Training For a Marathon

Following is a marathon training planby Benji Durdentaken from Runner's World Magazine.

The Path to Marathon Success

This 15-week training program will lead you to your best marathonever

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 PeachBowl Marathon in Atlanta. After I dropped out, I told my friends, "Anyone whoruns a marathon is sick."

Sick or not, I returned to Peach Bowl the next year, convinced that this time Iwas ready not only to finish but to break 2:23 and qualify for the '76 OlympicTrials. 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 FestivalMarathon, I had finally trained differently for it by doing more long runs. Istarted the race cautiously, gradually moved through the pack and surprisedeveryone--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 themarathon and eventually ran 2:09:58 in 1983. The most important lesson Ilearned is that there are no simple recipes for training successfully for amarathon. Part of the marathon's allure is that it's difficult--not only torace but to train for properly.

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

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

Using formulas developed by Jack Daniels, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and arespected coach, I have devised an approach that uses recent race times toadjust 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 a15-week training plan, so if your marathon is next month, forget it. Thisschedule won't work for you. Second, you should be comfortably able to completea 1½- to 2-hour run on a weekly to biweekly basis. You also should be able torun 60 minutes or better for a 10-K. While it's possible you could make itthrough the program without meeting these criteria, wait until you're at leastable to complete the long run. Otherwise, the program will be harder than itshould be.

Chart 1(below) gives you the basic training schedule. Each week consists offour parts: a long run, a speed or strength run, a pace or tempo run and fouroptional 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 themarathon training plan.

The Value of Rest

Here's a shocker. The most important days in this schedule aren't the harddays, but the four easy ones per week, scheduled for Mondays, Wednesdays,Fridays and Saturdays. Easy days are critical because they allow the body torecover 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 willbreak 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 worryabout losing ground. I was a perfect example of this during the early days ofmy career. I knew about former University of Oregon coach Bill Bowerman's hardday/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 totraining, my knee pain kept flaring up. By trial and error, I discovered that Icould train one day and if I didn't run the next, the knee pain wasn't aproblem. Eventually I began to run on the easy days, but the runs were gentleand 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 1that easy days are 30- to 40-minute runs. Limiting easy daysto just that length is vital to allow adaptation to the hard work that you'llbe doing the other three days of the week. Resist the temptation to go longeror faster on these days.

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 useyour PR unless that is your most recent performance), Chart 2suggests thatyour easy pace should range around 10:37 per mile. (Please note that for easyruns, I've given a suggested pace. It's fine if you are within plus or minus20 to 40 seconds of that pace.) During your easy runs, check occasionally tosee that your pace is comfortable and in the right range. If you err, err tothe slow side.

Easy days are optional. If you don't want to run because you're too tired orsomething comes up, don't run. At some point during any lengthy trainingprogram, the realities of a busy life are going to require skipping orpostponing a hard day. That's fine as long as you resist the trap of trying tocatch up by dropping the easy days to get in the hard ones. Just because theeasy 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 yourfitness. 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-countryskiing or NordicTrack, brisk walks and swimming are all beneficialcross-training activities for marathoners. Just don't do too much. The idea isto recover on your easy days, not become more fatigued.

Run Long

In most marathon programs, the long runs are considered the key hard runs.These runs are essential because they allow your body to adapt to the stressesof running the marathon distance. Covering the distance isn't the problem--mostrunners who can cover 10-K in under an hour should be able to walk or run 26.2miles--but it's a question of how much stress your body can take--and for howlong.

By starting with a long run that is only moderately challenging and graduallyincreasing the length, your body will adapt to running for longer and longerperiods while still being able to recover sufficiently for the next hardworkout.

While most marathon programs, and runners in general, measure long runs indistance covered (miles or kilometers), I prefer to specify the amount of timespent running. The body doesn't know how far it's running, but it understandseffort for a given time. The reason I don't like running a known distance isbecause it encourages you to race a workout, either against your own standardor someone else. Nothing is more destructive than racing a long run.

Looking at Chart 1,it may seem that the progression is difficult, but if youkeep your pace close to that suggested in Chart 2, which is 10:09 per mile(plus or minus 5 to 15 seconds) for our 48-minute 10-K runner, you should beable to manage the long run.

You also may think that the suggested time range for the long run is too slow.Similar to the easy run pace, resist the temptation to go faster. The mainvalue of the long run in the marathon training program is to train your body tobe more efficient at burning fat and sparing glycogen stores. If you can teachyour body to burn fat, rather than depleting glycogen to produce energy, you'reless likely to run out of fuel and hit the wall come marathon day. But thefaster you go on your long runs, the less likely it is that your body willlearn how to burn fat efficiently and the more likely it is that you will hitthe wall in the marathon.

