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Runners Education: Marathon Training Program for Beginners

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This is another installation in a series of runners education articles written by UW Health Sports Medicine staff.

 

"I'm gonna run a marathon!"

 

Do you know anyone who has ever uttered those words? A family member? A friend? Perhaps it was you.

 

People often get caught up in the excitement of watching a marathon and impulsively make the decision to sign up for the next one they find. They pay their money, get their e-mail confirmation and, inevitably, think, "What have I gotten myself into?"

 

Not to worry. As daunting as completing a marathon may seem, you can do it if as long as you have appropriate self-examination, planning and determination.

 

Training Considerations

 

When developing your training program, consider these elements:

  • Ownership and accountability - plan the work, then work the plan: This is your plan for your success. When all else is removed from the picture, it is ultimately your goal to complete the event. While it is helpful to have a training partner or team to help motivate you to run the next day or keep going for the next mile, you must take the steps to complete your goal.
  • Honesty with yourself: If you don't begin on an honest level, you will create problems that will last through training. Start with honesty.
  • Your level of fitness: Avoid over-estimating your ability and fitness level, which is often a problem with beginners and can lead to a host of training issues.
  • Availability: How many days and times per week can you train?

The Investment of Time

 

Often, the biggest pitfall is miscalculating how much time to invest. Typically, beginners want to give too much time to a program that they don't have time for or that can cause them physical harm. Start by underestimating your availability. It is easier to grow into your program than finding you've overreached and have to cut time out of the plan.

 

Psychologically, the added stress of missing multiple sessions or "failing" to sustain an overburdening program adds stress to all aspects of the runner's life. By starting small and growing into the program, a consistent level of success can be achieved, providing the beginning runner with motivation to take the next steps in training. That's a psychological advantage and may decrease the chance of sustaining an overuse injury.

 

The Eight-Week Cycle Training Plan

 

What are the advantages of using eight-week training blocks?

  • Adaptation and adjustment: Runners typically adapt to training methods within an eight-week time frame and will need to introduce a change in order to maintain an optimal training stimulus.
  • Psychology: Eight weeks appeases the attention span. Psychologically, we have enough activity to keep us engaged but not feel overwhelmed.
  • Milestone of success: Eight weeks allows for a defined training end point that can - and should - be celebrated. It feels good to reach that milestone. Enjoy it!
  • Personal training information: You will gain a wealth of information, both good and bad, during your eight-week training experience, and you can make adjustments in subsequent eight-week training cycles.
  • Active recovery: The body requires episodes of relative rest to recover from one training series before successfully moving to another. A smart plan allows for days where you will train at a lower threshold (i.e., how hard and/or how long). Within the eight-week plan, incorporate a recovery week every four weeks or so, and begin a taper two weeks out from your scheduled event.

Be Aware Of...

  • Missed days of running: Despite the best-laid plan, missing a day of training is almost inevitable. Trying to make up a lost training day is not recommended. If you are disciplined in following your training plan, allow misses to be missed, and drop right back into the set plan. If you find that you are missing multiple training days, then you need to honestly re-evaluate your time availability and make adjustments.
  • Practicing race-day strategies: Your training plan is like a practice session and everything (training concepts, nutrition, hydration, clothing/footwear) should be tested in the training process before you ever use them in an event. If you haven't practiced it, then don't do it in a race. With a variety of products, running strategies, running styles, and running conditions, it is imperative to use training as a trial to make sure your strategies work for you.

Sample Program

 

The following running program is designed for beginning runners, with an emphasis on weekend runs. This is an excellent setup for those who are newer to running, have limited time to run during the week, or are pursuing their first marathon completion. Note that running is based on the time of the run rather than distance completed.

 

Key:

  • All times presented in hour intervals: 0.1=six minutes, 0.2=12 minutes
  • R=Run, CT=Cross training (swimming, biking, hiking, skiing, skating, etc.)

Active recovery

Taper

 

Cycle 1

 

Week

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Time

1

Off

CT=.50

R=.50

 

Off

Off

CT=.75

R=.50

Total hours=2.5

CT=1.25, R=1.25

2

Off

CT=.60

R=.60

 

Off

Off

CT=.80

R=.60

Total hours=2.6

CT=1.4, R=1.2

3

Off

CT=.75

R=.75

 

Off

Off

CT=.80

R=.75

Total hours=3.1

CT=1.6, R=1.5

4

Off

CT=1

R=.80

Off

Off

CT=.90

R=.80

Total hours=3.5

CT=1.9, R=1.6

5

Off

CT=.50

R=.50

Off

Off

CT=.50

R=.50

Total hours=2

CT=1 R=1

6

Off

CT=.75

R=.80

Off

Off

CT=.75

R=.80

Total hours=3.1

CT=1.5, R=1.6

7

Off

CT=.75

R=.80

Off

Off

CT=.75

R=.90

Total hours=3.2

CT=1.5, R=1.7

8

Off

CT=1

R=.90

Off

Off

CT=.75

R=.90

Total hours=3.6

CT=1.75, R=1.8

 

Cycle 2

 

Week

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Time

1

Off

CT=1

R=.90

Off

R=.50

CT=.80

 

R=.80

Total hours=4

CT=1.8, R=2.2

2

Off

CT=.60

R=.50

Off

R=.50

CT=1.25

 

R=.50

Total hours=2.7

CT=1.6, R=1.5

3

Off

CT=.75

R=.90

Off

R=.60

CT=1.50

 

R=.90

Total hours=4.6

CT=2.25, R=2.3

4

Off

CT=1.20

R=1

Off

R=.60

CT=1.75

 

R=1.10

Total hours=5.7

CT=3, R=2.7

5

Off

CT=1.30

 

R=1

Off

R=.75

CT=1.75

 

R=1.40

Total hours=6.2

CT=3, R=3.2

6

Off

CT=1.30

R=1.10

Off

R=.80

CT=1.75

 

R=1.75

Total hours=6.7

CT=3, R=3.7

7

Off

CT=.75

R=.50

Off

R=.50

CT=1.50

R=.80

Total hours=4.1

CT=2.25, R=1.8

8

Off

CT=1.40

R=1.10

Off

R=.90

CT=1.75

R=2

Total hours=6.2

CT=3.2, R=4

 

Cycle 3

 

Week

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Time

1

Off

CT=1.25

R=1.10

R=.50

R=.90

CT=1.75

 

R=2.10

Total hours=7.6

CT=3, R=4.6

2

Off

CT=1.25

 

R=1.25

R=.60

R=1

CT=1.50

 

R=2.25

Total hours=7.9

CT=2.75, R=5.1

3

Off

CT=1.25

R=1.25

R=.70

R=1.10

CT=1.50

 

R=2.50

Total hours=8.4

CT=2.75, R=5.6

4

Off

CT=.75

R=.75

R=.50

R=.60

CT=1

 

R=1.10

Total hours=4.75

CT=1.75, R=3

5

Off

CT=1.25

R=1.25

R=.75

R=1.25

CT=1.50

 

R=2.75

Total hours=8.75

CT=2.75, R=6

6

Off

CT=1.25

R=1.50

R=.75

R=1.25

CT=1.25

 

R=2.90

Total hours=9

CT=2.5, R=6.5

7

Off

CT=1

R=.75

Off

R=.75

CT=1.50

R=1

Total hours=5

CT=2.5, R=2.5

8

Off

CT=.75

R=.50

Off

R=.50

 

Off

RACE DAY!

Total hours=1.75

CT=0.75, R=1