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Building A Base For Marathon Training

Wonder if cross-training helps build a base for your marathon build-up? Find out the answer and more from a Saucony 26Strong Project runner!

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Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

Elizabeth Brown started running for the same reason that we do lots of things: peer pressure. “Two of my good friends asked me to run a half marathon with them,” she says. “Knowing it was a great cause and a fun activity to do with friends motivated me, and I’ve been hooked since crossing the finish line.”

The 26-year-old Brown, who lives in Los Angeles, was drawn to running as both a social and fitness activity, like so many others who have been attracted to the sport in recent years. But this year she’s dedicating herself to something bigger as well — completing her first marathon in memory of her cousin who died in a U.S. Navy training accident earlier this year.

“I want to run a marathon to honor him and all of our servicemen’s hard word and dedication,” Brown says. “I want to push my mind body and soul to the limit like they do.”

As part of the Saucony 26Strong project, collaboration between Women’s Running and Saucony that pairs a veteran runner with a first-timer to train for a fall marathon, Brown has been teamed with Marina White, a 27-year-old from Irvine, Calif. You might say White has some experience running marathons — she’s completed 129 of them, most recently the Great Wall of China Marathon this spring.

For any first-timer, White says one of the keys to your first marathon is building a running base before you start marathon training.

“You need to build your base carefully, to get the right type of running workouts done each week that will enhance your marathon ability without packing in too many miles too quickly,” she says. “When I trained for my first few marathons, I found that adding weekly mileage across a variety of running workouts really works.”

Saucony 26 Strong coach Mike Norman, who has been coaching first-time marathoners for two decades, advises that patience is a key to build a strong running base before marathon training begins.

“For most runners, I would recommend that they take their time and progress through the various distances gradually, preferably running at least a 10K if not a half marathon prior to beginning marathon training,” he says. “In order to handle the stress of  marathon training, you need to build up the strength and stability in your muscles and joints.

“Ideally, you should be able to consistently run at least 12-15 miles a week prior to beginning marathon training, with a long run of 4-6 miles,” he says. “The longer you have to build up to the marathon distance, the better.”

Other tips for building a marathon base include:

-Start Easy: Begin training with easy, steady running in combination with other activities and general strength/stability programs. You don’t have to stick to a rigid schedule, but work on hitting your weekly goals.

-Cross-Train: Activities like swimming, cycling and rowing can help develop strength while giving your body a break from the stress of running.

-Add Intensity: After running for several months, add some faster tempo runs. These different intensities will help develop better running economy and boost your fitness. But make sure you add recovery time as well.

-Be Realistic: A person’s fitness level makes a big difference in how quickly they can build a base. You can’t use your pace from 10 years ago to design a program now. Be honest about where you are right now and create a plan from there.

To find out more about Elizabeth Brow, Marina White and the rest of Saucony 26Strong team, visit