While it seems logical that the faster you are able to go on your long runstranslates to a faster marathon, it's not true. Trust me on this. The importantfactor isn't the absolute speed of the run but the relative effort. The effortrequired to run 6:40 pace for a 32-minute 10-K runner should be similar to theeffort required to run 10-minute pace for a 48-minute 10-K runner. The effortis fast enough to be challenging, but it's not too tough. Finally, by stayingwithin the suggested pace for your long run, it will allow adequate recoveryfor the strength and speed sessions on Tuesdays.

Also notice that for most of the runs, I've included a time adjustment that canbe found on Chart 3(below). Our 48-minute runner, for example, can add 30minutes to the time of the long run on the chart, which in Week 2 would yield a2:45 long run. (After Week 10, you should not adjust the long runs, as you willbe beginning a long taper into the marathon.)

You may wonder why 10-K runners with times faster than 40 minutes have a zeroadjust factor, and those slower than 44 have a 30-minute adjust factor to theirlong run. The adjustment is based on what I believe the maximum long run shouldbe. Faster runners, likely to run a sub-3-hour marathon, should not run anylonger than 3 hours. Slower runners need to train to be on their feet longer,up to 3½ hours, but no longer, to avoid injury.

One other important consideration is to make sure water is available at leastevery 15 to 30 minutes. Plan your long run carefully so it passes waterfountains. Or carry a water bottle with you. If you don't want to lug a bottle,stash some water along your loop the day before the long run so you can keephydrated. Even if it's cool, drink as frequently as possible. You'll need todrink at every aid station in your marathon to maximize your performance, sopractice this in training.


The races that are scheduled for every third week of the program are almost asimportant as the long runs. It's been my experience that if I didn't race oftenenough before a marathon, I wouldn't feel "race fit" when I needed to. I wasfit enough, but the shock of racing left me with dead legs way too early in themarathon. I knew this could be a problem going into the '80 Olympic Trials, soas part of my preparation I raced every week for 18 weeks.

Even though I had a race scheduled for the weekend, I still did my long runsevery Thursday. Some of my races were good, but others reflected that I wasstill tired just a couple of days after a 2½-hour run. But my goal was the raceat the end of the plan--the Olympic Trials--not these "training" races. It musthave worked because at the Marathon Trials , I ran a PR by 3 minutes to finishsecond and make the Olympic team.

That's why I believe that if you have to choose only two workouts to do otherthan easy runs, do a weekly long run and race often. Try not to become tooconcerned about your times at these races because you'll be fatigued from thehard training. The schedule is flexible. It doesn't have to be exactly athree-week cycle; you can swap a weekend race with a long run and be fine. Butdon't drop the long runs entirely in favor of racing because they're moreimportant in the overall plan. If you have time during the week to do your longrun, consider swapping Thursdays' workouts with Sundays' to get in a long runeven when you have a race planned.

Tempo Runs

Thursday runs are tempo runs sandwiched between a warmup and warmdown. Look atthe workout for Thursday in Week 1. The 20 wup/wdn; 2 (8t/2e) looks like acomplicated algebraic formula, but it's simple. First, warm up at an easy pacefor 20 minutes (20 wup). Then, run for 8 minutes at a fast pace (8t)--theactual tempo run. The speed should be approximately the pace you could maintainfor an hour. (Chart 2puts this range as 7:50 to 8:07 for our 48-minute 10-Krunner.) This should be a fast effort but not exhausting. If it's too fast,back off. Follow the 8 minutes of fast running with 2 minutes at an easy pace,and then do another 8 minutes of tempo running. Finish the workout with a20-minute warmdown (20 wdn).

If this is still unclear, look at the next week. For our 48-minute runner, the20 wup/wdn; 3(5t/1e) means:

*warm up for 20 minutes at 10:02 to 11:11 pace per mile
*run 5 minutes at 7:50 to 8:07 pace per mile
*run 1 minute at 10:02 to 11:11 pace per mile
*run 5 minutes at 7:50 to 8:07 pace per mile
*run 1 minute at 10:02 to 11:11 pace per mile
*run 5 minutes at 7:50 to 8:07 pace per mile
*warm down 20 minutes at 10:02 to 11:11 pace per mile

Some runners like to run the tempo workouts continuously; a single 15-minuterun, rather than three separate 5-minute runs. Do whatever feels comfortable.If you feel any inclination to do this workout on the track in the form of milerepeats, forget it. Mile repeats are often done too hard on the track to beuseful for marathon training. By doing timed runs of 5 to 15 minutes on theroad, you train on the surface on which you'll be racing and avoid the constantfeedback you get on the track that might entice you to run too fast. Thepurpose of tempo work is to improve running efficiency for the marathon, notset a mile PR.

