A Training Schedule for Marathon Beginners

Overtraining can be a problem for endurance athletes, with symptoms that range from fatigue and decreased athletic capacity to increased resting heart rate and susceptibility to infection. While the strict definition of overtraining involves a state that takes weeks to recover from, I know from experience that my body doesn't respond well to running more than three days per week. By the time I am half way through a 12-week training schedule, I feel very fatigued and even my short runs don't feel good.

It is important to note that this training schedule has you running a maximum of 20 miles.  The goal of this program is to improve your endurance to the point where you can do 20 miles without a tremendous amount of difficulty.  Most people find that miles 21 to 25 are the most difficult.  As a four-hour marathon runner, if you can keep running during these miles, and walk only through water stations, you will be passing many others in the race.  This is the part of the race where your mental toughness is really tested, and your ability to find a meditative state is important.  If you are planning on running a four-hour marathon, you must be able to run 20 miles in three hours, or 9 minute mile pace.

The point of this training schedule is to improve both your cardiovascular fitness and musculoskeletal fortitude in a progression without feeling overtraining symptoms. If you feel overly fatigued during your day, take a look at your cross training and rest days. Make sure that you are resting properly. Six hours of mowing the lawn, raking leaves, and shoveling dirt is cross training, not resting. Good nutrition and hydration are important factors that you need to work on during your long runs. Because most of us are not attempting to win the race, the most important thing is to feel good and improve your running ability.

This schedule is designed for someone who runs on a regular basis, and has done a few half marathons. Always consult your medical practitioner before beginning a training program, and discontinue training and seek medical advice if you have pain while or after you run.

12-Week Training Schedule

Typical run days: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

Week 1: run 3, 4, 9
Week 2: run 3, 6, 10
Week 3: run 3, 6, 12
Week 4: run 3, 6, 14
Week 5: run 4, 8, 16
Week 6: run 4, 8, 18
Week 7: run 4, 8, 8
Week 8: run 3, 10, 16
Week 9: run 3, 10, 18
Week 10: run 4, 10, 20
Week 11: run 3, 8, 10
Week 12: run 3, 6, race (6 on Wed, no cross-train)

If you would like a preamble to this schedule, here is a schedule for 12 weeks prior:
Week 1: run 3, 3, 3
Week 2: run 3, 3, 3
Week 3: run 3, 3, 4
Week 4: run 3, 3, 4
Week 5: run 3, 3, 5
Week 6: run 3, 3, 5
Week 7: run 3, 4, 6
Week 8: run 3, 4, 6
Week 9: run 3, 4, 7
Week 10: run 3, 4, 7
Week 11: run 3, 4, 8
Week 12: run 3, 4, 8

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David Jeter studied biology at Eastern Washington University and graduated from the EWU Physical Therapy program in 2001. Dave earned his Level III certification from the North American Institute of Manual Therapy in 2006 after completing 160 hours of continuing education. Dave lives in Spokane, Washington, and loves to golf with his wife, Sarah. He also enjoys barbecuing, mountain biking, adventure racing, triathlons, fly-fishing, and enjoying outdoor activities in the Pacific Northwest.

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