How to Train for a Marathon

Ten simple tips to prepare newbie runners for a marathon.

Feb 8, 2010
Outside Magazine
NYC Marathon

NYC Marathon    Photo: F Chip East/Corbis


Four tools to help you ramp up and enjoy your marathon training.
GARMIN FORERUNNER 310XT: A GPS watch that accurately tracks your pace and distance and wirelesslyuploads your training to Garmin's software, or to the interactive training plan in the Outside Fitness Center ($350; A budget alternative is Nike's SportBand, which isreasonably good at telling distance, a bit less so at gauging pace ($69;
iPOD NANO: Yo...

Just put your running shoes on and go. Not too far. Not too fast. Check out the scenery. Walk a little if you feel like it. Or walk a lot. You have one goal: enjoy yourself.


Congratulations you're now training for a marathon. The key is to run regularly, and the best way to get hooked is to make sure you enjoy every one. You really don't have to push yourself to go long or hard, especially in the early stages. "The thing I talk about is gradual progression," says elite running coach Greg McMillan. "To get to the marathon finish, it's best done with a little bit at a time. A small drip can fill a whole lake."

If you think running is hard, you're probably just going too fast. This is more likely toresult in injuries, and it's not as effective at developing the muscle tissue, blood vessels, and slow-burning energy systems that you need for a marathon. Run at a speed that lets you easily carry on a conversation. "You don't even need to be out of breath," says Shorter. If you feel winded, slow down, even if that means walking more than you run at first. "Putting the walk breaks in the middle of your runs erases fatigue," says Galloway, guru of the run-walk-run method.

When you're ready to start building your mileage usually four to five months before the race you need a training plan. Don't wing it. The miles you'll be running put a huge amount of stress on your legs, and a plan designed by an expert ensures that you're slowly building your body, not breaking it. Whether you follow Hal Higdon's plan or any other, many beginner plans look something like this: (1) You run three to five times a week, alternating with rest days. (2) You build your weekly mileage slowly, increasing up to 10 percent each week (so from, say, 20 miles per week to 22). (3) You have one long run on the weekend, usually about 30 50 percent of your weekly total (so seven to ten miles if you're running 21 miles a week), and it's rarely longer than 20 miles.

"Follow the plan," says Terrence Mahon, coach to elite U.S. marathoners Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. "The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to conquer the marathon." Remember this rule of thumb: For every day of running you miss, you'll lose two days of fitness. Of course, we all have to skip runs occasionally. When you do, just get back to the plan as if you're still right on schedule.


Filed To: Running

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