Hill Work

The schedule on Tuesdays calls for hill workouts, which are designed to buildmuscular and cardiovascular strength in preparation for the faster trainingyou'll do later on the track. This phase of hill runs lasts for six weeks.Ideally, the hill you choose for this workout should have about a 4 to 6percent grade and take about 90 seconds to run. It's a good idea to find a hillthat takes a bit longer than 90 seconds to run at first, since you'll getfaster as you gain fitness.

For the first workout, warm up 20 minutes (20 wup/wdn) and then run uphill for90 seconds at about the same effort as your tempo run pace. You should bebreathless by the time you hit 90 seconds. When you've run for 90 seconds,notice where you are and jog back to where you started. Turn around and repeatthe uphill run five times. If you started out at a reasonable effort, youshould be able to get to the same spot or farther in 90 seconds on all sixuphill runs. If you can't, start slower the next time you run hills. Follow thehill runs with a 20-minute warmdown (20 wup/wdn). Later in the schedule, thewarm-up and warm-down times increase slightly.

If you live in a flat area of the country, don't despair. Improvise by runningup a bridge, up a ramp to a multistory parking lot or on sand--any surface thattakes extra effort and leaves you a little breathless after about 90 seconds.You can also run on a treadmill that has an adjustable incline feature. KimJones does nearly all of her hill workouts on her treadmill to eliminate thestress of running downhills.

Track Work or Repeats

After six weeks of hill work, you're ready to move to the track. The workoutsare all 800-meter runs (two laps around a track) with 400-meter recovery jogs(one lap around a track). Check Chart 2for the times to shoot for. Our48-minute runner should aim for 3:34 to 3:54 for the 800s. The 400 recoveryjogs should be run at, or slower than, the easy run pace. The warm-up andwarm-down times are 25 minutes at first, increasing to 28 minutes by the end ofthe program.

Consistent times are what to shoot for, rather than starting hard and finishingslow. If you can run all of your 800s within 5 seconds of each other, it's amuch better workout than if you ran two 800s fast, but then have to slow downfor the final ones.

If you don't have access to a track or if you simply prefer the roads, run for3 minutes on the road at the 800-meter pace followed by a 2-minute recovery. Dothe same number of 3-minute runs as the schedule calls for in 800-meter runs.For example, Week 8 calls for seven 800-meter runs, so instead do seven3-minute runs.

If your training is going according to plan, you'll be racing faster as youwork through the program. If you are a 48-minute 10-K runner and you improveyour race times 30 to 40 seconds later in your training schedule, adjust yourpaces a bit. It takes a little math if you want to be precise in how much tomove up in speed since 47:30 isn't on Chart 2. But it isn't necessary to bethat exact. There is some overlap between the low range of one performancelevel and the high range of the next. If your training has gone well, yourperceived effort for a given pace should become easier. Focus on effort leveland move through the range of times for your recent racing efforts.

Marathon Week

Finally, the marathon is within sight. It's the last full week of training, andthis one is different from all the preceding weeks. Your final serious hardtraining run should have ended with the tempo run the week before. From thispoint on, all runs should be done at an easy pace, including Sunday's 2-hourrun and Wednesday's 1½-hour run.

I know what you're thinking: Do a 1½-hour run just a few days before themarathon? Exactly. But remember--this run is supposed to be extremely easy.It's not a run that has any important training purpose other than to depleteslightly your glycogen stores--the carbohydrates stored in your muscles thatserve as the primary fuel for distance running. This is helpful because if youcan deplete your supply of glycogen, you can pack in more energy than normalwhen you begin loading with carbohydrates immediately after the run. The moreenergy (in the form of carbohydrates) you can store, the easier it will be torun the marathon. After the 1½-hour run, rest as much as you can during theremaining days before the marathon--and have fun. You've earned it.

Drink as much as possible, especially when you start eating a high-carbohydratediet. For every gram of carbohydrate your body stores, you need 2 grams ofwater. Expect to feel a little bloated as your body stores these extracarbohydrates and fluids.

During this last week, it will be difficult not to think about the marathon.But try to get as much sleep as you can. The night before the race you may havetrouble sleeping, but you'll be fine if you have slept well the rest of theweek.

Race Day

Assuming your marathon starts at mid-morning or earlier, eat very little ifanything. If you drink coffee, drink less than normal. Some can help get yourbowels moving, but too much can give you a sour stomach. Don't drink acidicfruit juices or milk. Even if it's a cold day, drink at least one quart ofwater in the last hour or 2 before the race.

Don't bother with a warm-up run. A few strides and stretching should be enough.If you're too warm, you'll start too fast.

