When to begin marathon training
for every type of runner!
As a run coach, I get this question A LOT. When is the right time to begin marathon training? Every athlete is different, some athletes respond quickly to training and others need a handful of months to develop their aerobic foundation before beginning marathon-specific workouts. Running a marathon isn't easy, even though Molly Seidel and
Eliud Kipchoge made it look easy in Toyko! The marathon distance is a long distance to cover and anything can happen on the course. Preparing yourself, both physically and mentally, is the best way to set yourself up for success (and finishing strong, don't we all want that feeling?).
What does this all mean? Let's dig in!
Everyone is different and here are my recommendations for every type of runner.
- Start today - It doesn't matter where you're in your training or if your race is in 3 or 6 months. Start today, not tomorrow, not next week, or next month. As a run coach, I meet my athletes where they're at in their training and build from there. I'll be direct if an athlete's goal is too aggressive OR not aggressive enough. If you're signed up for a race in 6 months, why not start today? You can run easy miles and build a 20-30 mile base to set your body up to be as strong and as fit as possible before diving into marathon-specific workouts.
I qualified for the Boston Marathon in my first marathon, the California International Marathon (CIM) in 2019. I didn't train long, but I trained hard AND I had 14 years of running and general/strong fitness built before tackling marathon training. I spent a few years working on getting faster at the half marathon distance before taking that next step. So, I invite you to work on getting faster at the shorter distances first if that is important to you.
- A consistent long-term runner. A healthy + consistent weekly mileage base is built and the athlete is ready to push forward into marathon training. In my experience, a four-month training cycle will provide enough training blocks to get the athlete to where they want to go to show up at the start line healthy, strong + confident.
Here are some additional things to think about:
- An inconsistent, recreational runner. It depends. What are your goals? This athlete likely falls in the 4-6 month training window. The timing depends on how quickly they adapt to the training plan, how they're feeling, and the goal. Let's say your friend just signed up for the local marathon race and suddenly you find yourself pressing "submit" for your own registration. Most of us have been there, one time or another. :-) The 4-6 month timeframe allows for multiple training blocks and for the athlete to slowly build their weekly mileage and become stronger, fitter, and more confident in their running over the duration of the training cycle.
- A new runner looking to run their first marathon. Start today! Most runners should have at least an 18 month grace period for the body to get custom to training 5-6 days a week, this time allows the body to develop an aerobic foundation and for the athlete to become a stronger runner. There are always exceptions to the rule. I coach athletes who respond very well to training and crush their first marathon attempt with a 3-4 marathon training cycle with very few base miles built before beginning to work together. This doesn't happen for everyone. The athlete can certainly start marathon training well before the 18-month window, however, understand that the first marathon or any endurance racing happening within that first 1 1/2 years of consistent training may not be the strongest running - but after the 18-month window, if you're still putting in the work, watch out world! Runner A is strong, confident, and ready to crush the next race. What if the marathon is next year? I'll provide the same answer, let's start today. Why not? You actually have an advantage starting today. Building easy miles and keeping your weekly mileage to 20-30 miles is setting a great endurance foundation. Once you've put the work in and are about four months away from your goal race, you can begin marathon-specific training.
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- Set a realistic goal. Every runner is different and you should feel comfortable with the goal set. The goal may be to finish, or to BQ - whatever the goal is, decide on it early in the training process and use this as the "why" for running. Some athletes will need this motivation later on in the training cycle.
- Surround yourself with people who lift you high. Join a local run group/club, make plans to run with a friend before work/day gets going, have the support of your significant other, family, and friends, and hire a run coach! :-)
- Allow yourself grace. Not every run is going to be unicorns and rainbows. But, there is something good in every run. Focus on what worked and know tomorrow is a new day + a new run. Positivity, motivation, and celebrating weekly running wins are all part of my coaching process.
- The marathon is not for the light-hearted runner. Completing a marathon takes consistent, hard work and a healthy amount of time from your day. Set yourself up for success by setting your intentions, your "why" and falling back to that mindset when training gets real.