Marathon Training Program

by S. Scott Zimmerman

Here's a training program for those who want to race a marathon, rather than just finish a marathon. It assumes that you want to peak at 55 miles (89 km) per week of running. If you don't have that time or interest, you can adapt the schedule by subtracting miles from each of the daily runs [particularly the short ones, because you still want to run several 20-22 milers (32-35 km)] or you can completely rest on the short-run days.

The Plan

  1. Determine your marathon time goal. For example, your goal might be 3:30 or 3:15. A good way to determine a reasonable goal is by going to the Race Predictor calculator section of MarathonGuide.com and putting in your 10K race time (or other race time) to predict a reasonable marathon time. You can also use your experience from a previous marathon to assess how fast you want to run the next one.
  2. Determine your PMP (projected marathon pace), i.e., the minutes:seconds per mile that you have to run to achieve your goal. To determine your PMP, go to the Pace/Time/Distance Calculator of MarathonGuide.com. For example, the PMP for a 3:30 marathon is 8:00 in min:sec per mile (in per km, this pace is 4:59).
  3. Gradually work up to a base of 40 miles per week (mpw) or 65 km per week (kpw). During the build-up, on one day each week, do a 3M (3-mile) (or 5K) tempo run at PMP. You need to be at about 40 mpw (65 kpw) before starting the training schedule below.
  4. Sixteen weeks before the marathon, start the suggested training program below. The schedule starts at week 16 and goes to week 1. The last day of week 1 is your target marathon. Notice that I have specified 26+1; the +1 is a mile warm-up before the beginning of the marathon. The faster your PMP, the more important that warm-up is; the slower your PMP, the less important is the warm-up.
  5. The schedule is set up to do your speed work on Tuesday, long run on Saturday, and rest day on Sunday, but you can change the days around so they fit your schedule better. (For example, if you do your long run on Sunday, shift everything one day later in the week, so your speed day is Tuesday.)
  6. Run most of the distance of your long runs at PMP + 1:00 to 1:30 (in pace per mile) or PMP + 0:40 to 0:55 (in pace per km). For example, in miles, if your PMP is 8:00 (to achieve a 3:30 marathon), your long-run pace should be 8:00 + 1:00 = 9:00 to 8:00 + 1:30 = 9:30 pace. In km, if your PMP is 4:59 (to achieve a 3:30 marathon), your long-run pace should be 4:59 + 0:40 = 5:39 to 4:59 + 0:55 = 5:54 pace.
  7. During the last 3-4 miles (5-7 km) of each long run, increase your speed to PMP. This will train your body to go at marathon pace when you're tired.
  8. In the table, the pace of the speed work is specified as PMP - min:sec per mile (and the min:sec per km in parentheses).
  9. The schedule calls for three types of speed workouts: mile repeats (mile intervals), 800m intervals (that's 800 meters or 1/2 mile), and tempo runs.
  10. One day a week you should do hill work. Some authors suggest hill repeats--running fast uphill, jogging down slowly, and repeating that 3-5 times. If your body can handle that and your other speed work, go ahead and do the hill repeats. Personally, I just make sure that once a week (it's Thursday on the schedule below) my training run includes some hills.
  11. The training schedule below has built-in flexibility. Don't hesitate cutting way back a week here and there if you feel the tired, if you're having aches and pains, if you're injured, or if you're ill.
  12. If you run a 5K, 10K, or other short race during the 16-week training program, move the long run to another day, cancel the scheduled speed work, add another day of rest, and make other adjustments as necessary to properly prepare for and recover from the race.
  13. If you want to substitute cross training (biking, swimming, etc.) for some of the running, do so on the light (5-mile) days (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday).
  14. If you have the time and interest, you might want to consider weight lifting (strength training) to supplement your running (see my Weight Lifting for Runners). I like to lift two or three days per week, emphasizing low weight and high repetition. (If you want to get buff, and don't care so much about your marathon time, emphasize high weights and low repetitions.) During the taper of weeks 3 to 1, omit the weight lifting all together.

