by Matt Dravitzki

A marathon is a tough event that requires a fair amount of hard training and commitment both in terms of preparation and on race day. But it remains the ultimate challenge for many distance runners. Emil Zatopek once said that “If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon”. Sarah Christie once said that “running a marathon was like child birth without the pain relief!”

Firstly I would recommend about two years of general running – harriers, a few half marathons etc, before you take on the challenge of the marathon.

Secondly, if you’re going to go through that much pain you may as well do a decent job of it. For most completing a marathon will be a great achievement. But getting the best out of yourself will also give you a huge amount of personal satisfaction.

So how does one prepare for a decent marathon?

There are two key requirements for a marathon. Firstly completing the 26.2 miles and secondly doing so as quickly as possible.

For the sake of this discussion I am going to use Freddy Trueman or First Timer (FT). FT has done a few half’s in the 1.35 – 1.40 range and would like to run a decent marathon in around 3.30 to 3.40. FT has run six days a week and up to two hours in training for his halfs.

It takes around four months to train for a decent marathon. FT should follow the following programme (next page) in his build-up.

As background I believe that there are two keys to a good marathon programme (it took me about 10 years to learn these!).

  • The first is learning to do things at the right level. This means running your long runs comfortably and your “quality” days at around 80 percent effort and not hard out. There is nothing wrong with a couple of races or time trials in the last four to six weeks. Just substitute for the quality day below and have a few easy days before and afterwards to recover. Short races like 5-10k are better than longer races i.e. a half which takes a lot out of you and therefore requires more time to recover.
  • The second is that a lot of people think a good preparation for a marathon involves hard long runs done at close to full pace. This is rubbish. Long runs are just “time on the feet”. They don’t need to be fast.


  • In the last 2-3 weeks FT should taper his training.
  • FT should do his last long run 3 weeks out, 2 hours 2 weeks out and 1.30ish, but real easy a week out.
  • FT should drop his volume to 80 percent of his highest volume week in the third to last week, 60-70 percent in the second to last week and 50 percent in the final week.
  • FT should do his last hard session on the Tuesday of the second to last week (11-12 days out) and 3-4k at race pace 4-5 days out from the marathon. The last 3-4 days should be really easy.

Training for a marathon is only 50 percent of the preparation. There are lots of factors like diet, rest, hydration, sleep, stretching etc. etc, that also are important. Hopefully we will look at these in a later issue.

I am happy to discuss marathon training with anyone who has any queries or wants a hand with their training. All the best.

The Programme

Saturday (Steady Run)60-70 mins steady running (like a club run) or race later in programme. (Do an easier long run 1.30-1.40 if you race Sat).
Sunday (Long Run)Start with 2 hours, and then build up to 2.15 the next week. Have an easier week every third week (i.e. 1.30-1.40) then back to where you were i.e. 2.15 and 2.30 the next week, drop back to 1.30-1.40 etc. Once FT can run for 2.30-2.45 relatively comfortably he should just do 2.30 one week, 3.00 the next and then an easier 1.30-1.40. There is no benefit in going over 3.00 and even then he should do 2-3 of these at the most. FT’s goal marathon pace is about 5 minute k’s. He should do his long runs at about 6 minute k pace (i.e. around 20% slower).
Monday, Wednesday & Friday (Easy Run/ non Running Day)Easy running days of 50-60 mins with one non-running day.
Tuesday70 mins in total. Alternate between a 25-30 minute tempo at about half marathon race pace (4.30k’s ish one week) with 8 x 3 minute efforts the other with 2 minute jog recoveries. FT should start the 3 minute efforts at about 4.30k pace and pick these up gradually to 4.10-20ish pace as the weeks go by as he gets fitter.
ThursdayFT should build up to doing 1.40 of steady running over hills. Shorter hills like 60-90 seconds are much more beneficial than long grinds of 5-10 mins +.