Fall marathon training has officially kicked off for the hundreds of thousands of us signed up to lace up for New York City on November 2, Chicago on October 12, Portland on October 5, or one of the other countless races slated for autumn. (And if you're not running a marathon this fall, you probably know someone who is, or have a Facebook friend who incessantly posts about her insatiable appetite and black toenails.)
Personally, I'll be taking on 26.2 in Chicago this year, my third marathon (and three out of the six World Marathon Majors to be checked off my list!). But just because I've done this before doesn't mean I know what I'm doing! In fact, I feel like I have more questions this time around than ever before. Maybe it's because now I'm going in with a couple of new goals: to run Chicago in four hours or less (current PR: 4:23) and to run all the World Marathon Majors by 2020.
Many of my questions are the same ones you may have, whether you're also training for a marathon, want to train for one (Do it! Do it!), or are considering signing up for a 10-K, half marathon, or race of any other distance. So, as questions pop up along my training journey this summer, I'm writing 'em all down, and contacting experts to get the answers. Then, I'll share their responses and key tips with you on WomensHealthMag.com. Let me know if you find the answers helpful in your training—and if you have your own marathon training questions, please tweet them to me or write them in the comments below. First up...
The question: How much time do I need to properly train for a marathon?
The expert: Jenny Hadfield, running coach and co-author of Running for Mortals and Marathoning for Mortals
The answer: "Ultimately, it starts with what fitness level you're at going into your training," says Hadfield.
For those who aren't regular marathoners but aren't coming from the couch either (as in, you run three to four days per week, including one "long" run of at least six miles), Hadfield says the sweet spot is a 20-week training plan. "When I first started training runners, the only programs available were 16 weeks long because they were built for lifelong, diehard runners—that were primarily men," she says. "Now, everyday mortals arerunning marathons and they need time to adapt, recover, and squeeze all that into a busy lifestyle—a 20-week plan allows you to start from the reality of where most people are starting from, and then build up to 26.2 safely."
So, what if, like me, you missed the boat? (To get 20 weeks in there, I should have started training on May 26—oops.) "Don't just jump into week four of a 20-week plan," says Hadfield. Running a 25-mile week this week, even though last week you ran 15, is a good way to set yourself up for injury. Instead, scale the runs in your 20-week plan down to your current level and catch up slowly, week by week, by tacking on a little extra mileage at a time to each run. A good rule of thumb: Don't add more than 10 percent of the mileage you ran the week before. So if you ran 20 miles last week, you can run 22 this week. Or, try run/walking the mileage that your plan suggests, making sure not to run more than whatever mileage you're starting from.
For those of you new to running: If you're relatively fit and active, but just not a runner (yet!), Hadfield suggests you plan to start pre-training six months before your marathon. "It takes time for your body to adapt to being on its feet in a running mode," says Hadfield. "Your risk for injury is higher (if you're a newbie)." You know those people who run one marathon and swear they'll never do it again? Those are the people who didn't allow enough time for training—or didn't train properly, says Hadfield. "There's so much joy in the process of training if you allow for that process to happen the right way."