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Training: How many miles per week should I run training for a marathon?

Coach Dean Hebert

Coach Dean Hebert

A reader named Jill asks a pretty common question. One with lots of misconceptions. This one has the spin of a race called the “Goofy Challenge”, which has runners do both a half-marathon and marathon on back-to-back days. Coach Dean handles this question as part of our training series.

Here’s Jill’s question:

I’m signed up to participate in the Goofy’s Challenge as part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend (the half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday). I’m not sure how to train for this? I have completed 2 full marathons (2006/2007), I am working on my base of 23 miles a week. I’m not sure how many miles a week I will need to be ready for this “Challenge”. Any advice you can give would be appreciated. Thank you.

On the surface, it all seems simple enough doesn’t it? If you want to run a long race just gradually increase you running until you can run that distance; and more miles are better preparation, right?

Wrong… as you surmise, there is so much more to running and to designing a solid training program!

Weekly mileage is poorly correlated with marathon times and average training pace is better correlated to finishing times. So, let me give you some general guidance but general guidance cannot replace a well designed personalized training program.

Here’s your short answer: As a broad guideline, a beginner should get up to at least 35 miles per week; more experienced runners can run very good marathons (sub-three hours) on 40-55 miles per week.

Here’s the longer answer: Since miles alone are a poor indicator of ability to run a marathon a well designed training program requires a lot of details. A runner’s goals, running history, other races to be run during training, injury history along with the lead time to the race day, paces, distances, workout recovery periods, workout progressions all feed into a solid program. Each element is different for every individual. Each element is different for someone who is running to “better their past times”, “qualify for Boston” or “just finish.”

For those reasons, I’ll offer you an abbreviated rubric I teach to people who go through my coaching program. This will give you the key considerations – beyond mileage:

1. Set a specific, measurable and achievable goal. Write it down. Keep a running log (even entering your workouts on a calendar works just fine) so you can track your progress. This becomes your focus for pacing and offers a feedback system to you on your progress.

2.Depending on backgrounds: marathoners should plan on at least 16 weeks and half-marathoners at least 12 weeks for a training build-up. Yes, I know it “can” be done on less. The point is what is reasonable and won’t encourage undue discomfort or injury. Longer lead times mean more gradual build-ups which allow your body to accommodate to the stresses of running.

3. Increase your weekly mileage no more than 10% per week. (More than this greatly increases chances of injuries.) If you do the right things with your other workouts you do not need to build up to more than 35-40 miles in a week.

4. Use a lower mileage week every 4-8 weeks (It depends on how a runner recovers and copes with mileage).

5. Run progressively more miles at your goal pace. (Chop them up into bite sized chunks; even portions of runs. It is how you become more efficient at your target pace.)

6. Marathoners should build their long run up to18 or 22 miles. (Again, there is a lot of variation depending on the strengths and weaknesses of a runner.)

7. Do some type of “quality” running once a week regardless of level of runner. This will allow you to get in better overall running condition faster and more efficiently than just running same-paced miles. Very generally you can think of quality workouts as any workout with 10k race pace or faster running. Of course these are done in short doses typically (but not necessarily) in the form of repeats on a track.

8. Incorporate rest days. The “hard-easy” approach to training still holds true. You can’t run hard all the time. Recovery days help you build up stronger muscles, tendons, connective tissue and stabilize all those wonderful chemical processes going on in your body. Beginners might start running 3 days a week and build to 5; more experienced runners may run 5-plus days per week. Some are strong enough to only take a day off every other week.

9. I advocate novice runners to do cross-training on non-running days of the week (i.e. bike, swim, exercycle/spin class, aerobics). The reason is to build overall conditioning in a modestly conditioned person without the pounding and risks inherent to running by just adding more miles.

The bottom-line as we often say is that while we can give some guidelines, there are many variables and intricacies to designing the right program for you. It’s probably best to work with a certified running coach — no matter what the level of your development — to help you achieve your goals and avoid injuries.

See also, Training for the Goofy Challenge Part II — for more information on this subject.

If you’d like help or more information about coaching, post a comment on this page or our coaching page. Good luck!

Coach Dean Hebert, Tempe Arizona, USA
Contributing Editor, Running Advice and News


5 responses so far, want to say something?

  1. 1. Training: Pacing and Training for the “Goofy Challenge”- take II « Running Advice and News August 4th, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    […] Training: How many miles per week should I run training for a marathon? […]

  2. 2. London Marathon training: Week 2 « Sir Jog A Lot January 15th, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    […] runner will complete over 500 miles of training runs in that 3-4 month build up to that big Sunday (over 800 for an advanced runner). That’s an average of 1,000,000 individual steps to avoid slipping on some grass, dodging a […]

  3. 3. sandra742 September 9th, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  4. 4. Training: Pacing and Training for the “Goofy Challenge”- take II | Running Advice and News November 16th, 2009 at 11:12 pm

    […] Challenge”- take II Dean Hebert – 4:02 pm Easy AdSense by UnrealIn a previous post on the subject of marathon mileage Jill asked about training for Walt DisneyWorld’s Goofy Challenge. Given the broadness of the […]

  5. 5. David Allison April 27th, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    What Coach Dean blogs here is right on the money, in my opinion. I very rarely have runners who I coach get beyond 45 miles per week, especially more novice runners. I believe that “quality” runs are what many people don’t like to do and may even be scared of running out of their comfort zone a couple of times per week. If your goal is to improve your marathon time, I would tell most people to increase their quality over quantity 9 times out of 10. Running long and slow gets you ready to run long and slow…if you want to PR, you need to push yourself a bit…

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