Whether you want to run a marathon for the challenge of it, to cross it off your bucket list, or even to qualify for a major race like the Boston Marathon, it all starts with a single step. When you put together enough steps to cover 26.2 miles, you become a marathoner! So how do you run a marathon? Read on for some proven strategies of successful marathoners.
Training for a marathon isn’t just about one long run each week—it’s about the total amount of running you do. To finish a marathon, you need to become as aerobically developed as possible.
Many novice runners don’t run enough miles during the week to support a long run on the weekend. You don’t want to run 4 or 5 miles on a couple of weekdays, and then shock your legs with a 15-miler on Sunday. You may be able to get away with that once or twice, but if you do that consistently every single week, you’re setting yourself up for injury.
To avoid injury, your long run shouldn’t be more than about a third of your total weekly mileage. For example, if you’re planning a 10-mile long run, you should be running at least 30 miles total for that week, including the long run. Most people training for a marathon don’t run that much, so try this strategy instead: instead of making the weekly long run a large percentage of your total mileage, incorporate a midweek, medium-long run that is about 65%–75% of the length of your long run.
Lengthen your weekly long run one mile at a time for 3 or 4 weeks (even running the same distance a few times) then back off for a recovery week. Keep adding miles until you reach 20 to 22 miles (or 90 minutes, whichever comes first). Do your longest run 2 to 3 weeks before the marathon. The amount of time you spend on your feet is more important than the number of miles you run.
Improving Finish Time
If you’ve run a marathon before and are training to improve your finish time, you need a different strategy. Alternate your long runs with a medium-long run (12 to 16 miles) that combines long-slow-distance (LSD) running with segments at anaerobic threshold (AT) pace. AT pace is a comfortably hard aerobic pace, about 15 to 20 seconds per mile slower than your current 5K race pace, or close to your current 10K race pace. These LSD/AT combo runs simulate the physiological and psychological fatigue of the marathon.
After months of training, you’re now ready to taper your training so you’re fresh for race day. To maintain fitness during the taper, maintain the intensity with AT runs and short, high-intensity intervals while reducing your total running volume. For a two-week taper (best for beginner runners), decrease your total weekly mileage by 30% the first week and 60% the second week. For a 3-week taper (best for intermediate and advanced runners who’ve been running more than 50 miles per week), decrease your total weekly mileage by 30% the first week, 50% the second week and 65% the third week.
Source: Karp, J.R. 2012. Running a Marathon for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.