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For most it is the internal, personal challenge that runners seek when deciding to train for a half/full marathon. You might want to test your limits and prove to yourself that you can go the distance. Or maybe it was one of your pushy runner friends who said, “it will be so much fun!” Whatever reason you had that made you commit to the training, remind yourself of it often during the months that lie ahead. When your legs are tired or the weather is nasty, maintaining your motivation will help you get out the door.

Starting to Run

Start planning early: It is important that marathoners run a consistent base mileage for at least a year before embarking on a full marathon training program. Building base mileage for half marathoners takes about 6 months time.

What is a building a base?

A running base is like the foundation of your house. The foundation supports the demands of progressive mileage and intensity that comes with a training plan. It is the bridge that connects your racing seasons together and prepares your mind/body for the harder efforts during training and racing. When you begin a training plan, it starts out at a low level and continues to build week to week until it peaks just before race day.

One of the most common causes of injury is building weekly mileage too quickly—we cannot stress enough “DO NOT underestimate the importance of consistently running at least 20–30 miles a week regularly before committing to training for a marathon”. Start small: Running a few shorter races—5Ks-10ks before a half marathon and 10ks-half marathons before your marathon.

Deciding on that First Marathon

Marathons range from quiet, low-key races on backcountry roads to spectator-lined urban races with tens of thousands of runners. Choosing a marathon close to home may offer a "home field advantage" with the opportunity to train on the course’s roads; on the other hand, choosing a "destination" race can really stoke your motivation.

Primary Building Blocks of Marathon Training

Base mileage.

  1. Build your weekly mileage over time, running six times per week.

  2. The long run. Do a long run once every weekend (once a week) so your body can adjust gradually to long distances.

  3. Speed work. Practice intervals, hills, and tempo runs to increase your cardio capacity.

  4. Rest and recovery. Adequate recovery helps prevent injuries and mental burnout.

Base Mileage

Most marathon training plans range from 12 to 20 weeks. Beginning marathoners should aim to build their weekly mileage up to 50 miles over the four months leading up to race day. Six runs per week is adequate giving yourself one day off for recovery. The majority of these runs should be run at an easy enough pace to be able to carry on a conversation. When building base mileage, never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent from week to week.

The Long Run

Your next step is to build up to a weekly long run. This should be done once a week on either a Saturday or Sunday. Your long run will extend about 10% every two weeks. Every 4 weeks, scale it back by a few miles so as not to overtax your body and risk injury. For example, you might run 13 miles one weekend, 14 miles the next, then 15 miles, and then 13 again before moving on to 16 on the fifth weekend.

A long slow distance “LSD” is substantially slower pace than usual, it builds confidence, lets your body adjust to longer distances, and teaches you to burn fat for fuel. Long runs for half marathon training can train up to 10 miles and most marathon training plans usually peak at a long run of 20-22miles. With proper training, your body will take advantage of the peak fitness state your body will be in, the recovery and rest you offer it during a tapering period, and the race adrenaline and ambience of race day will provide you the rest of the miles needed to complete your distance.

Speed Work

Speed work is an critical, albeit, optional, element to incorporate into your training program. Speed sessions increase aerobic capacity and make your easy runs feel even easier. Intervals and tempo runs are the most popular forms of speed work.

Intervals are a set of repetitions of a specific, short distance, run at a substantially faster pace than usual, with recovery jogs in between. For example, 6X 1 minute hard pace, with 1 minute of slow jogging (or even walking) between the repeats.

Tempo runs are longer than an interval—generally in the range of 30-60 minutes, depending on where you are in your training. During a tempo run you will run at a challenging, but sustainable, pace. This teaches you physically and mentally how to sustain challenging work over a longer period of time. Remember, it is important to always allow your body to warm up and cool down with a few easy miles at the beginning and end of any speed session.

Rest and Recovery

Rest days mean no running. They let your muscles recover from the week's workouts and help prevent the greatest enemy of of any runner - injury.

If you are really needing some activity on your recovery days, doing some cross-training is a great option. Nothing high impact.

Tapering: In the two or three weeks leading up to your marathon, scale back significantly on overall mileage and difficulty of your runs to let your body rest up for race day.

Hydrating on the run

Nearly all half/full marathons include water and aid stations along the way. If you plan to carry your own water on race day, buy a hydration pack long in advance and get accustomed to running with it. Never try something new on race day.

Fueling on the run

Many marathoners tell the tale of "hitting the wall" or "bonking." Your body can only store so much glycogen. As this level gets depleted over the course of your marathon, your muscles will begin to tire and feel heavy. Consuming small amounts of carbohydrates can help prevent you from hitting the dreaded wall.

Again, be sure to practice fueling on your training runs to see what your stomach tolerates best, so you can fuel confidently on race day.

Group Training

Full/half marathon training takes a lot of time and you are running for long periods of time and usually at early hours. Joining a training group provides direction and friends for mental, physical, and emotional support, along with safety.

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