Marathon Training Perspective: how many miles?

It’s safe to say that many first-time marathoners take on this daunting challenge with trepidation. 26.2 miles is a long way to go. Even the fastest among us take 3-hours or so to finish a marathon (and some even faster than that…I don’t talk about those superhumans). Then we do the research and choose a training plan, and we are confused. Why, if we are training to run 26.2 miles on race day, does the plan have us only running 20, 22, or maybe “only” 24 miles.

It’s amazing how that “only” creeps in, right? “Only” 24 miles? I need to have my head examined.

Yes, I have been there myself, not just as a first timer, but every time I tackle the marathon distance in whatever format — stand-alone, Ironman, or Multi-day challenge — I stare at the pages of my training plans wondering how on earth I’m going to get from here to there? I have mere months to train, but mentally those months feel like years during which I can overthink and hyper analyze every workout!

Here’s the thing about pre-made training plans, and it’s almost unavoidable: you see the whole thing all at once. When you are down in the trenches day after day doing the work, logging the miles, rolling your quads into oblivion, you may not even realize your improvement. Week after week you log just a few miles more. Your Long Run is a mile or two longer this week than it was last week. You upload your data, but how often do you look back at what you are accomplishing? Do that. Look at last week, and this week, and a month ago, and say it out loud. I ran for 4 hours today. I put 21 miles on my feet. Whatever the number is, say it out loud to yourself, and if you are still not convinced that you are unleashing awesome on an unsuspecting public, say it to a non-runner. Not to brag, but just to drive home the goals you are fighting for.

While training for the three marathons I’ve finished, only once did I hit the 20-mile mark. I was fine for all of those races…and by fine, I mean I didn’t die (which is what I was secretly worried about), and I could actually walk, sort of, after those events (the acts of sitting down and standing up, though…yeah, that hurt).

Very few people can get up of the couch and run 26.2 miles. It takes diligent planning and a dedication to the training for several months. Tedium ensues, even boredom. Boredom with yet another 2, 3, or 4 hour run that is the hallmark of marathon training.

Some of us work up through the “ranks” of distances, others start running and tackle the marathon right out of the gate. Whatever you do, there should be a plan in place — a plan designed by someone who’s done the research, read the science and the studies around running performance, and designed a marathon training plan accordingly. This is where we take the leap of faith in our coaches and the training plans they design. It’s likely they know more than we do about running, so we have to trust them to get us to the start line. Once we get to that start line, that’s when we believe in ourselves and the hours and hours spent logging more miles than you ever thought possible. The marathon is your victory lap. At the start line (or in the sleepless night before race day), take a moment to look back at the training, and whether you logged 15 miles, 30 miles, or anything in between, declare victory.

So to answer the question, How many miles should I run to get ready for a marathon? As many as your training plan says you “need”, while keeping healthy and believing in yourself.

Marathons take a lot of prep, but finishing one is something you can be proud of for the rest of your life. Trust your coach, trust your plan, and trust yourself.

How many miles did you log today?

Heather Jergensen

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