Table of Contents
How to Train for a Marathon: A Comprehensive Guide
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Whether you want to run your first marathon, qualify for Boston or hit a new PR, you’ll want to optimize your training as best you can.
There is a lot of content on the internet to help with this. Some of it is useful, some of it is not. We’ve focused on the most important topics to provide you with a practical training guide. One that marathon runners of all levels can use to help crush their goals on race day.
The authors of this guide include:
Coach of 100+ Boston Marathon Qualifiers
US Half Marathon National Champion
2:27 Marathoner, 3rd American at Boston
Coach of 100+ NCAA All-Americans
4x Olympic Trials Qualifier
Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier
NCAA Division I Distance Coach
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Finding Your Optimal Weekly Mileage
Authored by Coach Michelle Chewens
Trying to find the ideal mileage can be tricky and sometimes a long process of trial and error. Some people handle volume better than others. Training should be tailored to the athlete.
However, if you want to be able to tackle the marathon – you shouldn’t have a “least amount as possible” mindset. This often leads to injury or leaves you unprepared on the starting line.
Generally speaking, I recommend at least 35-50 miles per week for most marathoners. For more experienced and elite runners, this can exceed 50 miles and sometimes up to 100+ miles, respectively.
If you feel like your body (or schedule) only allows for 30-40 miles per week, focus on hitting that mileage in 4-5 days per week. This will allow you to have higher volume on the days that you are running.
If you are averaging 35 miles and run 7 days per week, then you are only averaging 5 miles per day. It would be a stretch to expect your body to be able to handle 26.2 miles on race day.
There are a few ways to supplement your running if your body cannot handle a lot miles. For example, biking or using the elliptical for 30-50 minutes immediately before a shorter run (4-6 miles). This can replicate the effort of a 7-10 mile run without the extra pounding on your legs. Swimming is also a great supplement for both volume and recovery. I would recommend an extra 2-4 hours of cross training during a marathon cycle if you’re not able to average over 40 miles per week.
Building Mileage: 10 Week Example
Authored by Coach Michelle Chewens
When beginning to run, either after coming back to training from a break or after an injury, I like to take the average mileage volume of the last 5 weeks and start to build from there. After that , the general rule of thumb is to not increase mileage by over 20% each successive week until you reach your target maximum.
Below is a sample of 10 consecutive weeks where the runner’s target maximum miles per week is 55 and then they begin a “taper” to peak for their race at Week 3. After a week of full recovery (week 4) and then some light jogging in week 5, week 6-10 show the math for how I would calculate a target maximum each week as the runner builds back up to 55 miles per week.
- Week 1: 55 miles
- Week 2: 50 miles
- Week 3 (peak race): 45 miles
- Week 4 (start of break): 0 miles
- Week 5 (second week of break): 9 miles
- Week 6 (first week back): 32 miles (avg. of 55 + 50 + 45 + 0 + 10)
- Week 7 (increase by 20%): 38 miles (32 + 20%)
- Week 8 (increase by 20%): 46 miles (38 + 20%)
- Week 9 (increase by 20%): 55 miles (46 + 20%)
- Week 10 (reached maximum target): 55 miles
However, with more experienced runners, I have found that most don’t have a problem with making larger jumps in mileage, up to 40%.
Authored by Coach Brad Hudson
In order to prevent injury, I’m a big believer of change and variation within any marathon training plan. It’s important to mix things up in terms of the duration of runs, intensities, running surfaces, shoes you train in and most importantly, weekly mileage.
Once you’ve identified your maximum weekly mileage throughout training, I believe in taking a down week every 4th week which should be roughly 20% of your maximum weekly mileage.
For example, if your maximum weekly mileage is 50 miles per week, an 8-week block of training would look something like: 50, 50, 50, 40, 50, 50, 50 ,40.
I’m also a proponent of tracking how you feel after each day’s run which allows you to adjust when necessary. Throughout a training schedule, I like to have my athletes mark each day on a scale of 1-7, with 1 feeling terrible and 7 feeling great.
