Spring into a Marathon – Part 1

Spring into a Marathon – Part 1

As the turkey leftovers start to dwindle and the Champagne bubbles fizzle out we find ourselves at a time of year that thousands of runners across the world have been waiting anxiously for – the start of the Spring Marathon training plans.

There are many plans around to choose from, and the choice of which plan to follow is a very personal one, taking many things into consideration, such as base fitness, marathon target (whether you simply want to “get round” or achieve a specific time goal), training intensity, injury susceptibility and more. Hopefully by now you will have settled on a plan, but if you haven’t we will offer some guidance in this post.

One thing all plans have in common is the structure that they take on, building your fitness and preparing your body for the ultimate challenge in set phases. Over the next few months, Fitcetera will be taking you through these phases step-by-step, helping you to understand why each training element is important, and how to adapt your plan if necessary.

Part 1: Choosing a Plan

Ideally, before embarking on a marathon training plan, you should have been running for around a year, already able to run between 3 and 6 miles. You should be training 3 to 5 days a week, averaging around 15 to 25 miles per week. Experience of running a 5k or 10k race would also be beneficial.

However, if you have less of a base running fitness it is still possible to train for a marathon, but you should choose a plan that fits in with your current level of fitness and set your race expectations accordingly.


If you’re fairly new to running, or don’t want the pressure of a time target, you could try the Runner’s World “Get You Round” Beginners’ schedule. This combines a run/walk programme with the relevant increments in duration necessary to build up to the marathon distance. The long run element of the schedule is described as a “ramble”, designed to be a brisk walk, combined with some gentle jogging if you want. This schedule is very low pressure, and does what it says on the tin.


If you have been running regularly for a while (at least 20-30 minutes 4-5 times per week) you could try aiming for a plan that will target completing the marathon in 4 hours 30 minutes or less. The Runner’s World basic Intermediate schedule will cater for just that. This schedule has you running 4-5 times per week, with a target of 10 minutes per mile or less for race day. Your training paces will need to adjusted to fit your ability and targets, with easy runs taking you to around 60% of your heart rate max (if you don’t know your heart rate max, just train at a feeling of 6 out of 10 effort), steady runs being around 70% or 7 out of 10 effort, and fast or interval sessions taking you to around 80% or 8 out of 10.


For those of you wanting to beat 3 hours 30 minutes or less, the Runner’s World basic Advanced schedule takes you to a more intense training level, with 6-7 training sessions per week. You should only take on this level of intensity if you are already used to running several days a week, and can run for at least 90 minutes at a fairly fast pace. To get in under 3:30, you will need to be racing at around 8 minute/mile so marathon pace runs will need to be at this level.

Three Day a Week Schedule

If you’re particularly injury prone, or running 5 or more times per week sounds like too much for your daily life, then the Runner’s World FIRST schedule may be the one for you with only three training sessions a week. However, because of the reduction in training days, it is important that the quality of these runs be of as high a standard as possible, so this schedule requires faster pace running in order to achieve the same benefits of the 5 day a week schedules. It is therefore very important to warm up properly before all runs, or there may be more risk of muscle pulls from going off too quickly. Runners following this schedule are also advised to take two days of cross training, such as cycling, swimming etc. This helps to keep the cardio fitness base and endurance ticking over, and also helps to prevent overuse injuries by training the muscles in different ways.

Specific Time Targets

So there we’ve seen a few examples of fairly generic and basic training schedules, but what if you want a more specific time target? If you’re a subscriber to Runner’s World, that’s where their Ultimate schedule comes in. With time targets covering 15 minute intervals from 3:00 to 4:30, and also an adapted “Get You Round” schedule, these really are great for training very precisely.

Unfortunately the Ultimate plans are only available to Runner’s World subscribers, however, if you have a Garmin watch*, you can download a time-specific Garmin Ready plan directly to your watch (for the tech-savvy only!) or you can use Runner’s World’s SmartCoach to build your own plan, just answer a few questions about your ability and your goals and you will have your very own personalised plan.

* Fitcetera recommends the Garmin Forerunner 405, available from our store.

Alternative Plans

As you may have noticed, all of the training plans we have covered here have been from Runner’s World; this is because we have done a lot of research into Runner’s World plans, and have tried and tested some ourselves. However, they may not be for you, so here are some alternative places to find good marathon training plans:

  • http://www.halhigdon.com/training/51135/Marathon-Training-Guide
  • http://www.lucozade.com/perform/running/training-plans/
  • http://www.walkjogrun.net/training/marathon/training-plans.cfm

You may also have been sent a training plan by your chosen charity if you’ve registered to run with one, or even by the marathon organisers themselves, these can also be perfectly suitable, and are often variations of the plans already shown here.

Remember when choosing your marathon plan, whether from Runner’s World or anywhere else, to look at whether you think it would be suitable for you by checking training frequency, intensity and time targets, as well as the current expectation of fitness.

Coming Up in Part 2…

So that’s Part 1 of Spring into a Marathon. We hope this has helped you find a suitable training plan for your marathon journey, or just become more confident in your existing choice. Look out soon for Part 2 where we’ll cover what you can expect from the first phase of your marathon schedule.

Further Reading:

  • Higdon, H., 2011. Marathon The Ultimate Training Guide. New York, Rodale Inc. Page 25.
  • Runner’s World, 2012. Find a Training Plan [Online] Available at: http://www.runnersworld.co.uk/racing/find-a-training-plan/4521.html [Accessed 28th December 2012]

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