The Path to Marathon Success
This 15-week training program will lead you to your best marathon ever 
by Benji Durden


It's ironic that I became a world-class marathoner and now, a marathon coach, because I used to think all marathoners were nuts. As a so-so collegiate miler, I thought that 10 miles was an ultradistance--and 26 miles was unthinkable.

But times change, and I changed my mind enough to try running the '74 Peach Bowl Marathon in Atlanta. After I dropped out, I told my friends, "Anyone who runs a marathon is sick."

Sick or not, I returned to Peach Bowl the next year, convinced that this time I was ready not only to finish but to break 2:23 and qualify for the '76 Olympic Trials. I finished but ran 2:36 and didn't qualify on my next attempt, either.

But I was determined to do it right. When I started the '76 Rice Festival Marathon, I had finally trained differently for it by doing more long runs. I started the race cautiously, gradually moved through the pack and surprised everyone--including myself--by finishing second in 2:20:23.

I was a marathoner after all.

Since those early days, I've learned a lot about training for and racing the marathon and eventually ran 2:09:58 in 1983. The most important lesson I learned is that there are no simple recipes for training successfully for a marathon. Part of the marathon's allure is that it's difficult--not only to race but to train for properly.

Over a period of years, I developed basic guidelines about marathon training that have worked for me. I didn't have great speed, but I knew how to get ready for a marathon by following a well-conceived plan.

As I have moved from competing to coaching, I have successfully applied these same rules to training programs for a wide range of runners, from 2:26 marathoner Kim Jones to recreational runners who have never run a marathon and just want to finish.

Using formulas developed by Jack Daniels, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and a respected coach, I have devised an approach that uses recent race times to adjust the basic structure of my program for specific ability levels.

For the program I will detail, I've made a few assumptions. First, this is a 15-week training plan, so if your marathon is next month, forget it. This schedule won't work for you. Second, you should be comfortably able to complete a 1- to 2-hour run on a weekly to biweekly basis. You also should be able to run 60 minutes or better for a 10-K. While it's possible you could make it through the program without meeting these criteria, wait until you're at least able to complete the long run. Otherwise, the program will be harder than it should be.

Chart 1 (below) gives you the basic training schedule. Each week consists of four parts: a long run, a speed or strength run, a pace or tempo run and four optional easy runs. About every third week, the long run is replaced by a race. Before you turn to the chart, let's look at the various elements of the marathon training plan. 

Chart 1:Basic 15-week Marathon Training Program

 

Sun

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thu

Fri

Sat

 

*Long

Easy

Hills/Track

Easy

**Tempo

Easy

Easy

Week 1

2:00 plus adjustment

30-40

20 wup/wdn; 6 hills

30-40

20 wup/wdn; 2(8t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 2

2:15 plus adjustment

30-40

20 wup/wdn; 7 hills

30-40

20 wup/wdn; 3(5t/1e)

30-40

30-40

Week 3

5-K to 10-K race

30-40

20 wup/wdn; 8 hills

30-40

20 wup/wdn; 2(9t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 4

2:20 plus adjustment

30-40

22 wup/wdn; 7 hills

30-40

22 wup/wdn; 3(6t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 5

2:40 plus adjustment

30-40

22 wup/wdn; 8 hills

30-40

22 wup/wdn; 4(5t/1e)

30-40

30-40

Week 6

10-K to 15-K race

30-40

22 wup/wdn; 9 hills

30-40

22 wup/wdn; 2(12t/3e)

30-40

30-40

Week 7

2:50 plus adjustment

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 6 x 800

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 3(8t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 8

3:00 plus adjustment

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 7 x 800

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 4(5t/1e)

30-40

30-40

Week 9

8-K to 10-K race

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 8 x 800

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 3(9t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 10

2:45 plus adjustment

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 7 x 800

30-40

25 wup/wdn; 3(5t/1e)

30-40

30-40

Week 11

15-K to half-marathon

30-40

28 wup/wdn; 8 x 800

30-40

28 wup/wdn; 2(15t/4e)

30-40

30-40

Week 12

3:00

30-40

28 wup/wdn; 9 x 800

30-40

28 wup/wdn; 4(7t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 13

2:30

30-40

28 wup/wdn; 8 x 800

30-40

28 wup/wdn; 3(9t/2e)

30-40

30-40

Week 14

2:00

30-40

45

1:30

30-40

30-40

25

Week 15

Marathon

Rest

Rest

Rest

Rest

Note: All workouts are given in hours and minutes. *If you want to increase the length of your long runs, see Chart 3. **See text for a complete explanation of tempo-run workouts.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Value of Rest
Here's a shocker. The most important days in this schedule aren't the hard days, but the four easy ones per week, scheduled for Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Easy days are critical because they allow the body to recover from and adapt to the hard training done during the rest of the week. Without easy days or days off between the hard workouts, the training will break you down rather than make you stronger.

