Whether you’ve run only the occasional 10K or you’ve run a few half marathons, the full 26.2-mile race is attainable. The training process will push your physical limits and test your motivation, but it’s well worth it. Here’s a primer on how to reach your goal and keep injuries at bay.
>>Plan ahead. “If you’re starting your training from scratch, you can be marathon-ready in 28 weeks,” says Jeff Galloway, an Olympian, writer and running coach. If you’re already running regularly, take the length of your last long run in the past three weeks (the length of time we hold on to our endurance) and subtract that number from 28 weeks (how long a novice needs to prepare). So if your longest recent run was eight miles, you need 20 weeks to be ready for race day.
>>Think safety and endurance. To keep from overtraining, Galloway stresses a run-walk minimal training method. (See sidebars.) Walk breaks erase fatigue and allow muscles to recover, helping stave off injuries.Rest is about as important as training, so take a day off between runs. This allows you to avoid overuse — but still finish strong.
>>Go the distance. Run the full 26 miles during a few of your training runs. “If you don’t go the full distance in training,” Galloway says, “you’re almost certainly going to hit the wall during the event. By building the long run up to 26 miles, runners have the conditioning to go the distance in the race.” You should reach 26 miles about three or four weeks shy of the big day.
>>Pace yourself. A little math will help you figure out the speed you should maintain per mile to keep from hitting the wall. Take the average time it takes you to run one mile. Expect a 30 percent slowdown during the marathon, Galloway says. Then slow your pace an additional two minutes per mile to lower the risk of injury. For example, if you run an average of a 10-minute mile: 10 x 1.3 = 13-minute mile; 13 + 2 = 15. Start the marathon at a 15-minute-mile pace for at least the first 20 miles to have enough energy to finish strong.
>>Just add sugar. During long runs and the marathon, you will need to ingest sugar. Galloway’s rule of thumb is to consume 30 to 40 calories every two miles starting at the four- to six-mile mark. The simpler the product to absorb, the better, such as Gummi Bears, Life Savers or sugar cubes. Drink some water when you eat the sugar, about 2 to 4 ounces every two miles.
Tuesday: Run for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Thursday: Run for a minimum of 30 minutes.
Friday: Take an easy walk.
Sunday: Take a long run every second weekend until you reach 17 miles. On the “short-run” weekends, run for three to five miles. When you hit 17 miles, move the long run to every third weekend. At this stage, the short-run weekends should be six to seven miles.
Jeff Galloway uses a run-walk program to conserve energy during marathons. “With each walk break, fatigue is erased and muscle resources are conserved. A simple way of looking at it is that if you continue to run, you will use up the resources and suffer at the end,” he says. Not only will you complete a marathon using this method, but you’ll avoid injury.