Your Marathon - What First?

How to make sure you're ready for your build-up to the marathon


Posted: 6 December 2002
by Bruce Tulloh

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If you’ve applied for a place in the Virgin London Marathon, you’ll know by early October whether you’ve been successful. You have ample training time in the period between starting your training schedules in early January and the big day in April – but you can still benefit from doing some initial preparation.

Get Ready

How you prepare depends largely on how much training you’re doing already – if you’re starting from scratch, for instance, your approach come January will be different from that of a grizzly club runner. But before you even start honing your training, there are some key questions that all prospective marathon runners should ask themselves.

  • Can you afford the time?
    Marathon training takes a lot of commitment. It’s not just physically demanding – it can also place a strain on your family life and social life. Even a schedule for a five-hour runner requires that you build up to training five times a week, with long runs of two to three hours on three weekends out of four.

    The good news is that once you’ve accepted the idea of all the hard work, you’ll stick with it and put in a performance to be proud of at London. If you’re not sure that you’ll have the time or dedication at this stage, it would be better to focus on a shorter race distance for this spring and postpone your marathon goal for a year.



  • Do you have people to train with?
    Your preparations will be easier if you can find a partner, or better still, a small group to go out with. The added motivation is invaluable, especially on long runs. Visit our forums to ask about clubs and training partners near you.


  • Do you have the right shoes?
    Don’t leave it until six weeks into your training schedule to discover that your shoes have been progressively injuring you. If you know the sort of shoes you should wear, make sure yours are in good condition. If you don’t know, get fitted out at a proper running shop, where you’ll get expert advice. Alternating two pairs during training is a good idea, and if you want a lighter pair to race in, now may be the time to shop for ones you feel comfortable in.

Shaping Up

Once you’re kitted out, partnered up and committed to solid training, you can focus on getting into the best shape possible before you launch into following a schedule - in January, if you're preparing for London.

The beginner
If you’ve never run before, your priority before the New Year is to get used to jogging for 20-30 minutes non-stop. If you’re reading this in early December, start now by doing 10 minutes of walking and jogging three times a week, plus a five-mile walk at the weekend. Build up week by week, but don’t overdo it.

If you aim to follow the sub-4:30 schedule rather than the Get You Round programme, you should be able to run comfortably, three or four times a week.

The fit cross-trainer
Even if you do other sports such as cycling, canoeing or football, marathon running is different because you will be supporting your own bodyweight and hitting the road 8000 times an hour for hours on end. Your feet, ankles, knees and hips have to get used to it gradually. Holding yourself back at first is frustrating, but it pays dividends by keeping you injury-free. A good rule for any runner is to aim to do half of your training off-road, to minimise the impact on your joints and muscles.

The regular runner
If you’re running regularly, use December to build up your base mileage if necessary. If you’re aiming for under four hours at London, put in a few weeks of regular, steady running at around 20-25 miles a week. Don’t worry about speed in the early stages; just get used to regular running, so that you feel you are building up your stamina gradually. If you’re aiming for a sub-3:30 time, you should be running 30-35 miles a week; anyone targeting sub-3:00 should be clocking up 40 miles.

You may be comfortably running at your target already. In that case, don’t increase your mileage yet. Sixteen weeks is plenty of time to train for a marathon from a solid running base, so boosting your training volume before January is only likely to make you stale. Instead, use December to concentrate on your speed and strength. Cross-country racing is classic preparation, as are hillwork and speed sessions of varying lengths. If you don’t do at least two weekly quality sessions like these already, getting into the habit of it now will make the marathon schedules less of a shock when you start them in January. Similarly, running appropriately often will help: five times a week for the sub-4:00 schedule; six times a week for the sub-3:30 schedule and six or seven times a week for the sub-3:00 schedule.

Choosing A Goal

You can find links to all of our schedules in our BIG Marathon Index. Which time target should you aim for? Here’s a rough guide, based on your current race form. If you have no idea of your race form and you haven’t been running three times a week or more in the last six months, we'd advise you follow the Get You Round schedule.

  10K 10 Miles Half-Marathon
Get You Round 60 mins+ 1:38+ 2:11+
Sub-4:30 51-59 mins 1:24-1:37 1:55-2:10
Sub-4:00 44-50 mins 1:13-1:22 1:40-1:54
Sub-3:30 38-43 mins 1:02-1:12 1:25-1:39
Sub-3:00 Under 38 mins Under 1:02 Under 1:25

Good luck!


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