A weekly marathon training program can help your health in many ways, but before you start one, you want to build up in distance to the point where you can do a six-mile workout, and can get up to 15 miles in a week. Here’s how this might look: 3 miles on Monday, 3 miles on Wednesday, 3 miles on Friday, and 6 miles on Sunday. This will give your muscles, ligaments, and tendons the preparation they need for the pounding of extended-distance running.
The Time Trial
You will only do this a few times during your weekly marathon training sessions — perhaps three times in a sixteen-wek marathon training program. The time trial involves running a mile as fast as you can as a gauge for your overall fitness. As you progress in your training, your mile times should drop. Do this about every four or five weeks.
The Long Run
If you’ve built up the foundation that we discussed in the first section, then your first long run will be nine miles. You’ll generally do your longest runs on Saturday or Sunday, depending on your schedule. You’ll do this run at an "easy" pace, meaning that if you’re running with someone else, you should be able to hold a conversation the whole time.
Once you set a marathon goal for time, you’ll do your long runs about a minute per mile slower. For example, if your goal is a 4:30 marathon (about 10:20 per mile), you would do your long runs at 11:20 per mile or so — even more slowly if it’s a hot, humid day.
One run in your weekly marathon training program will be the hill run. This doesn’t mean you have to find a mile-long hill and do repeats. It does, though, mean that you should find a hilly course — a trail through an area park, or a hilly neighborhood will do — and run it. Starting out, you should do three or four miles, and then build up to seven miles of hilly course.
Why is this important? Marathons are long courses — and there are some flat ones, like Chicago, but most have hills throughout. Even the ones that are mostly downhill, like Tucson or St. George, require different muscles than running on a flat course, and you need to train those muscles as well.
These workouts in your weekly marathon training will get your body accustomed to the leg turnover you’ll need to run a marathon at race pace. You’ll start out doing four-mile runs with two miles at race pace and two at easy pace — using the earlier example, you would run your first mile at 11:20, your second and third miles at 10:20, and your last mile at 11:20. You’ll build up to the point where you’re doing eight miles with four or five at marathon race pace.
Some of the most challenging workouts in weekly marathon training involve speedwork. You’ll run a mile or two at easy pace to warm up, and then you’ll be doing a variety of speed repeats — a track is ideal for these. Early on, these will be 200-meter (half of a lap on a track) repeats, followed by 400-meter (one lap) repeats, at a pace depending on your marathon goal pace. A website like Macmillan’s running calculator can help you figure out the pace. One example of this would be: one-mile warmup, 2×200 @ 2-mile pace, and 4×400 @ 5K pace. A race calculator can give you the time for each.
Another speed workout is the "Yasso," named after famed marathoner Bart Yasso. You do a mile warmup, and then do 800-meter (two-lap) repeats at your goal pace, but in minutes and seconds instead of hours and minutes. If you want to do a marathon in 4 hours and 30 minutes, you should run your 800’s in 4 minutes and 30 seconds. After each 800, jog or walk for the same amount of time, and then start again, building your way up to eight or ten 800’s.
Putting it All Together
This makes a weekly marathon training program seem like a lot of work. Here is one way to do the schedule as a beginner:
Tuesday — 4 miles hills
Wednesday — cross training (swimming, racquetball, tennis, cycling, or other activities) OR 4 miles easy
Thursday — 5 miles easy
Saturday — 3 miles easy
Sunday — 9 miles easy
As you gain strength, you will add gradually to your longest run, reaching a max of 20-22 miles. You’ll want to get in three runs at 20 miles. Once you pass 16 miles, though, you’ll drop back in between each week (16, 12, 18, 14, and so on). Your Tuesday and Thursday runs will be hills, tempo or speedwork, and your shorter easy runs will be Wednesday and Saturday.
Be sure you protect yourself — if you feel an injury coming, it’s a better idea to rest for a few days and then get back into things than to worsen the damage.