By tracking this day by day, you’re able to look for trends which can help you identify when you may be getting stale or fatigued in training. When this happens, it is important to take extra time for recovery, cross-training, or try mixing something up to add more variation within your training schedule.
Types of Workouts
Authored by Coach Mark Hadley.
The various types of workouts (Speed, Stamina, Endurance) are the building blocks to any marathon training program. In this section, I will outline a summary of each and in the following section (Phases of Marathon Training) will cover the different phases of training which will allow you to start putting together the pieces to build a daily training program.
To find your individual training paces for each workout type below, use our custom Pace Calculator.
Just because you’re a marathoner, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also work on speed. Speed work allows you to be a more balanced runner. This helps reduce injury, improves your running form and increases your efficiency. Here are some variations of speed workouts to mix into your training:
*Note: Recovery as mentioned below should be an active recovery (brisk walk breaks or easy jogging) in between each interval.
- Duration: Intervals of :30-2:00, totaling 15-20 minutes in all
- Recovery: 100%+ of interval duration (minimum of 1 minute)
- Pace: What you would run in an all-out effort for 6-9 minutes
- Benefit: Improve stride power, running economy and the body’s familiarity with faster paces and effort profiles.
VO2 Max Repeats
- Duration: Intervals of 2:00-5:00 with lots of recovery, totaling 20-28 minutes in all
- Recovery: 75% of interval duration (3 minute max)
- Pace: What you would run in an all-out effort for 12-18 minutes
- Benefit: Improve the amount of oxygen the body can deliver to the muscle cells (used to produce energy) by stressing the maximum of the heart, lungs and circulatory system (your VO2 Max).
- Duration: Intervals of 4:00-8:00, totaling 28-36 minutes in all
- Recovery: 50% of interval duration (3 minute max)
- Pace: What you would run in an all-out effort for 30-40 minutes
- Benefit: Improve the body’s adaptations to running in a higher lactate environment (lactate tolerance and shedding abilities) and running at a high percentage of maximum heart rate for extended periods of time.
- Duration: Intervals of :30-2:00, totaling 12-18 minutes in all
- Recovery: Slow jog down the hill
- Pace: Will vary depending on the incline of the hill, but focus on the effort which would be what you would run all-out for 6-9 minutes.
- Benefit: Improves stride power, running economy and the body’s familiarity at higher intensity efforts.
Stamina workouts are at paces slightly faster than your Marathon pace. These workouts will allow you to feel more comfortable and be more efficient at your marathon pace so that you can go further before “hitting the wall”.
- Pace: What you would run in an all-out effort for 60-70 minutes
- Benefit: Improves lactate threshold and efficiency at dissipating lactate, ability to run at a quick pace for extended periods of time
- Workout Variations:
- Tempo: Continuous 24-30 minutes
- Repeats: 5:00-20:00 intervals with short recovery (20% of interval or 3:00 max), totaling 30-40 minutes in all
- Progression Tempo: Continuous 24-30 minutes with gradually increasing pace
- Wave Tempo: 24-30 minutes while alternating paces between “a little slower” and “a little faster” than lactate threshold pace every 2-5 minutes
- Pace: What you would run in an all-out effort for 2 hours
- Benefit: Improves aerobic threshold and efficiency at using energy sources, ability to run at a quick pace for extended periods of time
- Workout Variations:
- Tempo: Continuous 48-60 minutes
- Repeats: 10-40 minute intervals with short recovery (15% of interval or 3:00 max), totaling 60-80 minutes in all
- Progression Tempo: Continuous 48-60 minutes with gradually increasing pace
- Wave Tempo: 48-60 minutes while alternating paces between “a little slower” and “a little faster” than aerobic threshold pace every 5-10 minutes
Brisk Pace Run/Marathon Pace
- Pace: Roughly your Marathon pace or what you would run in an all-out effort for 3 hours.
- Benefit: Improves the body’s efficiency at using energy sources, hardens the body to longer durations at moderate intensities. Good opportunity to practice longer race fueling.
