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How to find the right marathon training plan for beginner, intermediate, and competitive runners

Picking the right marathon training plan can be daunting. There are just so many options — how do you know which one is right for you? As with any practice, the more familiar you become with marathon running, the better able you will be to tweak your training plan.

That said, here are some tips you can follow:

First-time marathoners

Tip 1: Forgo time goals
I wish I had taken this advice — do not set time goals for your first marathon. Run the race for what it is, a first experience. Get the job done and finish. That is a tough enough goal without feeling the pressure of the time on the clock.

Tip 2: Train by the clock
Plan your runs based on time not distance. Find a plan that says run 30 minutes today, run 60 minutes tomorrow, etc. This helps you increase time spent running rather than fixating on miles per week.

Tip 3: Be realistic
Pick a plan that is manageable. Make sure you choose a plan that has you running days per week that you can actually commit to. As a beginner, it is not crucial for you to run 5 to 7 days per week. You can complete a marathon with four days of running per week.

Intermediate

Tip 1: Add speed
Ok, so you’ve done this marathon thing. Now, it’s time to make improvements. You need to add speed workouts. Learning how to push yourself on the track is what separates those who have done the work in the last miles of the race. Join a local running club to learn pacing and technique on the track.

Tip 2: Tempo it up
Tempo workouts at marathon pace are important. You cannot expect to wake up on marathon day knowing how to run your pace if you haven’t trained at that pace. Run at least one tempo workout per week for maximum benefit. Finish off easy runs at your marathon pace.

Tip 3: Add mileage
Increase your volume of miles per week. Do this slowly and by no more than 10 percent. It takes some awareness of your body to know the right mileage for you. It also takes some time to determine how many miles per week is your peak.

Competitive

Tip 1: Find a pro
If you’re approaching elite marathoning status, you may want to hire a coach or find a club that has trained coaches to help you meet your goal.

Tip 2: Run, a lot …
Run, run, and run some more. More miles help maximize your performance, but this type of training plan really needs to be monitored by a trained professional to prevent injuries.

Tip 3: … but don’t forget the basics
Competition is great but never forget the joy of running. At least every two weeks, build a run into your plan that is just for fun, no set pace, no special terrain to cover. Just enjoy it. This will help you to stay in love with running even in the heat of competition.

No matter your ability finding the perfect marathon training plan takes time, patience, and dedication. Runners often follow a cookie cutter plan because they are unaware of how to run based on their own bodies. But with a little time and effort, you’ll find the right training combination for you.

Written by Danielle Bressoud. Danielle is a licensed physical therapist, practicing for 7 years, and running addict living in Massachusetts with her husband and son.

Photo: Creative Commons

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