Your 16-week plan, plus pro tips for making it to the finish line.

With more than 20,000 people running marathons in 2017, it’s no surprise that conquering a 42-kay run is on the bucket list for a lot of people. But saying it and actually doing it are two very different things, and it’s just not wise to just tackle what could be a four-plus-hour effort without proper prep. You gotta train – and train smartly – to succeed without injury.

“The first thing I tell people when they say they want to run a marathon is to clear your schedule,” says Gary Berard, a certified running coach, founder of GB Running and a coach at the RunSMART Project. “I think many people tend to underestimate the sacrifice and time commitment involved in preparing for a 42km race.”

Next, you’ll need a great plan, which we’ve conveniently laid out for you. But first, you’ll want to read up on everything you need to know and consider about a marathon. 

 

Prerequisites of the plan

Of course, your pre-training fitness level, and specifically your running shape, also matters. And if you haven’t been running at all – even if you’re, say, a CrossFitter or a competitive power lifter – Berard recommends a four-week period in which you build your base, so you’re up to several half-hour steady-state runs per week even before you start the 16-week program. If you’re really green, start with run-walks for a half-hour, in which your running interval is shorter than your recovery. Decrease your recovery first until they’re even, then increase your running until you’re able to do a full half-hour at a steady pace, and can do it three or four times per week.

 

From there, each week of your formal training plan will include a long run; two “quality” sessions per week – one that’s higher intensity and lower volume (like intervals) and one that’s speed-focused but at a lower intensity and longer duration (like tempo runs); and two or three easy runs.

marathon runners

 

Training survival guide

Now that you’re committed to the race, here’s what Berard says are some secrets to success.

Get a GPS watch

As you’ll soon learn, somewhat precise pacing is pretty key in terms of good training. “You don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars,” Berard says. An entry-level offering, such as the Garmin Forerunner, is a great option for $299. “It’s a bit of an investment, but relative to the cost of other sports, running is fairly inexpensive overall.” Get in the habit of eyeing your paces at the beginning, until you learn what they feel like –  just don’t be so slavish to your watch that you’re checking your wrist every 2 minutes.

 

 Pay attention to your body

Before you start, you should get a full check-up from your doctor, and ask them if you should consider a cardiac assessment. Running, especially running this much, is a somewhat injury-prone sport. It’s also not always comfortable. Don’t be a hypochondriac and rush off to MRI every ache and twinge, but if something seems off or painful on a consistent basis, get it checked out. Get your head in the game

In terms of mental prep, it’s as important as the physical aspects. “It’s wonderful to be committed, have goals, but you have to eat the sandwich one bite at a time,” Berard says.

If you’re someone that struggles with commitment in life, consider hiring a coach or joining a training program. “Because you will reach a point in the plan when you’re just ready for the race to be over already.” You’ll also most likely be contending with weather – the heat of summer for an autumn marathon, or the cold of winter for a spring one. Plan ahead to train during the most hospitable time of day. And when you have no option, you have to run anyway, even if it’s on the treadmill for a really long time. “You’ll never ever regret going out but you will regret not going,” Berard says.

 

Maybe don’t go it alone

Even if you’re a no-commitment-is-too-much Type A, “training with someone – whether it be a coach, a running group, a charity program or a mate – is a huge advantage for accountability and to help you get, and stay, excited about it,” says Berard. During the training cycle and even during individual workouts, motivation can wane. Hopefully, that won’t happen at the same time for whomever you train with, so you can keep each other going during rough patches.

 

Don’t forget to eat and sleep

With all the hours you’re now running, it can be tempting to eat more (you’ll be hungry!) and sleep less (when else will you get in that 10-kay s if not at 5am before work?). But how well you eat and sleep is crucial to keeping your body happy, healthy and adapting to all that stress you’re putting on it.

“Get to bed early, don’t go out to drinks on Friday and not eat dinner,” says Berard. “Because you have to get up at 6am to get 25 kilometres in on Saturday morning.”

Pre-run, most people do best if they consume a small amount of easy-to-digest carbs and protein (such as toast or a banana with peanut butter). Overall, stick to nutritious whole foods with a balance of carbs, protein and healthy fats, eaten at regular intervals throughout the day, and you should be good.

Eating also takes on special importance as your runs get longer, because you’ll need to determine what you’ll do for sustenance during the race itself. The rule of thumb is that you’ll need to replenish fast-burning carbs, electrolytes and fluids for any run that lasts longer than an hour. Test out different drinks, goos and gels during your training runs to learn what works for you – and more importantly, what doesn’t.

Respect the taper

After your last longest run, for the couple of weeks before the race you’ll be tapering – that is, running less distance and working out less hard. The reason? Your body needs time to absorb all that you’ve asked it to do, and also to fully stock – and more importantly, not consistently deplete – your stores of glycogen for energy during the big race. So as tempting as it might be to run longer – you’ve been doing that for weeks! – just follow the plan. Cool?

week

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Saturday

Sunday

1

6.5km

10x200m w/ 200m recovery

8km

6.5km

2 min. easy + 2x3.2km w/ 2 min. rest
+ 2 min. easy

2

6.5km

6x400m w/ 400m recovery

9.5km

6.5km

1min. easy + 6min.  medium + 1 min. easy

3

8km

10x200m w/ 200m recovery

8km

8km

21km

4

6.5km

5x3 min. w/ 2 min. rest + 3.2km

8km

4.8km

24km

5

8km

1 min. easy + 8 min. medium + 1 min. easy

6.5km + 4 strides

4.8km

2 min. easy + 4x1 min. w/ 1 min. rest + 2 min. easy

6

4.8km

1 min.easy + 4 min. medium + 1 min. tough + 2 min. medium

6.5km

4.8km

25.5km

7

8km

7x2 min. w/ 1 min. rest + 3.2km

9.5km + 4 strides

8km

2 easy + 3 hard + 4 easy

8

8km

5x3 min. w/ 2 min. rest + 4.8km

11.5km

8km

25.5km

9

6.5km

1 min. easy + 8 min. medium + 1 min. easy

9.5km + 4 strides

6.5km

2min. easy + 4x1.6km w/ 1 min. rest + 2 min. easy

10

8km

1 min.easy + 4 min.med, + 1 min. easy + 2 min. med + 1  min. easy

8km

8km

29km

11

8km

5x3 min. w/ 2 min. rest

11.5km + 6 strides

8km

22.5km

12

6.5km

2x2 min. w/ 2 min. rest

8km

17 miles

19.5km

13

6.5km

4 min. easy + 3 min. rest + 6x100m w/ 100m recovery

11.2km + 6 strides

4.8km

3 min. easy,
12 min. medium

14

8km

6x2 min. medium w/ 1 min. rest

9.5km

8km

19.5km

15

8km

2x2 mi. w/ 2 min. rest

8km

6.5km

16km

16

8km

3x1 mi. w/ 2 min. rest

8km

3.2km

RACE