- Workout Duration: Continuous 60-100 minutes
These are your variations of long-distance runs which will be a main staple in your marathon training plan. Key benefits include improved glycogen storage capacity, improved energy usage efficiency, advanced cardiovascular adaptations, and hardening the body to extended periods of running.
- Moderate Rhythm Long Run: 90-200 minutes, 12-15% slower than Aerobic Threshold pace
- Steady State Long Run: 75-150 minutes, 8-10% slower than Aerobic Threshold pace
- Tempo Long Run: 75-150 minutes total, with Tempo effort in the middle
- Fast Finish Long Run: 75-150 minutes with a faster finish the last 20-40 minutes
Phases of Marathon Training
When designing a training program, we want to find a way to build fitness and then hone that fitness into an ability to run a specific race (or races) at our peak. I have developed what I call the “Hadley Liberty Training Cycle” to best accomplish this mission and have seen it work time and time again with marathoners of all levels.
I use the word liberty in the title because of the cycle design resemblance (see picture above) to the torch on the Statue of Liberty.
A typical Hadley Liberty Training Cycle is between 12 and 24 weeks long, but can be modified as needed to fit other time frames. It is made up of 4 training phases that are designed to bring about an athlete’s best performance for a goal race.
1. Regeneration Phase
The training cycle typically starts with the Regeneration Phase that occurs after the goal race of the previous cycle. The purpose of the Regeneration Phase is to allow the runner to recover mentally and physically from the last training cycle before beginning serious training for the next goal race. After a long training cycle, the body and mind need some time to rest & recharge their batteries in order to be ready for hard training again.
Duration: 1-4 weeks (generally)
The Regeneration Phase is made up of:
- Rest days
- Short easy pace runs
- Light cross-training (if desired).
This phase does not include any stress workouts (e.g., speed, stamina or endurance).
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2. Base Phase
The purpose of the Base Phase is to re-introduce stress workouts into the training and to slowly transition the body back into a base structure of regular training.
Stress workouts during the Base Phase are kept to a moderate difficulty with targets/goals kept broad and soft. Recovery is kept ample and conservative. Following a Regeneration Phase, the body will have regressed slightly in its cardiovascular fitness and adaptations to running, so the Base Phase provides the runner with a period of training to transition back into hard training and build back up their cardio fitness and adaptations. It can be hard both physically and mentally to go from resting immediately into full training mode so the Base Phase provides us with that needed transition.
Duration: 1-4 weeks
A good rule of thumb is that you can figure The Base Phase to last the same length as the Regeneration Phase.
Workout types within the Base Phase include:
- Speed Workouts – but with reduced intensity/pace
- Stamina Workouts – stick to shorter durations and reduced pace goals
- Endurance Workouts – stick to moderate rhythm long run and keep distance moderate
Use a mix of workout in the base phase but just keep them moderate to allow yourself time to ease back into training.
3. Fundamental Phase
The Fundamental Phase is the 3rd and longest phase in our training cycle. The focus of the Fundamental Phase is to balance and improve overall fitness within each of the 3 main categories of running fitness:
As such, the frequency of stress workouts in the Fundamental Phase are balanced with regular workouts from each category.
Duration: 6-12 weeks
Workout Type Mix:
- Speed: 30-35%
- Stamina: 30-35%
- Endurance: 30-35%
Simply rotate which category of stress workout you do, while allowing easy run days in between each of those harder workouts. This is a fun phase many runners really enjoy due to the workout variety that keeps things new and interesting each week.
- Speed: Have fun with it and cycle through each workout type of speed workout. Fast Repeats one time and then Vo2 Max the next time speed comes up in your rotation, then maybe some hills and some some Groove repeats.
- Stamina: While we use a good variety of stamina workout (all are fair game in this phase), we want to focus a little more on the Lactate Threshold workouts (LT Tempo Run, LT Repeats, LT Wave Tempo, LT Progression). A 2:1 ratio between LT workouts and AT or Brisk workouts is a good mix to shoot for.
