Long Distance Running Marathons

I’ve been reading up on marathons and have been bitten by the marathon bug.  Although I have been a fitness runner for almost 3 decades, logging 12-14 miles/week, I haven’t competed since my high school racing days.  My focus has been family—a great husband, five kids and the work and fun raising them.  I might be in my second childhood, seeking for the fountain of youth, but a marathon sounds like fun.

What should I know to be ready for my first marathon in six months?  I did some research and was surprised to find out that most runners could be ready for a long distance race in six months if they started the right training program.

Here are a few tips to help you get started in the right direction.

1—Get a checkup with the doctor, even if you’ve been running for fitness. Make sure you are well enough to run long distance.

2—Choose a marathon to run in and register.  Once you sign up, you are committed and have the motivation to stick with it.  IMPORTANT: Select a marathon that has terrain and weather similar to what you will be training in.

3—Select a training program.  Research on the internet—there are several excellent plans and coaches.  Some cost and others are free.  Find a plan that fits your running experience.  Elements of an excellent plan will include the following:

Warm-up/Cool-down:  Long distance runners need to warm-up before each training period.  Choose to jog a lap or two or gently stretch.  Save the long static stretches for the end of the workout.

Increase Mileage Gradually   Every bonafide training program will increase the miles per week gradually.  Usually runners start with 3 miles every other day and 4 miles for the long weekend run.  Increase your distance by 10% weekly so that your body can adjust to the increased work load.

Work/Rest Days—Run on work days 3 times a week and rest 4 days a week to begin the training.  The third run will be longer than the other two runs.  Exercise with no-impact cross-training or do speedwork on your rest days.  You don’t really rest, you just do not run.

Use Walking/Running   Some long distance runners avoid walking like the plague.  They even jog in place at stop lights.  However, ultramarathoners and many marathoners use power walking as a tool to push through fatigue to go to the next distance level.  Power walking is also an effective way to handle steeper hills.

Build a Base  Train for 2 weeks, then add a longer run on Saturday or Sunday, of up to 150% of your usual midweek runs.  For example, if you normally run 5 miles, at the end of the second week go 12 miles at the same intensity 70-80% max endurance and speed as your regular workout.  Rest with yoga or other stress relievers the day after the longer run; the muscles need to rebuild.  On the third week, reduce your mileage 5% and then resume the following week with your regular workout.   This is called the training base.  To this basic workout, you can add other training methods to increase speed and strength and add variety to keep your motivation high.


Fartleks—Do you love that feeling of wind rushing through your hair? Fartlek is a Swedish word that means “Speed play”.  Farleks increase the fast-twitch muscle strength, and improve your running form so you can run smoothly at your fastest pace and at any speed.  An interesting quality of farleks is that they can be integrated into any run.  Run at your fastest pace for varying lengths.  Repeat several times throughout a regular or longer run.


Yasso 800s—These striders are named after Running World’s race and event promoter, Burt Yasso.  The idea is to run each 800 in 10% of the time you have set for your marathon.  For example if you want to finish in 4:15:00, Four hours, fifteen minutes, your goal for the Yasso 800 would be 4 minutes and 15 seconds.  Repeat several times.

Intervals—Another form of sprints or striders.  Usually run on a track for 200, 400, or 800.  Jog 1 lap, sprint for your desired distance, ½, 1, or 2 laps.  Repeat several sets.  Yasso 800s and Intervals can help train your body to feel the 180 steps per minute that racers recommend for winning speeds.  Count 3 steps per second and you will reach that speed goal.  It will become comfortable to use for longer runs.


Tempo Runs—the goal of long runs is to increase endurance, not speed.  Run long 2 of every 3 weeks, up to 150% of your regular training mileage. Keep track of time and distance.  Over time, increase distance in the same amount of time, for example 45 minutes.   The regular week allows you to mentally and physically recover.   The long runs give you a mental edge, making your regular training seem easier.

Plan on running 1-2 training runs of 15-20 miles 2 weeks before the race.

Here are a few more tips from Ultramarathoner David Horton for longer distance races:

1—Run in the fall for your first race.  It has cooler, more consistent weather.

2—Choose a course with 2 or fewer loops.  Point to point is easier mentally.

3—Minimum number of aid stations for a well-organized race:  one every 5 miles.  Keep your time in the aid station to a minimum.  Find out the energy bars/drinks used at the aid station.  Use them while training to find which fuel/drink works for you.

4—Remember to consciously recover after your long distance race.  Replace water and calories as soon as you can after the race.  Eat a meal high in fats, carbs and proteins.  A good massage will help the muscles recover.  Taper off your runs for 2-3 weeks after a marathon or ultra.