest, which is where all the faster running that you will do will come into it's own to get you through to the finish.

good luck and enjoy!
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 17:31

Marathon running is about economy like driving a car...they tell me 56 mph is the best speeed for maximum fuel economy, faster and you just use too much petrol and clap out.

The enemy in the marathon is the distance, you gradually work up to something like the speed you want too achieve over the distance. Too fast, too hard or too far and you'll get injured

Respect the distance, slower is faster because you will get there eventually instead of blasting off and hitting the wall or hurting yourself.
Posted: 10/01/2006 at 18:54

Doing my first marathon on 11th June,have been training nearly every day but have not gone past 15 miles done. Is it really neccessery to do 20 miles as all I want to do is finish the race on the day, am doing the Edinburgh one and following the beginners training schedule and according to that I am on course. Have done 2 half marathons and was more than happy afterwards and could have run further, any more tips to get through the next two weeks anyone?
Posted: 25/05/2006 at 12:10

I would say at least 20 miles is a must. A full marathon is more than twice a half marathon distance.

I wouldn't want to go over 16 miles for the first time in a race - it can do some strange things to you
Posted: 25/05/2006 at 18:54

How can a full marathon be MORE than twice the HALF distance? Or surely is wouldnt be a Half marathon would it?!

13.1- Half marathon
26.2- Marathon
Posted: 25/05/2006 at 20:06

True but it feesl like 2.5 X HMs

e.g. If you are trying to estimate a finishing time work on best 5M time X 6 (= 30 miles)

You really do slow down in the last 6M and it feels much further than 2 HMs
Posted: 27/05/2006 at 19:57

Well here goes nothing bring on Sunday, anyone know the real weather in Edinburgh for Sunday?
Posted: 09/06/2006 at 19:32

I did the Blaydon Race last night even at 7.15pm it was still very hot and humid. I would expect more of the same tomorrow

Good luck anyway, just take your time
Posted: 10/06/2006 at 12:47

Finished had a great time fab day if a bit warm doubt I,ll do another but....
Posted: 12/06/2006 at 00:28

Congrats on finishing CC7 - do you feel okay now??
Posted: 12/06/2006 at 00:49

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