- Endurance: No need to push it too far on these long runs. Use your weekly long runs to gradually stretch out to longer distances on moderate rhythm long runs and add in a few long run varieties. We will focus much more on Endurance in the final Specific Phase
4. Specific Phase
The Specific Phase is the last phase in our training cycle. It takes the balanced running fitness established in the fundamental phase and builds it to a peak for a specific goal race distance — the marathon in this case.
Duration: 4-8 weeks
The stress workouts in a Specific Phase focus more heavily on the specific demands of the marathon and transitions general running fitness into specific fitness so that your body is ready to handle 26.2 miles on race day.
In a Specific Phase for a marathon race, you’ll do more long tempo runs at or near marathon race pace in order to get familiar and comfortable with it. We’ll begin to add in more quality into long runs to get you used to running at quicker rhythms while simultaneously tired and lower on glycogen.
We also do more runs on courses that resemble our goal race course to prepare the body for its demands.
Workout Type Mix (for Marathon Goal race):
- Speed: 10-20%
- Stamina: 40-45%
- Endurance: 40-45%
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The Marathon Taper
Authored by Coach Lindsay Flanagan
One of the most important components of a successful marathon build up is the taper. Tapering allows athletes to freshen up and fully absorb all of the hard work they have put forth over the past several months.
While the taper should be a relaxing time, many athletes actually struggle during this period. They fear they are losing fitness and are unsure how much they should be cutting back.
I’ve found a two week, gradual reduction in overall volume, with the last, true hard effort being about 10 days out, to yield fantastic race day results.
An Example Taper
If an athlete has been running 60 miles consistently for the majority of the marathon build up:
- The Week Before the Race: Mileage will be reduced by about 25-30% (40-45 miles)
- Race Week: Reduce mileage by 30-40% (with the majority of volume being run on race day).
While overall volume will decrease during this time, I’ve found it is still very important to keep the intensity up. Decreasing both mileage and intensity can lead to feeling a bit ‘flat’ on race day.
This is why I like to keep two quicker (but shorter) sessions in the schedule two weeks out and one quicker tune up session the week of the race.
Sticking to the Taper
In order to avoid the ‘taper crazies’ I also recommend keeping things as consistent as possible during these two weeks. For instance, continue to run at the same time you typically would stick with the same schedule you have been for workouts. Both for easy and long run days.
Don’t forget that the main goal is to feel fresh on race day. Cut out extra activities like weight and strength training about 10 days out.
Consider booking a massage, taking a nap, or hopping in an Epsom salt bath to fill up this time instead. It takes time for the body to adjust to the taper, so fear not if you don’t immediately feel light and springy.
Trust in the process and know that by the time the race rolls around, you will be ready to go!
- Stamina Work – Focus on the Aerobic Threshold and Brisk Pace stamina workout, with maybe a 2:1 or 3:1 ratio of those to Lactate Threshold work.
- Endurance Workouts – Alternate weeks between stretching out the distance of a moderate rhythm long run one week and then the next week running a shorter long run but with some quality in it such as a Fast Finish Long Run or Tempo Long Run. As another option, you could run a half marathon race and run it goal marathon pace while practicing your in-race fueling.
- Speed Workouts – We only do a few speed workouts during a Specific Phase, usually as Groove Repeats or possibly a hill workout in order to keep some speed and “pop” in the legs.
The last 10 days to 2 weeks of the Specific Phase is where we start our tapering, by gradually starting to reduce the length and intensity of our runs to start to rest-up before the race. Coach Lindsay Flanagan will go into more detail about the marathon taper in the next section.
Warming Up & Cooling Down Routines
Authored by Coach T.J. Garlatz
Warmups and cool downs are very important components for workouts and races.
The purpose of the warmup is to prepare the body and mind for your upcoming harder effort. The cool down helps bring the body back to a baseline level, and is the first component in the adaptation and recovery process.
Warmup and cool downs can be very different for different athletes. I’m a big fan of developing a consistent warmup and cool down routine that works well for you specifically.
