So who is classed as a beginner?
Anyone who is NOT currently running at least 20-25 miles per week, over 3-5 sessions.
Even if you consider yourself fit – perhaps you play another sport or use the gym every day – you should still consider yourself a beginner.
Running (or walking) 26 miles places some very unique strains on the body. Strains that are very different than playing 40 minutes of squash or a 90 minute soccer match for example. In fact, the advice of the London marathon medical team is that you should be able to run 15 miles comfortably, three weeks before the race.
Even as a beginner, you should be fit – capable of jogging 2-3miles.
This marathon training schedule also assumes you are in good health and that you’ve had medical clearance before you begin. At this point you should read the disclaimer.
With that in mind, let’s move onto some very important basics…
Foundations of a Marathon Training Schedule
The marathon attracts thousands and thousands of ordinary folk from all walks of life – non-athletes who are taking part for a good cause or simply for personal development.
If you’re like most, the goal is to finish (as comfortably as possible). If you’re a little more ambitious, you may even have a time goal in mind.
But regardless of your target, there are some key components to a marathon training schedule that you must take on board if the experience is to be as pleasurable and as rewarding as possible…
- Give Yourself Enough Time
The marathon training schedule below is based on 26 weeks (6 months). That’s how long you need to give yourself in advance. It can be done in less, depending on your fitness levels and your natural ability but it’s not ideal. One of the biggest mistakes amongst marathon runners is over training (and it can creep up on you quietly without warning). The more experienced runners tend to over-train in the weeks leading up to the race. Novices tend to try and progress too quickly. So give yourself plenty of time.
- Don’t Ignore Nutrition
It’s not just elite athletes that have to watch what they eat. As you begin to build up mileage, there will be a greater and greater strain placed on your carbohydrate stores. Before, during and after the race AND long training sessions you will need to supply your body with fuel it craves.
- Taper Off Before The Race
Cramming the night before an exam may scrape you through. That’s not the case for a marathon training schedule though. Trying to cram in too much training the weeks leading up to the race can be disastrous. In fact it can be the difference between finishing and not.
It’s also good to understand some basic training and physiology terms to make your marathon training schedule as effective as possible. Here are a few of the more important ones…
Sounds complex but it’s a simple concept – split your training program into specific periods that each have a set goal. Think of it as breaking one big goal into smaller bite-sized targets. The 6-month marathon training schedule is the big goal. We can split that into smaller 6-week periods and then into weekly periods. If the big goal is to complete 26 miles without stopping, a weekly goal might be to run 30 miles for example. The program below has been designed around this concept.
- Varying Intensity
Rather than progressively running faster and further week in week out, we want to vary training intensity in a series of peaks and troughs. So you might build up gradually for the first week or two then have an easier week before building up again. This is the best way to avoid over-training and burn out.
We mentioned this earlier – it’s simply the principle of reducing the amount of training you do in the weeks leading up to the race. It can take many weeks to recover fully from a long distance run so if you attempt to run a ‘practice’ 26 miles the week before your race you are setting yourself up to hit that wall…
- Hitting the wall
More runners than would care to mention have succumbed to the energy sapping effects known affectionately as ‘hitting the wall’. Somewhere around the 18-20 mile mark they feel very weak, a strong urge to stop and perhaps even light-headed. The cause?
A depletion of glycogen (carbohydrate stores) and an almost total reliance on fat for fuel. Fat can power a runner but not at the same intensity and speed as carbohydrate. And even fat metabolism requires some carbohydrate. Thankfully, through adequate training and nutrition you can significantly reduce your risks of hitting the wall.
Marathon Training Schedule Sessions
The marathon training schedule is made up of several different training sessions. Below is a description of each. Other than a good pair of running shoes you need one piece of equipment…
A pedometer is an low-cost, battery powered device that will clip onto your jogging pants/shorts. It will log how far you’ve covered. You could measure out some landmarks by using the mileometer on your car but if you’re going to commit to near 6 months of training, a $20 investment should feel insignificant!
You can get pedometers at ay sporting good stores or Walmart. Shop around and no need to pay the earth!
With most sports and events, the more closely your training matches the actual event, the better you can expect to perform. The trouble is, if you do too many long runs, your body just doesn’t have time to recover. And it’s only with sufficient recovery that the body adapts and becomes stronger.
