This marathon training program is designed for the intermediate endurance athlete. The other two training schedules are for Beginners and Advanced distance runners.
If you decide to follow a program like this, how do you know if you fall into the “intermediate” class?
Firstly, uou should also have either marathon or half-marathon experience.
Secondly you should be running 3-5 days per week covering 20-25 miles.
Thirdly, you should be able to comfortably run 8 miles.
If you’re not running these kinds of distances at the moment, considering the beginner marathon training program.
Even if you’re fit – you play another sport competitively, or go to the gym every day for example – you should still class yourself as a beginner.
It’s easy to let pride and competitiveness persuade you into avoiding anything labelled as beginner – especially if you’re in good shape. But marathon training is unique. It takes time to build a tolerance for long distance running and building up the miles has to be a gradual process.
This marathon training program also assumes you are in good health and you’ve had medical screening before you begin. At this point, please read the disclaimer.
Keeping that in mind, let’s lay some important foundations before moving on to the marathon training program…
Foundations of a Marathon Training Program
There are many principles of training – some unique to marathon training. You’re probably already aware of at least some. Here are few key considerations we need to take into account to build an effective marathon training program
The fitter and more capable an athlete becomes, the more likely he or she is to over-train. The false logic goes that because they are fitter, their bodies can cope with greater and greater demands, more and more miles. But in actual fact, as mileage increases, the longer the body needs to recover – even for experienced athletes. And because the speed and intensity of each run increases this doubles the importance of adequate rest.
Avoid performing long runs at race pace. Leave this for shorter, more intense sessions.
Periodization is the preferred method for designing any kind of intense training schedule. Quite simply it means to break the overall plan into smaller cycles or chunks, each with their own specific outcome.
The opposite – a progressive marathon training program would simply have you run more and more miles at a faster and faster pace indefinitely. Instead by breaking the plan up into smaller periods or cycles, training intensity and volume looks like a series of peaks and troughs…
Adjusting Training Load
To expand on our explanation of periodization – week 1 of the program might start relatively easily, gradually increasing at week 2 and week 3, then week 4 sees a decrease in training volume before stepping it up again in week 5 and week 6. These 6 weeks could be classed as one cycle. To take it step further, each week (a mini cycle) would also vary intensity and volume. This approach is one of the best methods for avoiding over-training.
Closely related to the above two points is tapering. This is simply a planned reduction in training volume and intensity as the weeks and days draw closer to the actual marathon. Even for many experienced runners, tapering equates to a day’s rest before the 26 mile run. That’s not enough – not if you’re run a 20-miler within the last week. In fact, as you’ll see below running distances close to marathon length less than 3 weeks before the race can be disastrous. It can take that amount of time to fully recover.
Aim to peak (in terms of training miles) 4 weeks before the race. Avoid runs of more than 10 miles during this time.
Hitting the wall
You’ve heard the phrase, you may have even experienced those energy-sapping effects 18 miles in affectionately known as “hitting the wall”. The weak legs, light-headedness and strong urge to stop are caused by a depletion of glycogen (carbohydrate stores) and an almost complete reliance on fat for fuel. While fat can power a runner for days in theory, it can’t maintain the same speed and intensity as carbohydrate. Couple that with dehydration and it can bring you to a sudden and grinding halt. Fortunately, there is an effective weapon against the wall…
Understanding how nutritional status affects the body during exercise is something you would also benefit greatly from. And it’s not just about race day. Eating the right foods at the right time, before during and after long training sessions will compound to make your overall marathon training program that much more effective. We’ll look at nutrition for endurance athletes in detail in a separate article.
Marathon Training Program Sessions
The marathon training program below is made up of six individual sessions. Below is a description of each. To keep track of the miles you’re covering in training, a pedometer is a good investment. You can get them combined with heart rate monitoring if this is something you want to do…
You can get pedometers at most sporting good stores or the likes of Amazon. Be sure to shop around and don’t pay the earth!
You should also have an idea of your target race pace…
If your goal is to run a 4:00 (4 hours), then race pace will average a little under 9:10 (9mins 10 secs) per mile. Setting a target time and race pace is something you can only really do if you have previous marathon experience.
Long Distance Runs
All three marathon training programs, from beginner to advanced, incorporate only one long run per week (of course “long” varies with program to program). And this is enough. It takes longer than most runners realise to fully recuperate from a long distance run.
The long run is also performed at a comfortable pace NOT your anticipated race pace. The shorter runs during the week will be faster and are designed to increase cardio-respiratory fitness parameters such as lactate threshold and perhaps even VO2max.
completing the miles in the long distance run is more important than how quickly you complete them. Start at a pace you can maintain until the end. are completely acceptable and encouraged during this session. At an intermediate level try to keep walking breaks structured and scheduled rather than ‘as and when’. Two good examples are a 1 minute walk every 10 minutes or 1 minute walk every mile.