Pace for Speed Work

  1. The suggested paces are approximate. Don't feel that you have to maintain the exact suggested paces. I would say that your paces should be the suggested ones plus or minus 15 seconds per mile (or plus or minus 9 seconds per km).
  2. You should run the mile repeats at about PMP-0:45 (or in km, PMP-28). For example, if your PMP is 8:00 per mile (4:59 per km), the mile (1.6 km) repeats pace is 7:15 (4:31 per km).
  3. For mile (1.6 km) repeats, slowly jog a 800m recovery after each fast mile. Some people jog only a 400m of recovery, which is okay if you jog it very slowly so you recover sufficiently before the next speed repeat.
  4. You should run the 800m intervals at about PMP-1:00 (or PMP-37 per km). For example, if your PMP is 8:00 (4:59), the 800m intervals pace is 7:00 min:sec per mile (4:22 min:sec per km), and hence the 800m is run in 3:30. For those of you familiar with Yasso 800s, go ahead and do Yasso pace (or a little faster) for your 800m interval work. You can get more information click on this link: Yasso 800s (this linked worked as of 5/8/02).
  5. For 800m intervals, slowly jog 400m recovery after each fast half-mile (0.5M = 800m approximately).
  6. You should run your tempo runs at PMP-0.15 (PMP-9 for km paces) to PMP, as indicated in the table.
  7. The total miles given for each speed day includes the speed work plus warm up, warm down miles, and general-endurance miles. So, if the schedule calls a total of 6 miles and for 4 x 800m interval work, you would warm up one mile, run a total of two fast miles, run a total of one recovery mile, and then run two more (slow) miles to get your total of 6 miles.
  8. For hill work on Friday, include some hills in the run; the more hilly your planned marathon, the more hills you should do.

The Training Chart

Daily distances are in miles (with kilometers in parentheses).

      Speed  

Hills

 

 Long

  Speed Workout
Week Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri

Sat

TOTAL Intervals/Pace
base rest 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 5 (8) 5 (8) 13 (21) 40 (65) 3M tempo, PMP
16 rest 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 16 (26) 45 (73) 3M tempo, PMP-0:15 (9) 
15 rest 5 (8) 8 (13) 5 (8) 8 (13) 5 (8) 12 (19) 43 (69) 3 x mile, PMP-0:45 (28)
14 rest 5 (8) 6 (10) 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 18 (29) 46 (74) 4 x 800m,  PMP-1:00 (37)
13 rest 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 10 (16) 42 (68) 4M tempo, PMP-0:15 (9)
12 rest 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 20 (32) 49 (79) 4 x mile, PMP-0:45 (28)
11 rest 5 (8) 8 (13) 8 (13) 8 (13) 5 (8) 16 (26) 50 (81) 5 x 800m, PMP-1:00 (37)
10 rest 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 20 (32) 55 (89) 5 x mile, PMP-0:45 (28)
9 rest 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 8 (13) 5 (8) 15 (24) 45 (73) 6 x 800m, PMP-1:00 (37)
8 rest 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 8 (13) 5 (8) 22 (35) 55 (89) 6M tempo, PMP-0:15 (9)
7 rest 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 10 (16) 45 (73) 5 x mile, PMP-0:45 (28)
6 rest 5 (8) 12 (19) 5 (8) 8 (13) 5 (8) 20 (32) 55 (89) 9M tempo, PMP-0:10 (6)
5 rest 5 (8) 6 (10) 5 (8) 5 (8) 5 (8) 14 (23) 40 (65) 8 x 800m, PMP-1:00 (37)
4 rest 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 8 (13) 5 (8) 22 (35) 55 (89) 6 x mile, PMP-0:45 (28)
3 rest 5 (8) 10 (16) 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 15 (24) 47 (76) 10M tempo, PMP
2 rest 5 (8) 7 (11) 5 (8) 0 5 (8) 10 (16) 32 (52( 4 x mile, PMP-0:45 (28)
1 rest 5 (8) 5 (8) 3 0 0

26 + 1 (42 + 2) (marathon)

40 (65) 3M tempo, PMP
black = endurance run (PMP+1:00 to 1:30)
blue = speed work
green = hills (at least part of run; few hills on days of hard speedwork)

Comments of questions? E-mail me at scott@zimtech.org