How many days a week do you need to train for a marathon?


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Marathon running is about taking your body to its peak limits, pushing beyond the boundaries of physical depletion through sheer willpower. With such taxing demands, your fitness needs to be dialled in for long-distance running to avoid excessive wear and tear to unconditioned bones, tendons, and organs.

The most common beginner’s mistake is overlooking the realities of a marathon that’s unlike many other repetitive motions. To put into perspective, marathons are 26 miles long, that’s further than the English Channel’s distance between England and France. On average, the longest distance people run in their lifetime is in school when participating in 3-mile-long cross countries.

Once realistic expectations are set in place, and you still have the burning desire to grasp the formidable achievement of completing a marathon, it’s time to set aside 3-5 months for training and conditioning—with 3 training days per week.

Why should you train 3 days per week?

Contrary to popular belief, training every day as hard as you can only leads to a higher risk of injury, fatigue and less energy to train harder over time. A good rule of thumb most beginner marathon runners apply is to train hard on Monday, Wednesday and Friday—then rest up on the days in between training.

Recovery is at the heart of marathon training; valuable tips to take full advantage of rest days include:

Nutrition: Pay attention to your nutrition on rest days. Consume nutrition-dense foods rich in protein to support muscle repair and growth. Adequate protein intake aids in maintaining the health of your bones and tendons, which is vital for the demands of marathon running.

Sleep: High-quality sleep is a cornerstone of recovery. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of restorative sleep each night. During sleep, your body repairs and rebuilds muscles, and it also plays a crucial role in managing mental stress, which is often part and parcel of marathon training.

Active Recovery: While rest days are meant for lighter activity, consider engaging in active recovery exercises. Activities like yoga or gentle stretching routines can enhance flexibility and mobility. These practices not only reduce the risk of injury but also improve overall body balance and coordination.

Mental Rejuvenation: Rest days are not just about physical recovery; they are an opportunity for mental rejuvenation as well. Take time to relax, engage in hobbies, or practice mindfulness techniques. Mental freshness is vital for maintaining focus and motivation throughout your training journey.

What exercises should I deploy on training days?

Your training days should consist of a mix of different types of runs, such as long runs, tempo runs, and interval workouts.

  • Long runs: Long runs help you build endurance and stamina. Aim to gradually increase your long run distance each week, with a goal of running at least 20 miles on your longest run.
  • Tempo runs: Tempo runs improve your running speed and efficiency. Aim to run at a comfortably hard pace for 20-30 minutes during your tempo runs.
  • Interval workouts: Interval workouts help you improve your speed and power. Aim to alternate between short bursts of high-intensity running and periods of rest or recovery.

In addition to running, you should also incorporate strength training and cross-training into your training routine. Strength training will help you build muscle strength and power, while cross-training will help you stay injury-free and improve your overall fitness.

Useful tips for optimal training

Fuel your body adequately before your training sessions. Consume a balanced meal that includes carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats. Carbohydrates provide the energy you need for your runs, while protein aids in muscle repair and recovery.

Staying well-hydrated is essential. Dehydration leads to decreased performance and higher chances of injury. Ensure you drink enough water throughout the day and consider a sports drink with electrolytes for longer runs.

For runs lasting longer than an hour, consider carrying energy gels or snacks to replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes. Experiment with different products during training to find what works best for you.

After your runs, prioritize recovery nutrition. Consume a post-workout meal or snack that includes protein and carbohydrates to aid in muscle repair and glycogen replenishment.

How many miles should you be running each week?

The amount of weekly mileage you need to cover varies based on your fitness level and experience. However, a general guideline is to increase your weekly mileage by approximately 10% each week. Start with a base mileage of 20-25 miles per week and gradually work your way up to a goal of 40-50 miles per week by the end of your training.

How often should you run a week?

With 3 training days per week and an ultimate goal of reaching up to 40 miles of running per week, it’s crucial to structure your training plan for optimal safety and efficiency.

A beginner’s marathon training plan typically consists of three runs per week for the first 6 weeks, followed by 4 runs per week for the next 6 weeks. The final week is designated as a taper week, during which you reduce your mileage by 25% to allow your body to rest and recover before the marathon.

Here’s a breakdown of what each week might look like:

  • Week 1: 20 miles per week (3 runs)
  • Week 2: 22 miles per week (3 runs)
  • Week 3: 24 miles per week (3 runs)
  • Week 4: 26 miles per week (3 runs)
  • Week 5: 28 miles per week (3 runs)
  • Week 6: 30 miles per week (3 runs)
  • Week 7: 32 miles per week (4 runs)
  • Week 8: 34 miles per week (4 runs)
  • Week 9: 36 miles per week (4 runs)
  • Week 10: 38 miles per week (4 runs)
  • Week 11: 40 miles per week (4 runs)
  • Week 12: 42 miles per week (4 runs)
  • Week 13: Taper week (reduce mileage by 25%)
  • Week 14: Marathon!

This is a sample plan, and you should tailor it to your specific fitness level and experience. Always listen to your body and incorporate rest when necessary. Remember, marathon training is a long and demanding journey, but with dedication, smart training, and adequate rest, you can conquer the challenge and cross that finish line with pride.

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