Conquer Your First Marathon

Photo: Canada Running Series

Training for a marathon begins well before the official training begins. This base-building phase is key in laying the foundation for strong training. Having at least a total weekly distance of 32-40 kilometres for at least a month prior to starting your marathon program provides the base needed to reach your marathon goal while decreasing the chance of injury. Use this pre-training time to build your weekly long run to 16K. Starting with a long run of 16K will enable you to work in more higher-mileage runs later in your training, building endurance and giving you more time to acclimate to those longer distances.

Most marathon plans are 16 weeks. I use an 18-week program with my runners. Those extra two weeks provide a buffer if a runner becomes sick, injured, or has some unexpected interruption.

Setting realistic goals is key to successful training. The most important goal is determining an accurate desired finish time. There are several finish-time calculators such as the one in this magazine or one provided by, but I find that most calculators are a bit aggressive for the average runner. Another method is to take a recent half-marathon time, double it and add 10 minutes. While neither method is 100 per cent accurate, they do provide a rough estimate for what to expect. Take into account whether your race is flat or hilly. A hilly course will likely take a little longer to complete.

Easing into your training paces is another smart training tactic. Pace is relative to the individual’s running history and fitness level. Just because you’re a speedy 5K runner doesn’t automatically make you a speedy marathoner. On the flip side, just because you’re a slow 5K runner doesn’t doom you to slow marathon times. Shorter races and endurance races are different animals with different demands on the body.

Easing into your training is simple. For weeks 1-5, run each workout about 10-15 seconds slower than prescribed. For weeks 6-10, run each workout about 5-10 seconds slower than prescribed. For weeks 11-18, move to your prescribed training paces.

Easing into your training paces does several things. First it allows time for your body to acclimate to the new demands you’re putting on your body. Second, this tiered approach helps with the mental aspect of running.

If you struggle to maintain your training paces right off the start, then doubt can rear its ugly head. Starting off slightly slower than your goal pace helps build confidence in your abilities. Third, this easing greatly decreases your chance of injury.

Trust in the plan. Each day has a different purpose. Running all your runs at race pace or faster and not taking rest days will accomplish one of two things — injury, or peaking too early. Neither is good.

Believe in yourself, trust in your training and you’ll conquer your goal!

Trust In Your Training


  • Builds endurance and mileage


  • Maintain base mileage and aids in recovery


  • Builds pace and increases your stamina


  • Allows the body to recover and rebuild itself

Marathon Newbie Strategies

  • Build a solid base
  • Be realistic with your goals
  • Ease into your training paces
  • Learn that each run has a purpose
  • Respect rest days
  • Fuel, refuel and hydrate

DOWNLOAD: Printable .PDF Plan.