-- Marathon Running Information, Coaching and Advice from Coach Joe English

Training: Adapting marathon training schedules to fit your needs

One of our readers asks the following question about using a “generic” marathon training schedule:

“I’m training for my first marathon. I have been following a training schedule that I found online on I started training early and will have 4 weeks left before the actual marathon when I’m done the training schedule. What should I do with those extra 4 weeks?? I’m on my 5th week now.”

This is a great question and the answer really depends on your running background and your training needs.

While I may not be able to tell you exactly where to spend those extra four weeks, I’ll give you a little insight into my thinking when I approach this every season — as the number of weeks in each training season varies, I do this for my training groups all of the time.

First, I would look at the number of weeks in your schedule and just ground myself in whether you have a lot of time or a little bit of time:
Short training schedules: If you have 15 weeks or less, then the time is tight for a first-time marathon training schedule. With a shorter training schedule, you’re going to have to ramp up your distance more quickly than a longer one. With this type of schedule, I would typically add the extra weeks in the early portion of the schedule to bring you up more gradually and avoid the risk of over-use injuries. You might do a few more runs at the 6-10 mile range, before moving on to longer runs for example.

Mid-length training schedules: If you have been 16-20 weeks, you’re right in the middle in terms of the typical length of schedules. This should result in a nice progression of distance upward over the course of the season. If I had to add a few extra weeks to this schedule, I might add a couple of rest weeks into the schedule after the longest runs. So when you reach 16 or 18 miles, I might bring give you an extra week after those runs at shorter distance (say 12-14 miles) to recover before moving continuing to increase your distance. You might also want to just “save” a week or two to have as insurance in case of an injury, travel, or illness that keeps you from doing your long run in a particular week. Slip these extra weeks into the schedule by repeating a week when something has gone wrong.

Longer training schedules: If you have more than 21 weeks, then you have a lot of time to train. When I have the luxury of this much time with runners, I would look more carefully at the individual runner and add time where they need extra work. Beginners, for example, might get extra time at the shortest distances (say 3-4 miles) right out of the gate as they’re adjusting to running. With more advanced runners, I would get them up to the longer distances more quickly, but then use the time to give them more opportunities to run additional long runs (18-20 miles). Also, with a longer training time, I would might add an additional week to the taper at the end of the season and potentially more recovery weeks into the schedule.

So as you look at the training schedule and yourself as a runner, you should decide whether you think you’ll need more time early on or you whether you can handle the low miles, but you may need more rest later or just more time at the longer miles to train. The bottom line is that having those extra weeks is a good thing — it gives you some flexibility and some insurance in case things come up during the season.

If you’re working with a “generic” schedule, you should consider working with a coach to give you an individual schedule that is tailored to your needs. You can find out more about my coaching services on by clicking here.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News


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