Understanding Marathon Training Basics – From Couch to 26.2 Miles

Understanding Marathon Training Basics – From Couch to 26.2 Miles

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Jerome Clavel

For many individuals, the concept of a marathon is the ultimate personal achievement. Completing a marathon is a massive undertaking and provides individuals with the opportunity to test both their mental and physical limits. For those who have never run more than a mile, let alone finished a marathon, this task can seem not only overwhelming but impossible.

As an experienced athlete and distance runner, Jerome Clavel has often been asked the best training practices for amateur runners looking to get into marathon racing. While it may be a long and difficult road, Jerome Clavel stresses that anyone can complete a marathon if they properly prepare and commit to their training regiment. For those looking to complete their first marathon, Jerome Clavel has the following marathon training advice.

How Long Does it Take To Train for A Marathon

The answer to this question greatly depends on the experience level of the athlete. Those who are experienced joggers or who frequently go to the gym will likely need anywhere between 16 to 20 weeks to properly prepare for a marathon. However, individuals who cannot complete a mile without stopping or those who have not gone to the gym in over a year will need a great deal more time to prepare for a marathon as they will need to focus on endurance training and building muscle. Someone who has never jogged before or who cannot complete a mile without stopping will likely need anywhere between 6 months to a year of daily training to successfully complete a marathon.

Be Aware of the Risks

Running 26.2 consecutive miles is no small feat. Those training for a marathon will need to practice running long distances to properly prepare, which will run a greater risk of injury than simple 3 mile jogs through the neighborhood. Oftentimes, amateur runners will take themselves out of the race before it begins by injuring themselves during training. One of the most common ways marathon trainers injure themselves is by increasing their weekly mileage too fast.

One of the best ways to avoid injury is by consulting a physician before starting a training program. Understanding proper training progression of increasing distance by 10% each week, and, if possible, running at least 20-30 miles a week regularly before beginning marathon training.

The Four Corners of Marathon Training


Jerome ClavelThere are four basic concepts every racer must know regarding marathon training, long run, speed work, base mileage, and recovery.

  • Long Run: Long runs help the body adjust to great distances during marathon training.
  • Speed Work: Help racers improve cardio capacity through tempo runs and interval training.
  • Base Mileage: Gradually increasing weekly mileage over time through 3-5 running sessions per week.
  • Recovery: A critical and often overlooked aspect of marathon training. Recovery days help prevent injury and build muscle.

Base Mileage

As stated earlier, when it comes to preventing injury, slowly increasing base mileage is a necessity. Most marathon trainers begin their training at a weekly mileage of 50 miles with three to five runs per week as a starting point. However, those without any prior running experience may need to start at a lower base mileage and work their way up. When creating a training schedule, Jerome Clavel recommends racers make sure their training schedule ends at least 55 miles base mileage per week and that when building to this point, their weekly mileage is never increased by more than 10 percent week to week.

The Long Run

When most people think of training for a marathon, they think that racers should be completing 26-mile runs for weeks before race day. Truthfully, most racers never complete a 26 mile run before race day and only max out their long runs at 20 miles, as it greatly increases the risk of injury. Instead, racers will practice weekly long runs, improving the body’s endurance in a safe and slow method that allows racers to run longer distances gradually.

Most marathon trainers recommend long runs only taking place once every 7 to 10 days and increasing the distance of a long run by a mile or two each week. Additionally, it is also recommended that racers scale back their long-run mileage by a few miles every three weeks to prevent over-exerting the body. For example, if a racer has run 14 miles one weekend and 15 miles the next, they may scale their run back to 12 or 11 miles on the third weekend.

Speed Work

Those who are looking to simply complete a marathon can skip this section; however, for those who are looking to place in their marathon – read on. When properly utilized in a training program, speed work can help improve racers’ overall speed, burst capability, and tempo. Speedwork comprises of two training practices, interval and tempo runs. Intervals consist of a set of short-distance runs at a fast pace, with short recovery jogs in between sets. Typically, intervals are four 1 mile run repeats at a 6-7 min mile pace, with 5 minutes of slow jogging in between sets. Tempo runs are longer than intervals and will generally include 4-10 mile runs at a sustainable pace.

Rest and Recovery

Rest days are perhaps one of the most important aspects of marathon training and should be utilized weekly in marathon training schedules. Rest days are critical as they help muscles to recover and prevent future injuries. Many amateur marathon runners ignore rest days in favor of a long run and may feel as though rest days are counterintuitive for meeting their running goals. However, while rest days mean no running, they do not mean racers cannot walk, hike, swim, or go for a bike ride. The goal is to avoid any high-impact sport to give your body time to rest and your joints to heal.

Roughly three weeks before a race, racers are encouraged to scale back their running and incorporate more rest days into their weekly schedule. This practice is called tapering and helps prevent racer burnout and keeps racers fresh and ready for race day.