Here is the format for our Long runs…
- Warm up: 5-10 minutes of slow jogging (these can count towards your mileage)
- Distance: Varies from 10 miles up to 20 miles as program progresses (see chart at bottom of page)
- Intensity: Low! On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is a very fast run, 1 is a leisurely stroll) aim for 5-6 on the jog and 3 on the walk breaks
- Cool Down: Finish with 10 minutes of brisk walking or slow jogging (these can count as part of your miles)
The day following your long run you may experience DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Rather than resting completely on this day, it will aid recovery if you do some light cross training…
Recovery training can help to remove waste products like lactic acid that has pooled in the muscles and can also help to alleviate muscle soreness. This is not the time to try and improve your level of fitness. The ONLY goal is recovery – it’s just that active recovery is more beneficial than bed rest! The form of exercise you choose should not be physically taxing. On a scale of 1 to 10
Cross-training such as swimming, cycling, the elliptical trainer at the gym or even brisk walking is more suitable than jogging.
Here is the format for our Recovery sessions…
- Warm up: 5-10 minutes of light aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, cycling etc)
- Time: 30 minutes
- Intensity: Low-Moderate. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is a very fast run, 1 is a leisurely stroll) aim for a level 4 to 5
- Cool Down: Finish with 5-10 minutes of light aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, cycling etc) and plenty of stretching
Short Distance Runs
The shorter runs are completed at a faster pace than the longer runs but are still comparatively easy. You’ll notice from the chart below that the distance of these “short runs” actually builds up to what, at the start of the program, was considered a long run. So remeber that the term “short” is relative and is simply a way to distinguish from the long run.
Here is the format for our Short runs…
- Warm Up: 5-10 minutes of light jogging
- Duration: 3-10 miles (see chart below)
- Intensity: Moderate. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is a very fast run, 1 is a leisurely stroll) aim for a 6-7
- Cool down: 5-10 minutes of light jogging and plenty of stretching
Interval runs are more intense sessions of the marathon training program and are completed above race pace. If you are unfamiliar with interval training, it simply means to break a distance up into smaller distances, completing them at a quicker pace with rest interval in between.
An example might be to run 4 lots of 800m at faster than your target marathon pace, with a 2-3 minute (or 400m) light jog/walk between.
Here is the format for our Interval runs…
- Warm Up: 5-10 minutes of light jogging
- Duration: varies (see chart below)
- Intensity: Moderate-Intense. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is a very fast run, 1 is a leisurely stroll) aim for a 7-8 for the runs
- Cool down: 5-10 minutes of light jogging and plenty of stretching
If you have time and the facilities available, some strength training exercises can be highly beneficial to your overall marathon training program. Strength sessions are scheduled to follow a short, lower intensity run. One session per week is enough at this level, two at the most on low volume weeks.
Circuit training is an excellent format to follow. Just be sure to use lighter weights and higher numbers of repetitions (20+ reps).
Full body exercises are much more appropriate than isolating body parts. Keep to exercises such as one leg squats, lunges, squat to presses, push-ups, chins, bench dips etc.
Here is a sample routine you can complete immediately following one of the short run sessions…
- Box Step with Knee Drive: 2-3sets x 15reps (each leg)
- Bench Dips: 2-3sets x 15-20reps
- Dumbbell lunges: 2-3sets x 15reps (each leg)
- Oblique crunches: 3sets x 20reps
- Squat to presses: 2-3sets x 15reps
- Push-ups: 2-3 sets x 15-20reps
- One leg squats: 2-3 sets x 15reps (each leg)
- Supermans: 3sets x 20reps
- Cool down: 5-10 minutes of light jogging/walking and plenty of stretching
If you’re not sure how to perform these exercises, Click here for descriptions of the above exercises.
The last few reps of each set should be taxing. You shouldn’t be able to perform many more than the prescribed amount. As each exercise becomes easier you can add extra weight or resistance – just avoid lifting loads so heavy that you can perform less than 15 reps.
Finally, THE most important day of the week! Rest days are every bit as integral to overall marathon training program as long runs for example. Take the day off completely – no exercise – no digging the garden or building an extension. Just rest!
Marathon Training Program
Here is the complete intermediate marathon training program.
It’s based on a 6-day week, which may be difficult for some people to commit to.
If that’s the case, factor in an extra rest day, perhaps instead of the recovery day. The long run is planned for a Sunday with a rest day Friday and recovery Monday. You could easily rearrange this to fit in with your own schedule.
Notice from the chart above how the distances vary and taper off 3 weeks before the race?
This is an example of a simple periodized marathon training program – nothing too complicated because it doesn’t need to be.
You can adjust these peaks and troughs in intensity. There is no perfect scientific formula. The best approach is to listen to your body…
One way many athlete do this is to take their pulse first thing every morning before the step out of bed. On average their pulse might be 50 beats per minute at this time. If on any particular morning it is 60bpm or higher, that can be an early indication that the body is overstretched and needs more time to recover. Take the day off or do some gentle cross-training.