The book that started my marathon madness was The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by David Whitsett. It was perfect for me because it was simple, did not assume I knew anything about running (which I didn’t), and didn’t assume I could even run at all (which I couldn’t). It made running 26.2 miles seem do-able even though at the time I literally couldn’t run 2 city blocks without stopping. And ultimately it worked! It got me across the finish line of my first marathon in less than 5 months. So check it out. You know you want to run a marathon…
So for my first marathon, I followed the plan in The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. For my next marathon a year later, I basically tried to follow the same plan. For my third marathon several years later, I cobbled together a training plan from the many various plans online (many listed below), taking a little from here and a little from there, and mostly listening to my body. I like doing a “long” long distance run (e.g. 18 or 20 miles, if I do them at all…) only every other week instead of constantly increasing week after week, because my body seems to require more recovery time, so I’d take a simple, relatively low-mileage plan and intersperse it with semi-rest weeks from other plans.
I stuck with my Frankensteinian method until summer 2013, when I hired a coach for the first time. He emailed me my training plan every 2 weeks and included official speed workouts for the first time (just some tempo runs, basically, nothing too drastic). It ended up being a minor disaster, as he kept screwing up my schedule and forgetting when I had races, I suffered from injuries again, and hit a low point in performance ever since (the last part isn’t his fault, but he certainly didn’t help).
At this point in 2015, after 16 marathons over 11 years, I’m still battling recurring injuries (mostly knee but also plantar fasciitis and general old age) and generally just trying to get across multiple finish lines with the least amount of wear on my body. I hate to admit that I barely follow a training plan at all at this point. I just try to get in some long runs (13-16, smh) a couple weeks before my next marathon. I would someday like to improve my times and get back down to 4:30 marathons (or even someday break 4 hours, a pipe dream). So perhaps someday I’ll try the Hansons method if I muster a lot of willpower.
Not Yet Ready for a Marathon But Still Want to Run?
After I broke my ankle in 2016, I had to take off almost a year from running. When I started again, I had to ease into it, so I’m using the Couch to 5K program (outlined here but you can also download various apps to help you with the timing – some of them are free). Each workout is only 30 minutes long (including warm up and cool down) so it’s a nice way to ease into walking and running for fun and
Various Marathon Training Plans
Here’s a sampling of all the free training plans and resources you can find online. There are many options that cost money, too, but I didn’t list them here. Most marathon training plans are 16 to 18 weeks long, but you can get by on less (especially if you’re already a regular runner), and most plans suggest that you should be a runner for at least a year before attempting to train for a marathon (although of course I did not follow that advice).
- Hal Higdon’s training plans – from “Novice Supreme” to “Boston Bound,” there are a lot of free plans available
- Marathon Rookie’s 16-Week Training Plan
- Cool Running’s training plans – from Beginner (20 weeks, assumes men will finish in about 4 hours and women in 4:20) to Competitive (20 weeks, 2:30 for men and 2:50 for women) with additional links to training plans for shorter races
- Jeff Galloway’s training plans – “To Finish” and “Time Goal” plans – he’s famous for including walk breaks in training and during the actual race
- Hansons’ Running Programs – Beginner, Advanced – I’ve only just started reading the Hansons Marathon Method book, but their overall idea is to increase short/medium runs (both in length and frequency, e.g. 5 days a week, starting at 2-3 miles but quickly going up to 10 miles) and only running up to 16 miles for your long run (but the idea is that it will feel like the last 16 miles since your legs will be tired). It’s obviously more complicated than that, but you’ll notice their training plans look quite different from the others in this list. (I do like that they count DOWN instead of UP, since that’s how I end up writing it on my calendar, starting from the marathon and working backwards.)
- Women’s Running UK 12-week (!) marathon training plan – when you only have 12 weeks to train!
- NYRR free training plans – Conservative, Moderate, Advanced
- Chicago Marathon’s training plans (developed in conjunction with Nike) – the “Finish a Race” plan is 18 weeks but the “Set a New PR” and “Lead from the Front” plans are shorter at only 15 weeks (but they start at a higher level)
- Boston Marathon’s free training programs (note that their 16-week beginner plan “for the newer marathoner who is seeking a less competitive performance” [which is offensively condescending in many ways – I don’t know anyone who SEEKS a “less competitive performance”] starts week one with a 10 to 12-mile long run and 23-41 total mileage).
- MarathonTraining.com’s Plan – 18-week schedule with lots of long long runs
- Disney’s many and varied training programs, including multiple options for training for their WDW Marathon and Goofy (Goofy = running both the half marathon Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday). Note that these plans are developed by Jeff Galloway, and they’re printed in a calendar-specific way to prepare you for the specific Disney race, e.g. the WDW Marathon on January 12, 2014.
Here is a PDF of a running log you can use to keep track of your training. I made an inexpensive training log “book” by printing out one single sheet, photocopying it 52 times, punching holes, then putting it in a 3-ring binder to keep track for the year. I got a binder that has a clear front pocket and use it to hold my interval training exercises (so I can easily see them when I’m gasping for breath). I also use the binder to stash running articles, a list of my PRs, and any other running junk I come across. Streamlined!
Finally, there are lots of free apps available to help you keep track of your intervals. When I’m virtuous and actually cross-train, I use “Interval Timer – Timing for HIIT Training and Workouts” that’s free (with ads) for iPhones. It can be set to sound a bell every 30 seconds, 10 seconds, 30 seconds, etc. so you don’t have to look at a clock or your watch.
I am not a certified coach or fitness specialist – please do not rely on anything I say about training as if I were an expert! Always consult your doctor before starting any exercise plan.