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Training to Run Your First Marathon

A program for those who want to run a marathon or half-marathon injury-free!

Foxtrotter (MA) Marathon
November 1981

Foxtrotter (MA) Marathon
November 1982

Foxtrotter (MA) Marathon
November 1982


bulletClick here for a marathon/half-marathon training plan that uses the principles discussed in this page.

So you want to run a marathon or half marathon? That's great. I hope you make it! Distance running can bring a lot of satisfaction, and I still remember the four marathons I ran and the satisfaction I felt upon completing them. This web page is for recreational runners who aren't concerned about how fast they can complete a long distance race but want to enjoy running that distance and who want to run without injury. I'm giving training tips that will help you run injury free. The suggestions given in this page are the basis for a training plan for running your first marathon or half-marathon.  That plan encourages you to add extra weeks if you need more time to prepare for the distance.

In the following information, I give distances in both miles and kilometers. The kilometers are rounded to give values that are whole numbers.

bullet Don't even think of training for a marathon until you have a good base of at least 24 miles (39 km) per week. A "good base" means that you have run that distance for several months and that you enjoy it. You feel comfortable with that distance. No sore throats or side stitches. No feeling overly tired after your runs. You experience no serious pain after your runs.

Click here for a plan to bring you up to the 24 mile (39 km) base that this plan requires.

bulletWhy 24 miles (39 km) per week? Because that is about half the minimum weekly distance you'll need to do for your training, and doubling your mileage is a big stress on your body.
bullet Do your distance training by following the "heavy/light" model that is given in the running literature. If you do a "heavy" run today, do a "light" run tomorrow.
Dr. George Sheehan, a former medical columnist for Runner's World, said it takes 48 hours for ones body to recover from a heavy run. If you run heavy/heavy, your body can't fully recover from the runs, and residues of stress build up and eventually lead to injury. For me, a light run is about half the distance of my heavy run. A good base of at least 24 miles (39 km) per week is something like three 6 milers (10 km each) and two 3 milers (5 km each). Whoa, wait a minute, that's only 5 days, and weeks have 7 days. That's right! Part of injury free running is giving your body sufficient rest. Some of you will want to run 6 days per week, and that's fine. Do what is appropriate for your body, but listen to your body and if you feel tired or develop unusual soreness, take a day off.

Green Mountain (VT) Marathon
August 1982

bulletNow that you have a good base of at least 24 miles (39 km) per week and you feel fine after your runs, you're ready to begin training for your race. This takes us to the 10% rule: Don't increase the stress from running (either distance or pace or both) more than approximately 10% at a time, and remain at the new level until you feel comfortable with it. Some folks may want to follow a 5% rule, especially as they get into higher mileage. By following this rule, you'll give your body sufficient time to adjust to each new stress level.
bulletBefore you run your race, you'll need to be running at least 45 miles (73 km) per week, and running  50 miles (81 km) or more is even better. This means you'll be increasing your distance by slowly increasing your daily runs and by choosing one of the days for your "long" run.  Running a marathon is very stressful, and you need to run a lot of miles to help your body handle the stress.
How long will it take to work up to 45 miles (73 km) per week? As long as you need. We're all different. Some of you will only need a few months, while some of you may need a year or more.
bulletPart of the 45 miles (73 km) should be a long run of 15 - 16 miles (24 - 26 km). This distance helps you have the endurance to complete the half marathon or marathon distance. If you're training for a half, you're finished with your training when you are comfortable with the long run.
bulletBefore you run your marathon, you'll need to have run your 45 miles (73 km) long enough that you feel comfortable with it and have no pain after any of the runs. One day I was in the middle of my 15 mile long run and saw a friend. I stopped to talk with him, and he was surprised that I wasn't breathing heavily. I was breathing faster than I would have been if I were walking, but I wasn't "panting". My body was comfortable with my distance even though I was running 7-minute miles during that run!
bulletOnce you've become comfortable with your long run, try to run it all year long, like the post office through "rain, sleet, or snow".
bulletIf you're training for a marathon, stretch your long run out to 20 miles (33 km), and do your 20 miler three weeks before your marathon. At about 20 miles (33 km), many runners "hit the wall", meaning they've used up their energy supply. It's good to do this as a heavy stress on your body, but you'll need the following three weeks to recover before you run the 26.2 miles (42.26 km). Use the 10% rule as you stretch your long run out to 20 miles.

