With the right mindset and injury-free approach, you can run from zero to 42K in just 24 weeks

By Kaye Lopez Lukosz | Photo by Issac Wendlanda/Unsplash

There’s no better time like now to finally tick off “run a marathon” from your bucket list. (Easier said than done for someone who’s never ran a day in her life.) If you’ve set this goal for yourself knowing full well that you’re literally starting from the comfort of your couch, running 42 kilometers can seem like an insurmountable task. But as long as you have a clean bill of health, one way to make this daunting distance less intimidating is by breaking it down into more manageable milestones. Instead of going from zero to 42K, try a step-ladder approach, going from zero to 5K, 5K to 10K, 10K to half marathon, and before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to your first full marathon.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you embark on your marathon journey using this approach:

When Can I Start?

This training plan consists of four parts. At the bare minimum, you are ready to start when you can walk and jog (in combination) for 20 minutes. If you’re not a total beginner and have completed any of the shorter race distances before, you may opt to skip the earlier steps, as long as you’ve run the distance recently. But resist the urge to cut corners. The last thing you want is to end up doing too much too soon, which is the fastest way to nothing but a marathon-dream-crushing injury.

How Fast Do I Run?

For beginners, the best way to approach the concept of pacing is by keeping it as simple as possible—easy, moderate and hard. “Easy” means conversational, meaning you can complete full sentences while running without having to catch your breath. “Moderate” means “comfortably hard” or running at a pace wherein you are still in control of your breathing but if you were to run faster, you would already be stepping out of your comfort zone. “Hard” is relative to distance or duration, meaning your hard pace for 30 seconds is going to be faster than your hard pace for three minutes. But regardless of the workout, running “hard” means going almost as fast as you can (90 percent of your maximum effort), ending the session feeling like you could’ve only given it 10 percent more.

What’s My Marathon Pace?

Figuring out your marathon pace is crucial even if your goal is just to finish. Starting out too fast and slowing down significantly towards the end is not fun and oftentimes quite a painful experience. Although this kind of deceleration is common among recreational runners, you don’t have to be part of that statistic. The best way to avoid “hitting the wall” or at least minimize its damaging effects is by knowing what pace you can sustain for the marathon distance. Here’s how:

Run a half marathon and calculate your predicted marathon distance finish time using an online training calculator. From there, you can use your predicted marathon time to calculate your predicted marathon pace. Note that these online calculators tend to overestimate race times, often predicting times that are too fast, especially for beginners. Best to just refer to it as a starting point.

Use your long runs to determine what pace you can sustain without slowing down and adjust accordingly. If you slowed down at the end, start a bit slower on your next one. As your long runs get longer, the pace at which you run them will be more predictive of your actual marathon pace.

At the end of week five of the Half Marathon to Marathon Plan, you are scheduled to do a marathon simulator run. It will be 16K less than a marathon but it’s long enough to practice your estimated marathon pace based on the online calculator results and your performance during your long runs. Use this run to test your current goal marathon pace, evaluate your test run results after and adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that although you will have to run 16K more on race day, you will also be three weeks fitter and better rested when you run the full marathon.

So without further ado, here is your four-part Zero-to-Marathon Training Plan. Hopefully, not only will it be easy to follow but also motivating enough to keep you consistent with training and committed to your goal of finishing your first marathon. Good luck!

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