I always like my athletes to practice the same types of warmups on workout days that they’ll use in their races. This gives them the confidence of knowing they are prepared for doing their best.
First Time Marathoners
For marathons, your warmup will depend very much on your goals and your overall fitness.
For some, you may be running the marathon distance for the first time. Going the 26.2 (42.2K) miles is long enough. Adding extra running before the event could take away from the race itself.
For first time marathon runners, just getting out and doing some walking and active stretching beforehand is great. Ease into things as the marathon starts. Take the first part of the race to warm up and build into the run.
More experienced runners who are trying to run fast from the start, will often benefit from a short 5-15 minute run followed by some light drills and strides.
Experienced runners still benefit from easing themselves into their race, but they have the training background to prevent this extra warmup from taking away from their end of the race performance.
No matter which group you fall in to, use your specific warmup routine consistently during training, especially for your longer training efforts, so there are no surprises on race day!
It’s important that you get them in. You may be crunched for time or tired, but you’ll feel so much better afterwards by not neglecting cooling down.
A good cool down consists of the same things that you have in the warmup:
- Some movement (either walking or jogging) and
- Some range of motion exercises.
For shorter workouts, it’s great if someone can get in 5-15 minutes of easy pace running post workout.
For long runs, sometimes the last portion of the run serves that purpose.
For marathon day, try to keep walking after you complete your race. You’ll feel a lot better afterwards if you do. Continue to move each successive day afterwards, even if it is just walking.
Movement is medicine, and the best way to promote recovery!
Choosing the Right Running Shoes and Apparel for Marathon Training
Authored by Coach Sarah Pease
The number one thing to consider when choosing the right shoes and apparel for racing — and also training — is to make sure you choose something you are comfortable wearing on the run.
26.2 miles is a long time to be running and even the most mild of frictions can develop into major issues late into a race.
Before race-day, be sure to do a trial long-run with the gear you plan on wearing.
When to Replace Running Shoes
Most running shoes last 300-500 miles before needing to be replaced. Over time, the foam in the midsole begins to break down. That foam is what protects and cushions your body. Be careful not to push a pair of shoes too far as it could lead to injury.
Many marathoners use one pair of shoes for everyday/easy running and another for harder workouts or races.
However, if you are newer to marathoning, then it’s totally okay to use the same pair of shoes for everyday training and racing.
Either way, just make sure that the pair of shoes you use for race day are not too old or too new. Make sure they have less than 100 miles on them but are also broken in with at least 10-15 miles.
A good rule of thumb is to utilize a pair of shoes on race day that have 50-100 miles worth of running.
What to Wear on Marathon Day
Generally speaking it is good to stay away from cotton and buy comfortable running clothes that fit well. You don’t want something that is too baggy where you risk chafing, but you also don’t want something that is too tight and restricts movement.
Most marathons start early in the morning, and the temperatures can vary between the time from when you start to finish. You’ll also want to take into account that your natural body temperature will be more elevated toward the end of the race in case you need to remove layers of clothing mid-race.
Dressing for Marathons in the Cold
If you are racing in the cold, it is always good to have a pair of throw away gloves, hat and possibly a shirt or jacket in case you need to stay warm at the start of the race.
Your extremities are where the most body heat is lost so it’s good to protect those areas in the event of cooler race conditions.
Marathon Mental Training
Authored by Coach Lindsay Flanagan
Training for a marathon is hard work and requires not only a great deal of physical strength, but mental strength as well. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool and can help you power through training and stay positive and strong during even the toughest sessions and races.
Take Things One Day at a Time
My first, and biggest, piece of advice is to take marathon training one day at a time.
Focus on what is on your schedule for that particular day instead of looking ahead at that tough long run or workout later in the week.
Whether it’s a recovery jog, cross-training day, or easy run, do your best to stay present and get the most out of each session. Avoid putting too much emphasis on one particular day, and enjoy the process as a whole.
Marathon training isn’t about having one amazing workout, but stacking together lots of quality sessions over time.
When it comes to mentally preparing for a harder/longer session, acknowledge ahead of time that it is going to be challenging.
