Introduction

I ran my first marathon on February 26, 2017 at the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX. As a 19 year old college student with a seemingly endless number of other obligations and interests, it was very difficult to fit in the proper training and diet for the big race. Here is how I did it and some tips and mistakes that you should be able to learn from. This post is useful for busy students, busy adults, or anyone who wishes to train for the marathon in a very time-efficient manner. Let’s go!

Pictured above, the author, Tom Overman, after finishing the Cowtown Marathon at age 19.




The 5 Core Workouts for Marathon Training

In order to successfully train for the marathon, you will need to incorporate the 5 main workouts into your training schedule.

Long Runs

We are starting off with the most important run for the marathon. The long run is where you will build up the endurance to get you through all 26.2 miles. Depending on how fit you already are, your long runs will start anywhere between 6-10 miles. Every week, try to push this up by a mile or two until you hit 18-20 mile long runs. When you are able to knock out an 18-20 mile long run, you will be ready to finish the whole shebang.

Long runs are meant to be taken VERY slow. So slow that the first few miles should be incredibly boring (towards the end you will be glad you took it slow). The rule of thumb for the right pace is that you should be able to hold a conversation while you run – if you are catching for breath in between words, you are going too fast. In addition, this is the one run you absolutely CANNOT skip. Incorporate one, and exactly one, long run into your weekly training schedule. I usually do my long runs Saturday or Sunday morning right when the sun rises. Pro Tip: Don’t go out partying the night before a long run; get proper rest and good carbohydrates in your system or you will feel like death has taken over your very being (you will probably feel like this anyway).

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs are a staple run that helps you build stamina, leg strength, and a higher lactate threshold. In short, it will help you maintain faster speeds throughout long distances.

Tempo runs are done at a pace a bit slower than your average 10k pace. The rule of thumb is that tempo runs are “comfortably difficult,” meaning that you can hold the pace for extended periods of time, but your lungs and legs will feel the burn. Tempo runs should range between 30-50 minutes. The longer tempo runs will be incorporated more often in the second half of your marathon schedule.

Tempo runs should be preceded by a 10 minute warm up jog and followed by a 10 minute cool down jog. Try your best to get one tempo run in every week.

Intervals

Intervals are the lung-busting workouts necessary to increase leg turnover speed that will help you get faster times. This exercise is focused on building speed, strength, and increasing your VO2 max.

Interval training consists of repeating a specific distance at a fast pace with short jog breaks in between. For marathon training, you will want to keep your intervals from 0.25 to 1 mile. For example, a quarter mile repeat training session could consist of a one mile warmup, twelve .25 mile fast repeats with 90 seconds of slow jog in between, and a one mile cooldown.

Interval training should be done once a week.

Hills

Hills consist of running up very steep inclines (hills) successively. You can either find a very hilly area to run in or run up the same hill repetitively – either way works. Hill workouts are usually quantified in miles rather than time, meaning you can take it easy coming back downhill. However, make sure your uphill sections are quick; you should feel the burn in your legs. Hill workouts will usually vary between 3 and 6 miles.

Hill workouts help build length strength and the stamina that is necessary in the final miles of the marathon. The importance of incorporating these hill workouts into your training plan cannot be stressed enough. Fit in a hill workout at least every other week during training.

Easy Runs

Easy runs will be a staple of your training program. Easy runs will be the runs in between the other workouts described above. As the name implies, easy runs are meant to be completed at a steady, slow pace. They serve to add some extra miles to each week that will help build critical strength and endurance.

A typical easy filler run will be anywhere from 3-7 miles. You will likely incorporate an easy run into your training program 1-2 times a week.

Pictured above, the author, Tom Overman, finishing the last couple hundred meters of the 26.2 mile race. All five workouts described help develop the fitness needed to finish the marathon.

Pictured above, Tom Overman taking a water and energy gel break halfway through an 18 mile run. I was only stopped for about a minute, then I continued my run.

Time Needed for Marathon Training

A very common question is how long your training program should span. The general consensus is 4 months. This allows you to finish enough long runs to build endurance and build up enough strength and speed to complete the race at your target time.

In all actuality, it really depends on how fit you are before starting and how efficient you make your training. If you are fairly fit and run on occasion, four months will be ample time to train for the marathon. If you are not in great shape and very rarely run, then you should incorporate an extra month to prep for the four month program – totaling at 5 months.

Keep in mind, this requires complete dedication if you wish to prepare in this amount of time. I completed my training in less than 3 months, but I had previous experience running half marathons, making the total training time much shorter.




Sample Training Regimen

Below is a sample training program that you could use for your marathon training. It incorporates all of the five workouts and spans 4 months. This program will prepare you for the marathon properly if you stick to it and finish every workout described. It is okay to switch some days around to fit with your schedule; just make sure to finish all of the workouts listed in a similar order. Note: elite and very experienced runners should use a different training plan; this is for beginner and intermediate runners.