After you've completed your first marathon and are training for subsequent marathons, you can run additional 20+ mile (33+ km) runs, but allow three or four weeks between each one. Your body will become stronger as you run training distances that approach the marathon distance. The effect of this is that your body stores more energy and  "pushes" the legendary "wall" out farther and farther, and eventually you'll push the wall out past the 26.2 miles of a marathon, and you won't hit the wall during your marathons.

bulletDon't do speed training while you're doing a lot of distance training. As I mentioned above, this page is for recreational runners who want to finish a marathon or half marathon without worrying about speed. Mixing speed and distance puts an awfully large stress on your body, with a resulting high risk of injury.
bullet Drink water or a sports drink as you train, especially during your long run. I carried a water bottle in a fanny pack.
bullet During the last three weeks before your race, don't do any long runs. Just run a few miles each day at a slow pace so your body can rest. Doing long runs during this three weeks won't help your performance, and it will likely hurt your time because you may start the race with insufficient rest. This reduced running is called a "taper".
bulletOn the day before the race, put extra glycogen into your muscles. This will give you extra energy during the race. This is referred to as "carbo-loading". Read the following article for details how to carbo-load.


bulletSince this is your first marathon, run slower than you did during your training runs, thereby saving your energy for the end of the race. As I mentioned above, I ran 7 minute miles during my long runs. However, during the marathon, I started with

Green Mountain (VT) Marathon
August 1982

8' 30" miles and ended up with an average of 9 minute miles. After you hit the wall, you'll probably find yourself walking some of the distance. That's fine. Walk/jog to finish the race if that is what your body is telling you it needs.

I had read somewhere that bananas are a quick source of energy, so I carried four bananas during my marathons and ate one each hour. I don't know if they helped, but I didn't get any cramps from eating, and they didn't seem to be a problem.

To keep your energy level up, you'll need to drink during the race. You won't have to carry it, though, because there'll be water stops along the route. In the picture to the left, I have a cup of water.

bulletIf you've trained properly, after the marathon or half marathon is over, you shouldn't feel pain in your legs or feet. Rest during the first week or take a few slow, short jogs to let your body recover. Get plenty of sleep. My marathons were on Saturday. I rested Sunday and then jogged about 1/2 mile (1 km) on Monday. My body took about a month to fully recover from a marathon. During that time I slowly advanced to my normal pace and distance.
bulletIf you do have pain in your legs or feet after you complete the race, you will need more rest before you go back on the roads. Ice the injury and do walks until your legs feel better. That type of pain in marathoners is common, but it indicates the person wasn't ready for a marathon and should have done more miles to better condition his or her body.
bullet Above all, enjoy your training, and enjoy your accomplishment! It's great to be a marathoner!
bulletClick here for a marathon/half-marathon training plan that uses the principles discussed in this page.
bulletHere is an article about the stress of running a marathon.
bulletHere is an article about hitting the infamous "wall".


bulletHere is an article about how much water to drink during your marathon.
bulletHere are articles on sports nutrition and endurance training


bulletHere is an article about the effects of marathons on your body


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The information in this site and in my podcasts is for informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical or physical therapy advice. For medical advice, consult a physician. For physical therapy advice, consult a physical therapist.

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The information in this site and in my podcasts is for informational purposes only; it does not constitute medical or physical therapy advice. For medical advice, consult a physician. For physical therapy advice, consult a physical therapist.

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