Also acknowledge that you are prepared to handle it.
Going in with a positive attitude makes a world of difference and will help you run more relaxed. Try thinking of a mantra before the session that you will tell yourself when things start to get tough, such as “I am strong”, “I am powerful”, or “This is tough, but I am tougher”.
Focus on one repeat, one mile at a time, and let the pace come to you naturally instead of forcing it.
Finally, remember that running should be, first and foremost, fun! Break up the daily grind of marathon training and hit the mental reset button by going to your favorite trail, trying a new route, or meeting up with a friend for an easy run.
Don’t forget to write down your goals, and take a peek at them every day, to remind yourself why you are putting in the work and what you want to achieve on race day.
Weight Training and Core Exercises
Authored by Coach Addi Zerrenner
Weight training and core exercises are very beneficial to incorporate in any runner’s regime, especially when training for a marathon. Weight training and core exercises are highly effective when training for a marathon because they can help prevent injury, build muscular endurance and strength, and improve one’s running mechanics.
When doing weight training and core exercises, you want to do low-to-medium weights and high repetitions of movements in order to work on muscular endurance.
Weight Training and Core Exercises for Marathon Training
Below are the top 10 weight training and core exercises to incorporate into your marathon training that only require 2 dumbbells, a bench, a stair or box, and a stability ball. You can learn more in our Weight Training & Core Exercises for Runners Guide.
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- Lateral Squat
- Single Leg Step Up
- Reverse Lunge
- Stability Ball Hamstring Curl
- Banded Knee Drive
- Hammer Curl
- Tricep Extension
- Stability Ball Push-Up
- Single Arm Row
- Bird Dog
- Glute Bridge
- Marching Glute Bridge
- Side Plank
- Mountain Climber
- Russian Twist
- Windshield Wiper
- Stability Ball Rollout
Injury Prevention Exercises
Nutrition for Marathon Training
Authored by Sports Nutritionist, Will Benitez
For runners to achieve their athletic goals, they need to focus on two things: training and recovery.
Training includes all of the physical activity components. The workouts, long runs, easy runs, strength training, cross-training, etc.
Recovery encompasses everything that is going on when you are not training.
Taking rest days, getting quality and sufficient sleep, taking steps to manage stress appropriately, and focusing on getting in good nutrition are all part of your recovery strategy.
All of these facets of recovery are important, but nutrition is essential for a runner to really get right.
While there are many components to optimizing your diet, here are the top three tips I generally recommend to runners who want to increase their energy and recovery in training.
Get Enough Fiber
One of the most important metrics to focus on is grams of fiber intake.
The recommended daily intake for adult females is 25g per day and at least 30g per day for adult males. I prefer athletes strive for at least 5g-10g more per day than these recommendations.
Optimizing your overall health and energy levels is more possible when digestion is at its best. Sufficient fiber intake keeps the digestive tract flowing properly, helps you maintain a healthy microbiome, helps keep cholesterol at appropriate levels, improves blood flow, and aids in nutrient absorption.
Note that using a fiber supplement is not the same as increasing fiber from natural foods. Natural whole foods provide additional nutrients that help with the digestion of fiber that are omitted in fiber supplements.
Reducing Pro-Inflammatory Foods
You’ll want to focus on reducing foods that can be more pro-inflammatory and sap the body of energy. These foods include sugar, heavily processed foods, and foods that may be identified as a food allergen, intolerance, or sensitivity.
Runners need carbohydrates, but the diet shouldn’t be high in sugar. A diet high in sugar can wreak havoc by causing blood sugar problems, increasing inflammation, disrupting normal metabolism, and causing an imbalance of healthy gut bacteria.
I’m not saying that runners can’t enjoy a chocolate chip cookie every now and then though. Occasional sugar in the diet is fine, but you’re not going to optimize your energy levels if a high amount of added sugar is regularly consumed.
Most runners know that hydration is important for their health, and yet it still often remains an area of weakness.
