When it comes to running, I like to keep things simple. This approach got me over many marathon finish lines, so if you just want to finish, relatively comfortably (not that the marathon distance is comfortable by any means), this might help. I’m not an official trainer and I’m not a professional, but rather just a normal person who likes to run. I think that setting goals that make you giggly, or scare you a little, is good!
We all know that speed training, fartlek and hill repeats make you a better runner, but to over-complicate an already busy life with all that jargon, just unnecessary tires your mind and body. I’d rather leave these to the professionals.
Before we start, what follows here are mainly pointers from personal experience, and based on the assumption that you are a runner of sorts, have a base of running 30-40km per week, and have done a few half marathons. For a total beginner, you would have to first get yourself out the door and build a base. This could take three to six months.
Once you have that sorted, you can start this four months training programme – for ordinary people – to run 42.2km.
Find a goal event. The bigger, the better. It is so much easier to run 42.2kn if you have other like-minded people around, knowing you all go through the same experience. The camaraderie and support you get from big events are a huge plus on your first try.
So, to start off, try to run 5-6 days a week. Take it easy and run by feel. If you don’t feel particularly strong and would rather sit in a comfy chair with a glass of wine, go out anyway, but just take it slow – even if it means walking the whole distance. We all get days where you’d rather stay in bed, but trust me, you’ll feel infinitely better after your run. The goal is to get into the habit of regular running, which is what you need if you want to run marathons.
Working backwards from you goal event, aim to run roughly 60-65km per week, for the two months leading up to the event. This boils down to about 8km per day, Monday to Friday (=40km) + a half marathon on the weekend (Saturday or Sunday). The other day is a rest day. If you find it easier to run Tuesday to Saturday, with Sunday your long run and Monday your rest day, it’s all good. I often swap days around if I want to do a half marathon event which is on a Sunday.
Month three before the event, run 7km weekdays and +-18km long run on the weekend. Total 52km/week.
The fourth month prior to the event, run 6km on weekdays and 12-15km long run on the weekend. Total 42-45km/week.
This should get you over the line, without putting you off running forever. It’s basic, and something you can easily remember. No need to follow or remember a rigorous plan involving warm-ups and cool-downs, speed work, hill repeats, etc. Apply common sense and don’t hurt yourself. This approach also helps me to finish in under 5 hours.
If we, for instance, customise this plan for New Zealand and look at the Rotorua marathon as our goal (which is good for a first attempt; big, great expo, lots of support, nice environment, good time of the year) a programme starting now would more or less look like the one below. I’m including events, as I find it much easier to do long distances where you have drink-tables with water, electrolytes and/or carb drinks. But if you like to go it alone, save a few dollars, or can’t be bothered with the hassle of registration and travelling etc, just do that instead.
Week 1 (ending 20 December)
Monday to Sunday: 5-5-5-5-5-10-0 [Total – 35]
Week 2 (ending 27 December)
5-5-5-5-5-12-0 [Total – 37]
Week 3 (ending 3 January)
6-6-6-6-6-10-0 [Total – 40]
Week 4 (ending 10 January)
6-6-6-6-6-12-0 [Total – 42]
Week 5 (ending 17 January)
6-7-6-6-6-15-0 [Total – 46] – Tues Super 7s
Week 6 (ending 24 January)
6-7-6-6-6-21-0 [Total – 52] – Tues Super 7s + Sat 23rd, Hutt River Trail half marathon, Wellington
Week 7 (ending 31 January)
6-7-6-6-6-20-0 [Total – 51] – Tues Super 7s + Sat 30th, Turakina 20km, Whanganui
Week 8 (ending 7 February)
7-7-7-7-7-15-0 [Total – 50] – Tues Super 7s
Week 9 (ending 14 February)
7-7-7-7-7-21-0 [Total – 56] – Tues Super 7s
Week 10 (ending 21 February)
7-7-7-7-7-12-0 [Total – 47] – Tues Super 7s + Sun 21st, Round the Bays, Wellington
Week 11 (ending 28 February)
7-7-7-7-7-21-0 [Total – 56] – Tues Super 7s
Week 12 (ending 6 March)
8-8-8-8-8-21-0 [Total – 61] – Sat 5th, Mountain to Surf half marathon, New Plymouth
Week 13 (ending 13 March)
8-8-8-8-8-18-0 [Total – 58]
Week 14 (ending 20 March)
8-8-8-8-0-21-21 [Total – 74] – Sat 19th, Taihape half marathon + Sun 20th, Round the Vines half marathon
Week 15 (ending 27 March)
0-8-10-8-8-18-0 [Total – 52]
Week 16 (ending 3 April)
8-8-10-8-8-21-0 [Total – 63]
Week 17 (ending 10 April)
8-8-8-12-0-21-12 [Total – 69] – Sat 9th, Great Forest Events half marathon
Week 18 (ending 17 April)
8-8-12-8-8-27-0 [Total – 71]
Week 19 (ending 24 April)
8-8-10-8-8-18-0 [Total – 60]
Week 20 – race week (ending 30 April)
6-6-4-4-0-42.2-0 [Total – 62] – Sat 30th, Rotorua Marathon
A few simple tweaks, without getting all technical, but which may help you achieve your goal more comfortably, include:
- If there happens to be a hill on your daily outing, go for it. Just go as slow as needed to “jog” up the hill. If you run out of steam half way through, slow down, even if it means running at walking pace (or slower!). It builds confidence if you know you can run up a hill. And as the legendary Bruce Fordyce said on our very first marathon (Gerry and I had the privilege of running the first 10 or 15km of the Waterfall Mall marathon with him in 2003): “heads down, swing your arms and ‘byt vas’ (hold on)”.
- If you have the time and energy, aim to get to 70km per week, even if it’s just for the last month prior to the event. This does make a huge difference and covering the marathon distance will feel much easier.
- If you have days where you feel good and can go faster, do so. But try to keep your pace more or less the same throughout each run. Don’t start off with a bang and then slow down significantly after the first kilometre. Rather speed up and make the last or second to last kilometre your fastest. I also use the first kilometre or two as my “warm-up”, so I start off slowly and ease into things. Also perhaps try speeding up between every second or third lamp-post, or even just once in the middle of your run.
- If you find it easier to do two shorter sessions (4km in the morning + 4km in the evening) on some days, rather than one 8km, do so – two shorter runs will help you recover quicker. But don’t skip the weekend long run.
- If you want to add more kilometres without breaking yourself, try a midweek “long run” of 10-12km, instead of adding it all on the weekend. For a Monday to Saturday routine, this will typically fall on the Wednesday. You can gradually increase your weekend long run to 23km or 25km etc, but don’t go past 27km. That breaks you down, more than it builds you up.
- Try to do one 28-32km long run, three or four weeks out from your event. Just to feel what it feels like when you start to run out of steam. It will as also give you the confidence to go further than you’ve gone before.
- Back-to-back long runs on the weekend, usually also give you a good indication of what it feels like to run on tired legs (which will happen after 32km). So if you’ve done a 20km on Saturday, go out for another 12km or 15km on Sunday. Just skip either the Friday before or the Monday after. You need a rest day every week.
- As a bonus, walk lots to cover more kilometres.
To sum it up; run lots, walk lots, don’t skip the long run and have a rest day each week. Effectively you are doing “hill training”, “speed work” and “fartleks” without getting all technical about it. Anyone can do it! A marathon is tough and far, but totally doable. After 32km, it becomes a mental game more than a training game, but the more you train, the easier it becomes mentally.
Have fun and good luck!