I have purposely not included a pace chart with times you should aim forbecause I feel you should listen to your body rather than watch your splits.Marathon courses are seldom uniform so that the same effort from one marathonto the next often won't produce the same splits. Additionally, even the bestraces may have a mile marker in the wrong place, which will throw off yoursplits. The effort to maintain splits often isn't worth it because you can getinto a yo-yo mode of speeding up and slowing down trying to hit a preordainedset of splits.

Instead, try for an effort level that is easier than the Thursday tempo runs.For at least the first 10 miles, try to maintain an effort that approximatesthe sense of being out for a fast long run without working or breathing hard.Notice your pace, but don't worry about hitting target splits exactly. Makecertain you drink frequently.

The second 10 miles is transitional. Pay more attention to where you are in therace. Look for runners to catch; after all, this is a race. Between 15 and 18miles, expect a few tough patches. Remind yourself that these will pass.

At 20 miles, shift your focus to racing; this is where you need to concentrate.But don't go nuts; the last 10 kilometers can seem never-ending if you push toohard. In this final part of the race, it may feel like you're exerting a lotmore effort, but you're probably just maintaining the pace you had been runningearlier. Whether you maintain or actually begin to run faster, thinkpositively. Even if you are behind the pace you had hoped to run, you'll feelbetter about your race by finishing strongly rather than struggling to thefinish line.


Whatever the outcome, remember that each marathon teaches you something you canuse the next time. If you reach your goals, set new goals and focus on whatwent right.

If you missed the mark, look for where you went off track. It took me a fewattempts before I ran a marathon that reflected my talent. Most runners need afew marathons before they run up to their ability.

The week after the race, whether you reached your goal or not, take at leastfour days off completely. Marathons deplete the body's energy stores, and oftenthere is muscle tissue damage, particularly from hilly courses. Allowingyourself total rest from training, combined with eating plenty ofcarbohydrates, helps the body rebuild.

When you start running again, ease into it with gentle 30- to 40-minute runs.If you still have mild aches, ice and aspirin can help. For severe soreness,rest until it passes. Patience now will be invaluable later as you begin totrain again. Impatience can result in a long-term nagging problem.

As you go through the program, remember to enjoy your running. If it seems toomuch like work, you're probably trying too hard.

Benji Durden, a frequent RW contributor, was a 4:16 miler at the Universityof Georgia and went on to make the 1980 Olympic Marathon team. Based inBoulder, Colorado, Durden is a masters runner and coach.

Chart 1: Basic 15-Week Marathon Training Program

Chart 1: Basic 15-Week Marathon Training Program
WeekSunday (Long*)Monday (Easy)Tuesday (Hills/Track)Wednesday (Easy)Thursday (Tempo**)Friday (Easy)Saturday (Easy)
1 2:00 plus adjustment 30-40 20 wup/wdn; 6 hills 30-40 20 wup/wdn; 2(8t/2e) 30-40 30-40
2 2:15 plus adjustment 30-40 20 wup/wdn; 7 hills 30-40 20 wup/wdn; 3(5t/1e) 30-40 30-40
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
4 2:20 plus adjustment 30-40 22 wup/wdn; 7 hills 30-40 22 wup/wdn; 3(6t/2e) 30-40 30-40
5 2:40 plus adjustment 30-40 22 wup/wdn; 8 hills 30-40 22 wup/wdn; 4(5t/1e) 30-40 30-40
6 10-K to 15-K 30-40 22 wup/wdn; 9 hills 30-40 22 wup/wdn; 2(12t/3e) 30-40 30-40
7 2:50 plus adjustment 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 6x800 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 3(8t/2e) 30-40 30-40
8 3:00 plus adjustment 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 7x800 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 4(5t/1e) 30-40 30-40
9 8-K to 10-K race 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 8x800 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 3(9t/2e) 30-40 30-40
10 2:45 plus adjustment 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 7x800 30-40 25 wup/wdn; 3(5t/1e) 30-40 30-40
11 15-K to half-marathon 30-40 28 wup/wdn; 8x800 30-40 28 wup/wdn; 2(15t/4e) 30-40 30-40
12 3:00 30-40 28 wup/wdn; 9x800 30-40 28 wup/wdn; 4(7t/2e) 30-40 30-40
13 2:30 30-40 28 wup/wdn; 8x800 30-40 28 wup/wdn; 3(9t/2e) 30-40 30-40
14 2:00 30-40 45 1:30 30-40 30-40 25
15 Marathon Rest Rest 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 above for a complete explanation of tempo-run workouts.

Chart 2: Workout Paces Based on a Recent 10-K

Chart 2: Workout Paces Based on a Recent 10-K
10-K TimeEasy RunLong RunTempo 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

Chart 3: Long Run Adjustments

Chart 3: Long Run Adjustments
10-K time Adjustment
-40:00 none
40:00 5:00
41:00 10:00
42:00 15:00
43:00 20:00
44:00 25:00
+44:00 30:00

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