Rest, or easy days, are the most overlooked part of many programs. Typically, runners are reluctant to rest enough between hard workouts because they worry about losing ground. I was a perfect example of this during the early days of my career. I knew about former University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman's hard day/easy day philosophy, but I thought "easy" meant not doing speedwork. To me, "easy" was still doing two 6-mile runs a day.

After injuring my right knee, I rested for a month. When I returned to training, my knee pain kept flaring up. By trial and error, I discovered that I could train one day and if I didn't run the next, the knee pain wasn't a problem. Eventually I began to run on the easy days, but the runs were gentle and no longer than 40 minutes. My knee didn't bother me again, and that spring, I ran the '78 Boston Marathon in 2:15:04, a 4-minute PR.

Notice on Chart 1 that easy days are 30- to 40-minute runs. Limiting easy days to just that length is vital to allow adaptation to the hard work that you'll be doing the other three days of the week. Resist the temptation to go longer or faster on these days.


ADVERTISEMENT


Chart 2: Workout Paces Based On A Recent 10-K

10-K Time

Easy Run

Long Run

Tempo Run

800 Repeats

32:00

7:13

6:42

5:20-5:23

2:25-2:35

33:00

7:26

6:54

5:29-5:33

2:30-2:40

34:00

7:39

7:06

5:39-5:43

2:34-2:45

35:00

7:52

7:22

5:48-5:54

2:38-2:50

36:00

8:05

7:35

5:58-6:04

2:43-2:55

37:00

8:18

7:48

6:07-6:14

2:47-3:00

38:00

8:30

8:01

6:17-6:25

2:51-3:05

39:00

8:43

8:14

6:26-6:35

2:56-3:10

40:00

8:56

8:27

6:35-6:45

3:00-3:15

41:00

9:09

8:40

6:45-6:56

3:04-3:20

42:00

9:21

8:52

6:54-7:06

3:08-3:24

43:00

9:34

9:05

7:04-7:16

3:13-3:29

44:00

9:47

9:18

7:13-7:26

3:17-3:34

45:00

9:59

9:31

7:22-7:37

3:21-3:39

46:00

10:12

9:44

7:31-7:47

3:25-3:44

47:00

10:24

9:56

7:41-7:57

3:30-3:49

48:00

10:37

10:09

7:50-8:07

3:34-3:54

49:00

10:49

10:22

7:59-8:17

3:38-3:59

50:00

11:02

10:35

8:08-8:28

3:42-4:04

51:00

11:14

10:47

8:18-8:38

3:46-4:09

52:00

11:27

11:00

8:27-8:48

3:51-4:13

53:00

11:39

11:12

8:36-8:58

3:55-4:18

54:00

11:51

11:25

8:45-9:08

3:59-4:23

55:00

12:04

11:38

8:54-9:18

4:03-4:28

56:00

12:16

11:50

9:03-9:28

4:07-4:33

57:00

12:28

12:03

9:12-9:38

4:11-4:37

58:00

12:41

12:15

9:21-9:48

4:15-4:42

59:00

12:53

12:27

9:30-9:58

4:19-4:47

60:00

13:05

12:40

9:39-10:08

4:24-4:52

If you aren't sure how fast you should go on an easy day, check Chart 2 . For example, if you have been running around 48 minutes lately for 10-K (don't use your PR unless that is your most recent performance), Chart 2 suggests that your easy pace should range around 10:37 per mile. (Please note that for easy runs, I've given a suggested pace. It's fine if you are within plus or minus 20 to 40 seconds of that pace.) During your easy runs, check occasionally to see that your pace is comfortable and in the right range. If you err, err to the slow side. Easy days are optional. If you don't want to run because you're too tired or something comes up, don't run. At some point during any lengthy training program, the realities of a busy life are going to require skipping or postponing a hard day. That's fine as long as you resist the trap of trying to catch up by dropping the easy days to get in the hard ones. Just because the easy days are optional run days does not mean the rest / recovery can be skipped. If you miss a hard session, keep on schedule. You will still improve your fitness. But if you skip the easy/off days, you'll be more prone to injury. Easy days are also a good time for cross-training. Weight work, cross-country skiing or NordicTrack, brisk walks and swimming are all beneficial cross-training activities for marathoners. Just don't do too much. The idea is to recover on your easy days, not become more fatigued.



Credits: Text copyright 1996 by Benji Durden

This article has informational purpose and  isn't a substitute for professional advice.

backBack to Training articles and tips for runners

1999-2018 Helio A. F. Fontes
Copacabana Runners - Atletismo e Maratonas