There is no one-size-fits-all marathon training program. Regardless of your goals and fitness levels, however, most marathon training schedules share similar elements:
- Work Backward from Race Day. Marathon training lasts 18 to 26 weeks -- pick your race date and work backwards from there.
- The Talk Test. If you can't speak easily while jogging, then you're running too fast. Pushing the pace will result in exhaustion and burnout, especially in beginning runners who aren't familiar with their own natural rhythm and limitations. A heart rate monitor can help you identify and stick with heart rate at which you can speak without huffing and puffing. You should run your Easy Run Days at this pace and your Long Slow Distance days at a slightly slower pace.
- Long Slow Distance. The LSD day is the one day per week when you build endurance by running further than you have in past weeks. Your first LSD day will be between 3 to 6 miles (4.83 to 9.66 kilometers, depending on the length of your training schedule) and you will escalate the distance each week, with a bit of a break every 3rd week or so. For instance, if you're running 6 miles in week 1 and 7 miles in week 2, you might scale back to 5 miles for week 3, and then up to 9 miles for week 4.
- Easy Run Days. The meat-and-potatoes of marathon training, ERD's are the types of runs you will do on the 3-4 days you aren't resting, cross-training or doing LSD runs. For your ERD's, start off with a small mileage (such as 3 miles, or 4.83 kilometers) or a short time run (30 minutes or so) and escalate gradually. You'll probably never run more than 10 miles (16.09 kilometers) or 90 minutes on an ERD day.
- Cross-training and Rest. You should rest at least 1 and up to 3 days per week during marathon training. This will help prevent injuries and burnout. To improve performance or to stay motivated, try cross-training by biking, swimming or doing yoga on two of the "rest" days.
There are many online sites such as Runnersworld.com, Active.com and others that offer fee-based marathon training programs tailored to your specific needs. Once you've decided on a schedule that fits your goals, you're ready to begin training. Find even more tips on training for your first marathon in the next section.