Every cell, tissue, and organ is dependent on water. Normal metabolic functioning doesn’t happen if water isn’t regularly and sufficiently consumed.
Some functions for which water plays a role include:
- maintaining normal body temperature (homeostasis)
- lubrication of joints
- proper digestion
- removal of waste.
When the body isn’t hydrated properly, common symptoms can arise and include:
- low energy
- muscle weakness
- very dry skin
- low blood pressure
- increased heart rate.
How Do I Know if I am Dehydrated?
In addition to paying attention to the symptoms mentioned above, another common way to determine if the body is dehydrated is via urine color.
Yellow and dark yellow urine likely means that the body is dehydrated whereas clear or pale-yellow urine generally indicates proper hydration.
It’s also important to emphasize that when thirst is experienced, the body is already somewhat dehydrated. For more active persons, muscle fatigue, cramping, and injuries such as muscle strains may also indicate insufficient hydration levels.
Maintaining proper hydration is one of the basic tenets of nutrition. Not only does it improve an athletes’ general health in many ways, including maintaining proper metabolic activity, proper hydration has also been shown to improve performance.
Want to improve your recovery and performance potential? Make sure your hydration routine isn’t working against you.
How Much Water Should I Drink?
Recommended water intake is based on many factors, but general recommendations around physical activity are as follows:
- Drink at least 10-20oz of water within 1 hour before starting your run
- Drink 5-10oz of water every 15-30 mins of running¹
- Recover with 10-20oz of water within 15 minutes of completing your run
The general rule of thumb for daily water intake is to drink at least half your body weight in ounces per day, but actual needs vary per person.
For runners, I usually recommend increasing this minimum daily amount by about 20oz. Some factors that contribute to how much water intake one may need includes diet, environmental considerations, sweat rate, physical activity, and more.
While sports drinks can be an easy way to hydrate, many of them (like Gatorade) are packed with sugar, so you’ll want to look for low-sugar options.
Race Day Strategy
Authored by Coach Ryan Vail
Race day strategy can vary quite significantly depending on your goals, distance, course, weather, etc.
Identify Your Race Goals
The first thing you should do is to clearly identify your race goals well before the day of the competition.
If a specific time is your target, then it’s important to decide realistically what mile pace your previous training has prepared you for. Online running pace calculators can help you with this, but the best way to predict your current fitness is to complete a tune-up race, usually a shorter distance than the target race, a few weeks out.
For example, if you’re training for the full marathon, shoot for a half-marathon or 10k. These won’t be perfect predictors, but they will help you better estimate what you’re capable of.
Determine Your Pacing Strategy
Next, you need to come up with a pacing strategy that will allow you to hit your goal time. If you are confident in your fitness and ability to tackle your goal, even effort is always the most efficient.
Even effort is not the same as even pace. On a hilly course, your heart rate and exertion will obviously not correlate with maintaining the same pace uphill, downhill or flat. Allowing yourself to slow down uphill, even goal pace on the flat sections, and press slightly on the downhill will give you your best chance at maximizing your potential on that course.
With experience, you’ll be able to adjust based on feel, but you can also utilize your watch to measure heart rate and attempt to keep it relatively stable until the final push.
If you plan to go this route, practice using heart rate during training runs and workouts to get to know your body and effort levels before race day.
When Your Goal is Place Instead of Time
If your goal happens to be place rather than time, it gets a bit more complicated. While even effort often still prevails, at times it is more important to stick with the group you are trying to compete with. This way you can use them to draft and match their moves so they don’t get away from you.
If your fellow competitors make a sudden surge that seems foolhardy or reckless, it’s better to let themselves peter out in a few miles as you jaunt by them. The decision making ability in these situations only comes with experience. To prepare for this you just need to make an effort to race more often and test your tactics.
Race Day Logistics
Authored by Coach Ryan Vail
After all the time you’ve spent training and preparing for your race, a lack of planning for race day logistics can leave you shy of your goals, regardless of how fit you are. Below are a few planning tips that will likely seem obvious, but it’s important to check the boxes to ensure all those miles of training won’t go to waste.