With that in mind the beginner marathon training schedule only incorporates one long run per week. And that’s enough. Here’s a crucial point to remember…
Completing the distance is what’s important… NOT how quickly you complete it. Speed and time is irrelevant. What you are aiming for is to start the long run slow enough so that you can finish the run at a similar pace.
Regular walk breaks are fine – actually they are more than fine – they are encouraged! At the start of the program it’s a good idea to run for 2 minutes and walk for 3 minutes over the distance. Overcompensate at first – make it easier than you think you should.
As the weeks progress you can decrease the walking time and increase the jogging time – walking 2 minutes and jogging 3 minutes perhaps. Some people will build up to running 9 minutes, jogging 1 minute but it’s not important…
What’s IS important is that you find your level – a run/walk combination that allows you to comfortable complete the full distance.
Here is the format for our Long sessions…
- Warm up: 5 minutes of brisk walking (warm up is shorter because actual jogging pace should be slow)
- Distance: Varies from 2 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 on the jog and 3 on the walk breaks
- Cool Down: Finish with 10 minutes of brisk walking (these can count as part of your miles
The good news is, the day after your long and slow training runs you get to recover. The bad news is that doesn’t mean sitting in front of the T.V. all day! You will be stiff and sore following a long run and one of the best ways to help the body to recover and rejuvenate is to do some light aerobic exercise.
This helps to remove any waste products like lactic acid that has pooled in the muscles and can also help alleviate muscle soreness. You have a choice here…
You can either do a cross training session (see below) or go for a walk. The key point to remember is that it must be low intensity. Competitive games of basketball or squash are definitely off the menu! During these sessions you are NOT, I repeat… your are NOT trying to improve your fitness. You are recovering – it’s just that you will recover faster with 20-30 minutes of gentle movement than you will with bed rest!
The short runs are based on time rather than distance (as with the long runs). The pace is a little faster than the long runs also. You may take walk breaks in the short runs. Rather than having a set format (i.e. run 2 mins, jog 3mins) take a minute’s walk when you feel you need to. Over the weeks try to go longer and longer without a walking break.
Here is the format for our Short runs…
- Warm Up: 5-10 minutes of light jogging
- Duration: 20-45mins (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
Fartlek Training Sessions
These are shorter sessions made up of jogging, walking and some fast running. They offer a nice change of pace to continuous running and they can help improve aspects of endurance such as VO2max and anaerobic threshold. You don’t need to know what those terms mean, I’ve just added links if you’re interested.
Here is the format for our Fartlek sessions…
- Warm Up with 5-10 minutes of light jogging
- Run for 4 minutes, jog slowly for 1 minute. This one cycle
- Repeat for the prescribed amount of time (see chart at bottom). A 20 minute session would consist of 4 cycles
- On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 is a very fast run, 1 is a leisurely stroll) aim for a level 7 to 8 on the runs
- Cool down for 5-10 minutes of light jogging
Cross Training Sessions
Cross training in this marathon training schedule is simply any form of exercise other than jogging or running. Walking is ok. Swimming or cycling is even better. If you have access to a gym, the cross trainer (or elliptical trainer) and the rowing machine are other good examples. If you don’t have access to any equipment go for a brisk walk.
Here is the format for our Fartlek 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 6 to 7
- Cool Down: Finish with 5-10 minutes of light aerobic exercise (walking, swimming, cycling etc)
THE most important 2 days of the week! Your body adapts to the extra stress of training on these days – not on actual training days. Take it easy – you can even take the elevator instead of the stairs!
Marathon Training Schedule
Below is the complete beginner marathon training schedule.
It’s based on a 5-day week with 2 days rest. The long run is scheduled for Saturday with recovery on Sunday and rest on Monday. Your own plan might vary from which is fine. Just try to have a rest day before the long run and recovery after it.
Notice how the distances and times for individual sessions gradually increase?
Notice also how it doesn’t increase continually from session to session – there are easier weeks interspersed through out the whole marathon training schedule.
And notice how the final weeks and days of the marathon training schedule tapers off towards the big event?
You can adjust these peaks and troughs in intensity. For the most part, especially in a beginner program like this, there is no exacting scientific formula. Instead listen to your body…
Have an easy week if you feel particularly jaded, or an even session if you feel a little under the weather.
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.