Running a marathon is one of the most rewarding challenges you can go through as an athlete. And with good reason: completing a marathon is also one of the hardest challenges to go through as an athlete. So much time is spent training for the big race. Many people spend the entire year leading up to the marathon just training for one day. And that’s the most important thing about participating in a marathon: your training. So it is important that you take it seriously, whether you start training a year in advance or 16 weeks out from the marathon.
If you are serious about fitness and what it can do to your body, whether you are running a marathon, biking, swimming, cross training and more, it is important to know how fitness can affect your body. To learn more about the science of exercise, we offer this fit for life course, which will teach you how fitness science affects and changes your body.
Start Your Training
If you have your heart set on finishing a marathon, you need to know what your body can handle and where to start training. Everybody’s fitness levels are different and the training process is different for everyone based on each individual’s levels. If you are not sure of your personal fitness level, you can learn more about how to test your level with this blog post. It will teach you how to measure your body mass index (or BMI), get your resting heart rate, your endurance and more.
Once you have an understanding of your fitness level, you can start your training. If you want to train for a marathon in 16 weeks, you should be able to at least run a 5k (3.1 miles) comfortably. Your 5k time doesn’t matter in this instance, just that you are able to run that distance consistently without tiring too much. If you can do this, you are ready to start your marathon training.
- Week One
This week is where you will start getting acclimated to your running schedule. You will run different lengths no longer than three miles five days a week, with one day to do your choice of cross training. Start the week off on Monday with an easy two-mile run. Tuesday is three miles, Wednesday is four mile and Thursday and Friday will both be three-mile runs. Save Saturdays or Sundays for your long runs. This week, it will be five miles. You can substitute a run day for rest or cross training as well, but be sure to get in your long run.
- Week Two
Bump up your mileage to six or seven miles on your long run day. Keep with three miles during the weekdays that you are not resting or cross training.
- Week Three
Now that you are comfortable with two weeks’ worth of running, you can increase your weekday mileage to three and four-mile runs per day with a rest day and cross training for two of those days. Keep increasing your long runs. This week, your long run will be seven miles.
- Week Four
Run three miles two weekdays, five miles one weekday and cross train the other weekday. For your longer run, do a five-mile run at a tempo pace (or, comfortably hard), which is faster than you would usually go.
- Week Five
This is where things get challenging. Your long run will be nine miles, so make sure you are physically and mentally prepared for it. Get a good night’s sleep before the run and make sure you eat a breakfast that will help energize you. An example of a good breakfast is oatmeal with bananas and honey. For your other three runs, do four miles and three miles for each run.
- Week Six
Now we’re getting into the meat of the training. Bump up the weekday runs to five and three-mile runs, while your long run will be 10. Stick to another energizing breakfast. It might be good to bring water and energy chews with you for an extra boost. You can store them in a running belt, which you can find at athletic stores.
- Week Seven
Get ready, because this week brings on a 12-mile run. You will definitely need to carry water on you and some sort of energy-booster like chews or goo. This will help you beat fatigue during your run and keep you hydrated. For the weekdays, do a six-mile run in the middle of the week to prepare, plus two three or four-mile runs.
- Week Eight
We’re halfway there! You’ve built up a solid mileage base and are ready to push your body further. Because you’re at the halfway point, try entering in a half marathon-length race. If you have not raced before, this will give you a good idea what participating in a big race is like. Like the previous week, run six miles one weekday, with four or three miles on the other two weekdays.
- Week Nine
Time to take it down a notch to recover after your race weekend. The looming 10 miles are no longer as scary as they used to be after conquering 13 miles. Focus on the quality of this 10-miler since your endurance is already built up to handle this length. Set your mid-week run for seven miles and your two other runs for three or four miles each.
- Week Ten
You’ve raced 13 miles, so what’s two more? This week’s long run is a 15 miler. Make sure to have enough water on you to keep you hydrated and some sort of energy-boosting snack. You can bring goo, chews or something easy to pack like granola, a protein bar or m&ms to give you a sugar boost when your energy levels are low. Stick to a mid-week seven-mile run and two three or four mile runs. Remember to cross train and rest while you’re increasing mileage as well.
- Week Eleven
You still need to slowly increase your mileage to prepare for 26.2, so this week’s long run is 16 miles. Your mid-week run is eight miles with two four or five-mile runs during weekdays.
- Week Twelve
You’re getting close to your goal, but now it’s time to scale it back to 12 miles after increasing your mileage. Use this week to get some quality miles in now that you have enough endurance to run 16 miles. During the weekday, put in one eight-mile day and two four or five-mile days.
- Week Thirteen
You had last week to recover a bit with lesser mileage, now it’s time to get back to it with an 18-mile run on the weekend. Run smart and prepared, with water and energy-boosters. You will also need to run nine miles, five miles and six miles during three weekdays.
- Week Fourteen
You are almost there. This week is time for the intimidating 20-mile run that you have trained for. You are physically prepared with the mileage you’ve put in, you just have to be mentally prepared. Trust your training and go out and complete the last big run before your marathon. For this run, it is necessary to bring water and energy supplements to help you power through. Your mid-week run is 10 miles, five miles and six miles. A good way to stretch out your legs and rest of your body after a grueling 20-mile run is through yoga. By practicing yoga, you will help your body to recover from the run and help your body and mind to relax. We recommend this course, which helps with your hips and hamstrings.
- Week Fifteen
It’s all downhill from here, as we are going into your taper weeks. Your ‘big’ run is eight miles, with six, four and three miles during the weekdays.
- Week Sixteen
It’s one week before your marathon. Take it easy this week with some light runs, four miles at the very most. Practice some yoga to get your body ready and make sure to rest the day and night before your big race.
Eating and Training
Training your body for a marathon is not just running and gaining endurance, you have to eat well and fuel your body in addition to your running. An optimal marathoners diet is clean eating (that is, food without chemicals and preservatives in it), minimal alcohol consumption and one that is filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. While it is well known that runners need carbohydrates, they also need protein to help their muscles recover. Do not starve your body of any of these important nutrients, or else it will not be able to perform at an optimal level. You can learn more about how food affects athletes’ bodies with this course, which will teach you how to use food to improve your athletic performance.
Some of the best foods you can eat for running are easy to buy and prepare. A lot of these items are raw fruits and vegetables, which will deliver the maximum amount of nutrients to your body. The best foods for muscle recovery, which you will need as you up your mileage, include lean proteins like fish, chicken and egg whites, yogurt, mixed nuts, spinach, broccoli, oats, apples and basically any kind of superfoods (you can find more than 100 superfoods here).
The key to eating and training is being as smart about your diet as you are your training. You wouldn’t want to sprint during a 20-mile run, would you? The same goes for food. You don’t want to put junk food into a body that need nutrients and energy. The key is to provide your body with the food it needs and craves so it has the resources to go out and complete 26.2 miles. You are putting yourself on a diet, you are simply changing your lifestyle and eating habits to get your body what it needs. To learn more about eating healthy and changing your lifestyle to one that includes healthy food choices, we offer this course. It will show you how fad diets are set up to fail you and how you can succeed with healthy substitutions that not only leave you feeling full, but satisfied as well.
Training for a marathon is not easy. It will be one of the hardest things you will ever do. It will also be the most rewarding things you will ever do. There will be tough days, but with smart thinking, smart eating and smart training, you can meet your goal in 16 weeks.