Training

When Is It Too Late To Start Training For A Marathon?

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By Ann Alyanak
Run S.M.A.R.T. Project 


Spring marathon season is right around the corner! Many runners are in the middle of their training but there are always those who wait until the last minute to get started. For those wondering if there is still enough time to properly prepare, the answer depends on a few things:  your running experience, current fitness, and goals. Addressing each of these should help you determine whether it’s smart to start marathon training this late in the game …

1)  How much running experience do you have?
Are you a beginner runner or have you been running for years? If you are a beginner and have yet to begin serious training, you should not plan on running a marathon this spring. Someone who is just getting into running should take their time training for a marathon. For a beginner and first time marathoner it takes 20-24 weeks to prepare properly in order to minimize risk of injuries and increase your chances for a successful experience. If you have been running for years and have run previous marathons you could safely add some long runs and marathon-specific workouts and be ready in about 8 weeks. You may not run your best time but you should be able to complete the race and stay healthy. If you fall somewhere in between, meaning you’ve run a marathon but aren’t in great shape starting the build-up, I recommend being more cautious and taking 12-16 weeks to prepare safely.

2)  What is your current fitness level?
Be honest with yourself. Have you been training pretty hard this winter? Have you run some 5k or 10k races? If this is the case you should be able to take your current fitness level and add some longer runs and workouts and be ready to run a marathon in 8-10 weeks. If you have only been running a few times a week and are not in very good shape, you should not try to ramp up training too fast. Always give yourself a solid four weeks before you introduce another big bump in training. I recommend giving yourself at least 16 weeks to prepare and that is only if you have previous running experience.

3)  What is your goal for the marathon?
Are you training to finish the race or do you want to set a new personal best? Depending on which of these you want to accomplish it will most likely take different amounts of training. If you’ve run marathons in the past and are in decent shape, you could train for 6-8 weeks and go finish the race.  If you want to try and run your fastest time and are starting out in good shape, you should be able to do this in 12-16 weeks. I would stick to the shorter time frame if you have already logged at least 20-30 miles per week for several weeks and the longer time frame if this is one of your first marathons and you do not have as much of a base. If you are a beginner though and your goal is just to finish you still want to take 20-24 weeks to properly prepare for the reasons I’ve outlined above.

If you are still thinking about running a marathon this spring season ask yourself the above questions and see how many weeks of preparation are necessary to be ready to toe the line. Don’t worry if you need more time, there are great marathons all year ’round, so pick one in the summer or fall and start training!

Ann Alyanak is a private coach for The Run SMART Project. She was 7th overall at the 2008 Olympic Trials where she ran her PR of 2:34.

Run Smart Project
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Run Smart Project

The Run SMART Project provides private coaching and customized training plans to runners of all levels. Launched in 2005, Run SMART now has 12 coaches from world-class running backgrounds, working with thousands of clients worldwide.

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