Marathon Training Program: Beginner’s Plan

Want to finish your first marathon? Train with us!

Follow this 12-week training program to build the endurance, strength, and speed you need to run a 26.2 mile race. You’ll increase the distance and amount of time you can run. Schedule a 10k race after seven weeks of training. This will give you a benchmark of your fitness-not to mention a great workout.

Best for:

  • Beginner, casual, and recreational runners, or active athletes with some running experience, who can run for 45 to 60 minutes without stopping and without knee or joint pain
  • Runners who have raced at least one 10k

Check out the Glossary below before starting this Training Plan

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The Basics: Training Glossary

Jog: Jog: Run at a gentle, steady pace. Be patient; focus on time, not speed.

% Effort: Your level of exertion. One way to determine your effort or “% effort” is using your heart rate (HR) as a guide. First, find your Resting Heart Rate (RHR) in beats per minute (bpm): Count your heartbeat for one minute before rising in the morning or after you have been resting for an extended period of time. Second, calculate your estimated Maximum Heart Rate (MHR). Here’s how: MHR = 220 – your age. Next, plug these numbers into the “Karvonen” Target Heart Rate Formula to determine your Target Heart Rate (THR).

Target Heart Rate = (Maximum Heart Rate – Resting Heart Rate) x % Effort + Resting Heart Rate
Example: (176 – 60) x 70 % + 60 = 141 THR

Another way to gauge your effort is by using perceived effort, or running based on feeling. This may be less accurate, especially during early years of running or after an extended period off. Although factors such as fatigue, illness, and stress can affect your heart rate, I recommend training with a heart rate monitor. This will allow you to hit and maintain your THR. It also helps keep recovery runs easy.

75-80% effort: a faster than “easy” pace that can be sustained for a long period of time; approximately your half marathon pace, when you can still talk in short sentences. This “steady state” pace prepares muscles to transition from aerobic to anaerobic running.

80-85% effort: a “tempo pace” that feels uncomfortable but can be sustained for 2-4 miles; approximately your 15k pace when you are huffing and puffing, and not wanting to talk. This tempo run pace improves your anaerobic threshold, also known as your lactate threshold.

90-95% effort: fast, but not all out, and can only be sustained for short periods of time (30 seconds to 2 minutes). It’s not a sprint. This will improve your VO2 max, which is the maximal rate at which oxygen can be taken up, distributed, and used by the body during physical activity.

Pick-Ups or Strides: Surges of speed during runs, which approach or exceed goal race pace. These short bouts of faster running introduce your body to speed work and prepare your legs for more intense sessions. Recover by jogging until you catch your breath, or for at least 30 seconds.

Fartlek: Fartlek, the Swedish term for speed play, is a continuous run during which the athlete plays with various speeds or efforts over various time periods or distances. The athlete may play with speeds that correspond with various intensity levels, like 75-80%, 80-85%, or 90-95% efforts. Includes pick-ups.

Intervals: Recurrent periods of higher-intensity exercise (and effort) ranging from 1 to 10 minutes followed by a recovery interval of varying time. Interval training challenges your body’s ability to carry and deliver oxygen to the working muscles’ cells for short periods of intensive work before too much lactic acid builds up. Interval training primarily improves your anaerobic threshold (AT), also known as your lactate threshold (LT), as well as your speed and strength. The shorter and more intense the interval, the greater the improvement in speed and strength.

Tempo Run: Workouts run at a steady pace, at 80-85% effort, which feel uncomfortable but can be sustained for 2-4 miles; approximately your 15k pace when you are huffing and puffing, and not wanting to talk. This tempo run pace improves your anaerobic and lactate threshold. Tempo runs should be run 3-4% slower than your 10k goal race pace. For example: 9 minutes per mile 10k pace = 9 x 60 seconds = 540 seconds x .03 (or .04) = 16-22 seconds. In this case, tempo pace should be around 9:16-9:22 minutes per mile.

Long Run: Long runs are the longest, highest volume runs of each week. Run at a specific % Effort, but generally at a conversational pace, these runs strengthen your cardiovascular system, increase muscle strength and endurance, and burn fat—plus build mental endurance.

Cross Training (XT): Cross training is low-impact exercise, such as biking, swimming, rowing, skating, using the elliptical trainer, cross-country, or skate skiing. Use it as a supplement to your running. To avoid boredom, switch up your activity-and have fun. If you experience joint pain, choose to cross train on days when you have the option of walking or cross training; choose lower and no impact activities such as swimming.

Marathon pace: Marathon pace, or goal race pace, is your projected marathon finish time. Although a number of factors (from course terrain and weather conditions to fitness and age) influence marathon times, popular methods for finding goal pace for your first marathon abound. For example, if you’ve run a half marathon, double your total time and then add 5 to 7 minutes to estimate your marathon time. Other widely accepted prediction tools include charts, tables, and online calculators.


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