For many of you, it isn’t
running a marathon that’s so daunting; it’s training
for it that puts you off. Who has the time to train every
day, to log hundreds of miles over several months, to
dedicate so much of one’s life to this goal?
Fortunately, marathon training
doesn’t have to be a grind. By running for about 30
minutes, two times a wee, and by gradually increasing the
length of a third weekly run, you can work up to a
successful marathon in just a few months.
This is the program we use in
my marathon training classes around the country. In truth,
I’ve learned much more from working with novice runners
than from my own experience at the Olympic level. During
my first two youthful decades of running, I basically
tried to cram in as many miles as possible in hopes of
running a good marathon.
During my last two decades of
coaching, I’ve helped thousands of runners run good
marathons by going in the opposite direction-toward less
mileage. Sure, many run 4 to 5 hours on race day, but
they’re thrilled to achieve something they never thought
possible. Here’s how they did it.
The way to build marathon
endurance is to gradually extend the length of a weekly
long run. (You might need to walk periodically on these
long runs, which is fine. I recommend that you increase
the length of your long run by 1 mile each week until you
reach 10 miles, then by 2 miles every other week until you
reach 18 miles, then by 3 miles every third week until you
reach the marathon distance (or slightly over). Leave
three weeks between your last long run and marathon.
The distance of your first long
run should be 1 mile more than your longest run in the
preceeding two weeks. On weekends, when you don’t have a
long run scheduled, do either a race (10K or less) or an
easy run of about half the length of your current long
I did it his way
A little personal history: In
the early years of my marathoning, I used to think I hit
the wall at the 20 mile mark because I didn’t run enough
miles. So I kept increasing my weekly total. Over two
years in particular (I remember them well), my mileage
went from 100 to 120 to 140 miles a week. Even with all
that training, I still hit the wall at around 20 miles.
(Even at 140 miles week, 20 miles was the longest run I
would do in training.) After finishing 11th in
the 1971 Pan-American Marathon Trials, I was talking about
my 140-mile weeks at a postrace party.
That evening, I overheard Kenny
Moore (who had finished second) saying he’d never run a
100-mile week in his life. The key to his program: a slow
30-miler every two to three weeks leading up to the
In my training for the Munich
Olympic Trials the following year, I tried Kenny’s plan
of running less overall mileage but with a 30-miler every
two to three weeks. Result: I tied for third at the U.S.
Trials in much tougher competition than the year before.
And I’m proud to day, that in the 60 marathons I’ve
run since, I never hit the wall again (exept in a couple
of marathons when I went out way to fast.)
Which is why I believer you
should work up to a long run equal to the marathon race
distance or evey a little farther. This gives you the
endurance and confidence necessary to finish the marathon.
Keep in mind that you should do these long training runs
at least 2 minutes per miles slower than you could run
that distance on that day. In general, the slower you run,
the faster you’ll recover. Yet, it is my belief that you
receive the same endurance benefit as when you go fast.
Whey you run at the same pace
using the same muscles mile after mile, you fatigue more
quickly than if you take an occasional break.
Inserting a 1- to 2-minute walk every mile or so
can literally erase the fatigue accumulated over that
mile. These breaks take the workload off the main running
muscles, allowing them to recover. This way, you have more
left in your legs at the end of the run.
Walking breaks give you a
better chance to take in fluids, too, which is critical in
a marathon. The pace of your walking break is up to you,
but you need to do it consistently and from the beginning
of the run for maximum benefit. Remember that you only
lose 15 to 20 seconds when you walk for a minute, because
you’re till moving forward.
Thoughts for midweek
With this low- mileage training
plan, the two 30-minute midweek runs help you maintain the
endurance gained from the long run. Do these with or
without walking breaks (your choice). If you already run
more than twice during the week, you can certainly
continue to do so. Just be sure you’re recovering
adequately, especially after the long run. I believe even
sub 3-hour marathoners can benefit from at least two days
off a week. On your non running days, consider doing some
cross-training. This will give your conditioning an extra
boost. Especially during the latter stages of your
marathon buildup, stick with activities that won’t pound
your legs. Swimming,
inline skating, cycling and water running are good
choices. Go extra easy on the day before and the day after
your long run. If you cannot make time for cross-training
at all, don’t worry about it.
always, find some company
If you don’t have a ready
group of runners to go with, try to hook up with some.
Running with others has helped countless runners stick
with their training. At a slow, easy pace, you’ll be
able to joke, tell stories and enjoy the company. This
will make the “journey” of training perhaps as
memorable as the marathon itself. And maybe you’ll get
to run with some of these training friends on race day.
Such is the low-mileage marathon plan. It doesn’t
require any speed sessions (unless you want to do them).
It doesn’t require you to put in high mileage. It
doesn’t require you to run every day. Most importantly,
it’s doable. Even a casual fitness runner can look at
this program and say, “ I can do it.” And that runner
would be right.