How To Design Your Best Full Marathon Training Plan
…and Run Faster Race Times Injury-Free
Well, it turns out, you can dramatically improve your running performance in your your next full marathon training plan….
Something that I’ve learned through helping runners improve their full marathon finish times by as much as 97 minutes.
Before you start running, you’ll need to plan intelligently.
Here’s how to start training for a marathon:
I. Assess your recent race times
Whether you are following a schedule that’s 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 16 weeks, 52 weeks, or something else, assessing your past performance (s) is non-negotiable.
If you’re a beginner, and training for your first marathon, take a look at how you performed in your most recent half marathon, 10K, or 5K.
Never completed a race? If you’re a beginner to running races, you’ll still want to assess your current fitness level in order to train intelligently. You can do so through a time trial.
But there’s more to look at other than just your finish times:
Look at your weight, body fat percentage, nutrition, hydration, fueling, pacing, strength training, injuries, running shoes, etc.
Write down as much as you can.
II. Assess your most recent training plan
Maybe it was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, lose weight or lose fat. Perhaps it was to maintain your body fat % or gain weight.
Regardless of your individual goals, it’s critical to learn from your most recent training plan.
Find three positives and write them down,
Next, think of three areas you can improve and write them down and prioritize them from most to least impactful.
Now, commit to #1 on your list. That’s the focus.
III. Dig deeper into your racing and training history
Ready to assess more? Great!
Dig deeper into your racing and training history.
Try and identify patterns.
Here are some questions to start answering:
- Do you notice anything that worked exceptionally well? If so, did you continue with it?
- Were you consistent? Why or why not?
- What is something that you believe is missing from your previous planning?
- How can you get better?
- Why did you not do better last time?
- If you’ve finished multiple marathons, what is your average marathon time? Your best? Your worst?
Write down your answers to those questions.
Be ruthlessly honest.
After that, I want you to answer more questions.
I promise you this:
By doing these steps thoroughly now, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and money.
Ready for the big ones?
Here are the three gamechanging questions to ask yourself (and write down your answers!):
- Question 1: Was your training plan customized by a certified and experienced running coach with experience helping marathoners and a proven track record for keeping them injury-free?
- Question 2: Did your coach monitor and adjust your plan along your journey?
- Question 3: On a scale of 1-10, how well did you commit to the plan (workouts, hydration, fueling, nutrition, and pacing)?
If you move onto the next step now, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Once you answer ALL of the questions above, it’s almost time to get into how to start training for a marathon.
But first, you need to get your mindset right.
It’s actually a lot more simple than it sounds.
IV. Get crystal clear about your run history and prioritize your plan
Be rigorously honest about how you scheduled your training plan for a full marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k, mile, or any other type of goal.
Disappointed? That’s ok because this can actually serve as a blessing in disguise. In many cases, past disappointments can skyrocket your motivation during your upcoming marathon training plan.
But that’s only possible if you make the necessary adjustments you learned about your racing and training in the previous three steps.
And in order to do that you must:
Prioritize your plan.
Satisfied with past results? Maybe you trained to your potential and ran the race of your dreams? Amazing! Still, prioritize your plan.
Either way, dig deeper and find areas you can improve.
V. Do not run random mileage at random paces
It’s still not time to lace up your kicks.
A lot of marathon runners get eager to start with their marathon workouts without putting a number on it.
Number on it?
That’s right… Number on it!
Let me explain.
By number, I am referring to your current fitness level. Assign yourself a current level of fitness.
You can use a recent finish time and adjust it accordingly based on factors that may have influenced your outcome.
Your most recent race time is NOT your current fitness level.
There are factors that you need to consider.
Adjust your time.
While you may be able to do this on your own, it’s human nature to be biased. Ideally, you’ll have a great coach that can help put a number on it.
Consider these factors:
- What was your nutrition?
- How did you fuel and hydrate during training?
- How did you fuel and hydrate during your race?
