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Training Plan: Your First Marathon

Brendan Cournane /
Photo by Erik Isakson

You are a marathon finisher!” Ever imagine hearing the announcer shout those words as you cross the finish line surrounded by a roaring crowd?

For many runners, completing a full marathon seems like a pipe dream. There’s no denying that 26.2 miles is a long way to go—but it’s not an impossible distance. If you can race a 10k, you can run a marathon. All it takes is time, training and perseverance.

This program was designed with first-timers in mind. You will run four days a week, and the majority of your workouts will be six miles or less. With just one additional day of cross training and two full days of rest, the following plan can easily be balanced with the demands of a family, career and social life. You can do this!

As you prepare for your marathon journey, keep these lessons in mind. . . 

Start Small, Finish Big  

If the idea of running more than 20 miles is intimidating, focus on where you are, not where you’re going. When following this plan, you will increase your mileage gradually (by no more than 10 percent per week). As the weeks of training add up, the thought of completing a marathon will slowly morph from impossible to possible—to undeniable when you cross that line. If you stick with it, you will get there in time.

Quality Over Quantity

Even with careful planning, life sometimes gets in the way. Over the course of 20 weeks, you’re bound to skip a workout here and there. When the unexpected happens, prioritize. Your long runs are the most important workouts, as they will help you build the endurance necessary to finish a marathon. Sacrifice easy workouts first and tempo runs second before you let the long runs fall by the wayside. Remember, performing part of a workout is better than skipping it altogether.

Stay Self-Aware 

Consider your current abilities. Can you finish six miles comfortably? If not, take time to build up to that level before starting this program. There is no rush. When completing your workouts, run at a pace that is true to your own fitness level. Don’t compare yourself to a friend, family member, running partner—or even the runner you were last year or last month. Your training will be most successful when you listen to your body.

Rest Up

Adequate rest is just as important as proper training. This plan includes two rest days per week for a reason: Your body needs to recover from the stress of training to stay healthy. Never perform workouts on designated rest days. Enjoy your time off so you’re fresh and ready for the next challenge your training will bring.

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