This article is from the Running FAQ, by Ozzie Gontang with numerous contributions by others.
(Jack Berkery firstname.lastname@example.org)
There are many good, professional, books and articles on how to train for
whatever distance you choose. More for the marathon than others I think.
Get one or two and mull them over. The following recommendations are a
distillation of having read and digested most of these and more than a
decade of experience.
Let's suppose you are beginning with a base load of about 20 miles per week
over a long period. First I DO NOT recommend that anyone who has been
running for less than 3 years should run a marathon. Running is a long-term
game and it takes time for your body to become adjusted physically to the
demands, not only of the marathon itself, but also of the heavy training
mileage required to build up to it.
Next, you should always keep in mind that your build-up should not exceed
10% per week. 10% doesn't sound like much but it's actually a big
adjustment for your system to make. Not only muscles, but bones and
connective tissues must be strengthened to take the increased load and
running marathon mileage is a lot of pounding. Remember 10%. That is not to
say that if you ran 20 miles last week, you cannot go more than 22 next
week, but over a period of 3-4 weeks the rate of increase should not exceed
the 10% slope. After 4 weeks then, you should be doing just under 30 miles,
but not more. If you go from 20 to 24 in the first week thereby exceeding
the 10% rate, then doing 24 again the second week will bring you back on
track. You can continue to build up mileage for about 6 weeks when you'll
reach 35 miles. Then you MUST BACK OFF for a week or so. Drop back by about
25-30% for one week. Take two or three days off in a row. Get some rest to
gain strength before beginning the climb again.
How much mileage is enough for a marathon? I have known people to run
marathons on 25 or 35 miles per week. Don't try it. How they got away with
it is not important. It is only important to know that it simply ain't
smart. You can get away with 40-45 per week if you are doing a regular long
run of 15-18 each week. It is better to be doing 50 or more for 6 to 8
weeks before the marathon. This means you have to have the time necessary
to build to 50 at that 10% rate (with 1 rest week out of every 6) and then
sustain that 50+ mileage for 6-8 weeks as well. This is a heavy schedule.
Never doubt that. When you listen to the mega-mileage people talk about 70
or 80 or more, they make it sound as if everyone should be able to do that.
Well we CAN'T all do that. We all have a break-down point and for the great
majority, it lies somewhere below 50 or 60 miles per week. You'll know
where yours is only after repeated tries to exceed it result in an injury.
So how do you build the mileage? Suppose you are doing an even 3 miles a
day, no more, no less. You must begin by building the long run. In a
marathon training schedule, the long run is everything. Start the first
week of the build-up by just lengthening one run. All other days should
remain the same. Make one, usually Sat. or Sun., a 5-6 miler to get your
10% increase. Take the next day off from running. Rest is important after
the long run to allow your system adjustment time. The next week of the
build-up, increase the one long run again while still holding the normal
daily runs the same. As a rule of thumb, your long run can go to 3 times
the distance of your daily average run. So while still doing regular 3
milers, you can build up that Sat. morning run to 9 miles. Don't do a 12
miler though until you have made your daily run 4 miles. This means keeping
the long run at 9 miles for a few weeks and increasing the daily runs until
your average is 4 or 5 a day. Then you can return to increasing the long
run. Toward the end of the build-up you may be doing something like 6-8
each weekday plus an 18-20 miler on the weekend. It might also be a good
idea to alternate long runs of 15 and 20 miles every other week.
As you get close to the date of the marathon, run your last long run 2
weeks before. DO NOT do a long run one week prior to the marathon. In fact
for the last week you should taper down to do only about half, yes half,
the mileage you have been doing. DO NOT run the day before and 2 days
before the race you might only do 3 miles just to get the legs loose and
the blood flowing. You MUST be well rested for the big race itself.
Now assuming you do everything right there is still no guarrantee that the
marathon is going to go well. Many things might prevail to make it hurt,
hot or humid weather, getting caught up in too hard a pace, not drinking
enough water before or along the way (THE GREATEST SIN). You may even spend
3 or 4 months building your training only to come down with an illness or
injury a few weeks before the race which will set you right back to
square-one. If you want certainties, you're in the wrong game. What matters
is not that you get to do that particular marathon on that particular day 5
months from now, but rather what you plan to do over the next 5 or 10 or 50
years. I did say running is a long-term game, no?
Another note of caution. All the rules can be broken. You may get away with
lower training, higher ramp-up rates or shorter long-runs. You might even
get away with it more than once, but sooner or later it's gonna get ya.
Take the more conservative plan and be safe. You're looking for a positive
experience not an injury.