- Did you run a smart race?
- Were you overweight?
- Was your body fat percentage higher than ideal?
Our free training tracker or Vo2 max calculator should help.
Pause and take a deep breath.
Visualize yourself training intelligently and executing your workouts as planned.
Next, focus on getting a specific number.
VI. Do more assessing of your running
Ready to start training? Not quite yet!
Dive deeper into other races, time trials, or fitness assessments.
Review any data you have on fluctuations in body weight or body fat percentage.
Consider your healthy and not-so-healthy lifestyle choices.
Get crystal clear on your big picture.
- Got a sweet tooth?
- Do you drink?
- Do you smoke?
- Are you getting quality sleep?
- Are you managing your stress levels?
Running history is important to reflect on but there’s always more to it.
You know yourself best.
Identify any areas you need to correct and get started with a solution asap.
VII. Put a number on it
Determine the race times you were truly capable of running, if you executed a great race plan, ran intelligently, and pushed it to the limit.
That’s your endurance and the number we’re after.
VIII. Sync it up
Sync your custom training plan with your phone, watch, or calendar.
Sync it up.
Tracking your journey is paramount.
IX. Register for a race
You don’t need to find the perfect race but you do need to register for a race soon.
Make the commitment.
Commit to a full marathon by registering for it. There are so many races both in the USA and around the world.
Schedule other things in your life to make sure you are ready for the commitment: travel, personal, professional, etc. If you need to book a hotel or flight, do it asap. Don’t procrastinate.
Obviously, it usually helps to run on a flat or downhill course.
And also, running in cool temperatures usually results in faster race times than summer marathons.
X. Get yourself the best full marathon training plan
Money invested in your health is never wasted.
With training for any type of goal, it’s crucial to maximize your chances of success.
The best way to do that?
Keep the main thing the main thing.
If you don’t feel comfortable desigining a plan, get help.
Want to design your plan yourself and feel you can do the best job? Great!
It’s time to schedule your workouts.
So start to schedule the running workouts.
XI. Schedule your workouts every two weeks
Unfortunately, most people overcomplicate the planning.
There’s no way of predicting your fitness level in 2, 3, or 6 months from now.
That’s why you need to build the plan based on your running progress.
You can estimate it and take a guess but there’s no way of knowing exactly.
Therefore, scheduling workouts for 6 or 12 months in advance is unlikely to be customized to your current fitness level when the date arrives.
The same applies to any type of goal: weight loss, fat loss, reaching your ideal body fat percentage, running around the world, finishing a half marathon, making the most of your body type, train your mind, etc.
You want to do workouts that are maximizing your time and energy specifically for your most important goal.
And the way to do that is to customize your workouts based on your current fitness. Not an arbitrary goal or estimated guess.
More specifically, here’s how:
XII. Purpose, Precision, Progression: Trust the 3 P’s
First, you must train with a purpose.
To cultivate your purpose, set goals and place your written goals where you see them multiple times per day.
Want to qualify for Boston? Manifest it!
Next, you must schedule precise workouts based on your current endurance.
Set specific pace goals for your workouts.
While it’s not a perfect science, I prefer custom workouts with both duration goals as well as pace or pace range goals.
Speed and Vo2 max workouts should be the most precise.
Stamina and lactate threshold workouts should be very precise too but a small range works here too.
And various aerobic and endurance runs, such as your staple long and steady run, can have a bit more of a pace range.
As you get closer to your race, I like to give our athletes specific paces to hit for their long runs.
It gets them in the mindset of hitting specific paces for their upcoming full marathon race.
Third, progress your schedule gradually.
Trust the process.
Don’t rush it.
Look at both your intensity and volume.
And trust your coach!
Yours in training,
Scott Fishman is the founder of AllWorldU. He’s coached hundreds of athletes on 6 continents. Some of his clients include coaches, trainers, physical therapists, doctors, and elite athletes.