 

Week One

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 8 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 90 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 3 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 4 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 7 mile long run

 

Week Three

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 8 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 90 second jog in between, 2 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 4 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run

 

Week Five

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 4 half mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 3 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 4 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 12 mile long run

 

Week Seven

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 8 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 90 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 14 mile long run

 

Week Nine

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 4 half mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 16 mile long run

 

Week Eleven

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 4 half mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 6 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 18 mile long run

 

Week Thirteen

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 2 one-mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 2 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 20 mile long run

 

Week Fifteen

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 4 half mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 2 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 15 mile long run (miles 8-12 at target marathon pace)

 

Week Seventeen (RACE WEEK)

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 5 mile easy run
Wednesday: Off Day
Thursday: 4 mile easy run
Friday: Off Day
Saturday: 2-3 mile VERY SLOW
Sunday: MARATHON DAY (go get ’em!)

 

Week Two

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 8 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 80 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 3 mile easy run
Thursday: 3 miles hills
Friday: 4 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 8 mile long run

 

Week Four

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 4 half mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 3 mile easy run
Thursday: 3 miles hills
Friday: 4 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 8 mile long run

 

Week Six

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 4 half mile fast repeats w/ 90 second jog in between, 2 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 4 mile easy run
Thursday: 3 miles hills
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run

 

Week Eight

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 3 one-mile fast repeats w/ 90 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 5 mile easy run
Thursday: 4 miles hills
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run

 

Week Ten

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 12 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 100 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 5 mile easy run
Thursday: 4 miles hills
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run

 

Week Twelve

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 6 half mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 2 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 5 mile easy run
Thursday: 4 miles hills
Friday: 6 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run

 

Week Fourteen

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 16 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 100 second jog in between, 2 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 5 mile easy run
Thursday: 4 miles hills
Friday: 7 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run

 

Week Sixteen

Monday: Off Day
Tuesday: 1 mile warmup, 6 quarter mile fast repeats w/ 120 second jog in between, 1 mile cooldown
Wednesday: 5 mile easy run
Thursday: Off Day
Friday: 5 mile tempo run
Saturday: Off Day
Sunday: 10 mile long run




If you can finish the training program described above, you will most certainly be ready for the marathon come race day.

Other Extra Information (Diet, Shoes, Race Day Energy)

So, now you know what it takes to train for the marathon. Now I’ll give you some quick tips about the rest of the adventure of marathoning.

Diet

A whole article could be written on marathon diets. For this reason, and the fact that optimal diets vary widely between different individuals and body types, I will just give some general tips on diet – especially pertaining to the food choices before and after long runs and the optimal diet leading up to race day.

A majority of carbohydrates should be consumed before long runs and before race day. These carbs can be found in pasta, bread, rice, and other foods rich in starch. Fatty meats, sweets, dairy products, and greens should be avoided the day before long runs and races.

Breakfasts for long runs should be consumed at least 2 hours before the start. The breakfast should be heavy in carbs. Foods such as bagels and toast with a light layer of jelly are great before long runs and the marathon.

The week before a race, I like to avoid consuming dairy and red meats. I start to eat a lot of carbs and some fats days before the race. I also increase my intake of water the days before a race, so that I am fully hydrated going into race day.

Shoes

First of all, there is NOT an absolute best shoe for running. You have to find the best shoe for YOU. This means going to a running store and testing many different brands and models. Once you find your optimal shoe, buy two pairs of the same model. One will be your training pair, the other will be your race pair. Make sure that the shoes have plenty of support and a fairly thick sole to absorb the shock of long distance running. Do not buy racing flats – these are reserved for the top elite runners.

Start to occasionally incorporate your race-day shoes into training sessions 3-4 weeks before race day. This will allow you to break them in comfortably to avoid blisters and foot pains on race day.

My shoe of choice is the Adidas Boston Boost 6, if you were interested.

Race Day Energy

You will burn thousands of calories during the span of the 26.2 miles. For this reason, you will have to consume some calories during the race. This will help you avoid the “wall” during the last miles of the race. I like to use GU energy gels; I used three of these gels during the course of the marathon, approximately every 7 miles.

Note that some energy gels may cause stomach irritation because your body is focusing its blood flow and function on your leg muscles, heart, and lungs, effectively slowing down your digestive tract. For this reason, you should test many different brands and flavors of energy supplements during your long runs to find the best one for you. It is also very important to drink water every time you consume an energy supplement.

On race day, you must also drink a bit of water or diluted energy drink at every stop of the race. The race organizers should provide fluids every 2-3 miles of the course.

The GU energy gels that I often use. I enjoy the sea salt chocolate flavor the most.

The running shoes I use for both training and on race day. Find the shoe that works best for you.




Final Conclusions

In this post, I have discussed the crucial types of training runs, provided a solid outline of a good 17 week training program, and supplied some additional tips here and there. It is hard to find time, as a student or working adult, to get in all of the necessary training sessions. But this is exactly why the marathon is such an amazing accomplishment. If you have any questions or suggestions, you can comment below or contact me. Good luck with your journey!

Tom Overman

Tom Overman

Tom is the lead web designer and developer at Octane Web Design. He is also a full-time student at The University of Texas at Arlington, studying biomedical engineering.

Tom has run 3 half marathons and 1 full marathon in between his very busy schedule. He enjoys giving tips on how to train effectively as a busy student.

He hopes to qualify and run in the Boston Marathon by the time he is 21.

Tom also wishes to run all of the World Marathon Majors in his lifetime.