Arrive Early, Very early
Depending on the location of the race, parking and getting to the startline can be quite time consuming. Especially with road closures for the course.
Expect travel to take significantly longer than normal. You want to arrive with plenty of time to warm up, visit the restroom, take in your last snack/drinks, etc.
The earlier you show up, the less people there will be and the less stress you’ll have to endure. Oftentimes this means getting up terribly early, but it’s worth it for your big day.
Since you’ll want to be eating a few hours before the start anyway, you might as well get out the door shortly after your meal.
Overpack Your Gear
You can always shed layers. If you’ve arrived early, you’ll be standing around in what could potentially be quite frigid conditions.
Bring extra clothes and get a family member or friend to be near the start line so you can take some of these layers off just before the race. If the start line is too crowded, have them meet you part way through the race and you can toss them your extra clothes then.
If neither of these are possible, bring “throw away” clothes that you don’t mind not seeing again. Races will typically collect these and donate them after the race, so you may be helping a great cause!
Make sure that you’ve worn every piece of your gear for at least one training run to avoid any unexpected problems with sizing or chaffing. This is most important for shoes, even if you ordered the same model as you’ve worn before. The slightest variation or the stiffness of a new upper can have consequences for your feet.
Be considerate of the fuel you plan on carrying when preparing your race day apparel. If you plan on taking more than you can carry in your hands, make sure you have the right size and number of zip-up pockets. Also decide if it’s going to be necessary to carry keys, money, phone etc.
Less is more!
Allow for a Buffer when Traveling
If you are planning to fly to the race, try to arrive two days before the race instead of one in case of a canceled or missed flight. A small airline mishap could cause you to miss the race that you’ve paid and trained for!
When planning your return flight, give yourself plenty of time between the end of the race and take off. If possible, book a flight for the next morning, but give yourself a few hours at least.
You may underestimate how exhausted you are, how long it takes to get from the finish line back to the hotel to change, or excessive traffic due to the race.
There’s nothing worse than rushing to the airport while sore, dehydrated, and exhausted after your big day!
Stay Close to the Finish Line
This isn’t always possible, but even if you have to shell out some extra money, you will be very thankful if your accommodation is near the finish line.
Getting into a Uber/Lyft shortly after finishing the marathon can be very painful and likely expensive. A short walk to your shower and bed will feel like a dream. This will also allow you to leave your phone and wallet wherever you’re staying rather than carrying them or checking them with your bag.
Post-Race Recovery — and Celebration!
Authored by Coach Tara Welling
After crossing the finish line that you have been training months for, it may feel like an emotional experience and that’s totally normal — soak it in!
Not only does the marathon put a pounding on your body, but it’s a difficult mental challenge as well. You will have just pushed yourself to the limit over 26.2 miles, so take a few minutes to gather your feelings and enjoy the moment.
Once you’ve collected your thoughts, you’ll want to start thinking about recovery. Keep the following in mind:
- Try to avoid sitting or lying down
- Keep your body moving if possible
- Keep an eye out for post-race snacks and drinks
Many events will provide post-race snacks and drinks. You’ll want to make sure to properly replenish your body with a mix of both carbohydrates and protein in addition to fluids with electrolytes. Remember, you will have just burned thousands of calories so be sure to re-fuel your body!
The Week After
If you’ve run a marathon in the past, you likely know that stairs will be your worst enemy the week after your race.
If you can, try and focus on some active recovery the week after your race through some cross-training and/or stretching. The pool can be a great non-impact way to keep your blood flow going in order to enhance recovery. However, there is no need to rush back to running.
Allow yourself a couple of weeks before you even consider starting to train for another marathon.
Finally, you’ll want to take a moment of reflection both in terms of training and racing. Pull out your training log and review the prior months. Ask yourself:
- What went well?
- What didn’t?
- What can you learn or adjust for next time?
- How did you feel like you executed your race strategy?
- What will you do differently next time?
Whether you ended up crushing your goals or happened to come up short this time, it’s more important that you continue to reflect and learn from the experience.
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