How To Run A Marathon Faster, Smarter and PR NOW

how to run a marathon

How to run a marathon is a common question that many runners ask. I certainly did. The first time I ran a a half-marathon was in college. I ran 1:13 in Cleveland, Ohio in my debut in 1998.

How to run a marathon effectively takes some trial and error.

I have been running for over 27 years. I started running marathons in 2002.

That being said, I wish I would have had this information when I first began running the 26.2 mile distance.

Beginners are usually susceptible to starting out too fast having never run the classic 26.2 mile distance.

I had a crash course in the distance several times over the years. So, I had to continue to learn until I finally ran a personal best time of 2:19:35.

I ran my first marathon at the 2002 New York City marathon in 2:43:36.

It was my first year in the Army. I was called upon to be a part of an Armed Forces marathon running team.


What’s an Average Time to Run a Marathon?

The average time for most runners is between 4 to 5 hours for the marathon. I would highly recommend running easy for at least 4 weeks prior to starting a training plan.

You want to be patient and allow sufficient time for you body to adapt. Remember, it takes between 3 to 4 weeks for the body to adapt to the stressors being placed on it.

I began running marathons in 2002. I had just run a then-personal best time of 53.12 at the 2002 Army Ten-Miler prior to competing on this team.

In addition to that, I was like other beginners, ready to get out there and take a crack at it.

I never considered running a marathon in high school or college and had no idea what I was doing in New York City.

Can a Normal Person Run a Marathon?

Yes, with proper training. You really need a belief in delayed gratification to get this event right. Remember, this is a 26.2 mile or 42.2 kilometer race, not a 5k. I highly recommend investing in a heart rate monitor.

I use the Garmin 245. It helps me to stay at the proper heart rate zones. In addition, to not run too slow during tempo runs or too slow during long runs.

The goal of the race was to run for a lunch cancer research organization. Our mission was to start in last place. Chase Manhattan Bank donated $1 to the organization for every runner we passed.

I ran 2.43.36 starting in last place-32,189th and finished as the top finisher on the team and finished in 253rd place.

At that time, I was a 1500m-5000m runner and the farthest I had ever run was a 1.13.40 half-marathon time trial while competing for Malone University.

Needless to say, I was intrigued by the distance and at the time thought about the Olympic Trials “B” standard time of 2.22.00 time needed to qualify for the Olympic Trials.

How does one run not one but two, back to back half marathons in 1:11 each?

My mentality was such that I needed and wanted to learn how to run a marathon.

I wanted to see if I could maintain that same pace for 26.2 miles, rather than just for 13. It would take another 5 years before I finally did it. I ran well under the 2:22:00 marathon barrier running 2:19:35.

How Long Does it Take to go from Couch to Marathon?

A good estimate is about 6 months. Again, the longer your build up the better prepared you are going to be.

1. Be patient.

This is probably the most overused, yet vital pieces of information I can give on how to run a marathon.

Do not be in a rush, especially if you are just starting out as a marathoner.

2. Long slow runs will not prepare you to race the distance.

Notice, I wrote race, not run, the distance. There is a major difference. I

Specific race results require specific forms of training.

I read an outstanding article written about the world-renowned long distance coach, Renato Canova in this months issue of Running Times called Canova 101-How training principles from one of the world’s leading marathon coaches can make you a better runner.

My training philosophy revolves around Canova’s training principles.

If you want to learn how to run a marathon I suggest you buy a few books and research as much as you can on this man’s philosophy.

The idea of training the Canova way is to focus on long hard sustained runs that mimic or come near the pace you want to hold for the marathon distance.

How Difficult is Running a Marathon?

Running a marathon is difficult. That being said, it will be much easier with a proper 16 to 24 week training plan. The world’s top runners run between 35 to 40% of their weekly training at or below their lactate threshold. Remember, if running too slow too often you will only become a long, slow runner.

How does a long slow 2 hour run prepare you to race the marathon? Nothing. Here in the United States 140 miles a week is considered high mileage.  140 can be OK, but if the mileage is too slow, you don’t produce anything with this situation. The problem is the tempo at the good speed is too short. So there is no connection with the marathon. And the long run for the marathon is too slow.

Coach Renaldo Canova

Americans and other runners around the world are selling themselves short on their capability.

They have the motivation, what they often times are doing is training the wrong way. What percentage of your weekly mileage is spent training at or below your goal marathon race pace?

How Should a Beginner Prepare for a Marathon?

3. Increase the pace of your long runs.

I went from a 2.43 marathon best (6.14 per mile average for 26.2 miles) to running 2.19 (a 5.19 per mile average for 26.2 miles).


This happened by increasing the pace at which I ran my long runs.

If someone asked me today how to run a marathon this would rank up there with the best tips I could give. I spent years thinking doing a 20-24 mile long run at 7.00 mile pace was going to build the strength needed to run a great marathon.

In addition, I felt good track workouts was the remedy and that running long, slow easy runs on the weekend would do it. The facts were my long runs were too slow and my tempo runs were not long enough.

Now, that being said. Everyone has different reasons for attempting the marathon. There is nothing wrong with wanting to participate in it for fun. See your loved ones along the course, stop every once in a while to drink a beer or what have you.

It all depends on what your goals are. That being said, if you have a goal time in mind then these are some fundamentals you have to follow to know how to run a marathon the right way.

Is it OK to Train for a Marathon on a Treadmill?

Yes, I spent many years training on the treadmill. Of course, running outside on a track or road is always best. That being said, there will be days where you will need to train on one. The weather conditions may not always be suitable for a quality tempo or long run.

4. Training to run faster creates one very important physiological change.

It teaches your body to use fat as it’s main fuel source, rather than carbohydrates. I hear it all the time I the military.

Soldiers brag about how many miles they ran, they’re workouts in the gym.

There is an enormous difference between talking and doing, when it comes to running, doing wins every time.

 Mileage alone is meaningless if you haven’t trained to bring about the proper physiological adaptation.

Anyone can go out and run 10 miles, it takes skill to run those 10 miles at a set pace and maintain it.

How Do I Know if I’m Ready to Run a Marathon?

Are you able to do run at least 10 miles (16 kilometers) without stopping? Have you been able to compete in a half marathon? If so, there is no reason that you will not be able to run a marathon.

5. Don’t expect overnight success.

It doesn’t work like that in this sport.

I have had far more disappointments than successes racing in the marathon.

I accepted years ago that to get the distance right, I was going to have to face failure.

Did you know the best marathoners in the world  drop out of marathons ?

Always remember you are sharing in the trials of some of the best runners on earth. It is how you handle that disappointment and motivate yourself to make up for it that counts.

Focus On Goal Pace

6. Extend the amount of time you spend at or near goal race pace.

If you have as your goal to hold 7.00 mile pace for 26.2 miles, what good is doing 20-22 mile long runs at 8.15 mile pace.

Is it creating fitness? Yes, but can you hold 7.00 pace for 5 miles or longer? Have you attempted to try that first?

Canova was quoted as saying,

to achieve your best race day performance you must practice running at or around goal race pace for long periods of time

What Should You Not Do Before a Marathon?

I would not suggest getting a new pair of shoes the day before marathon. In addition, do not make any drastic changes the week before your marathon. So, stick to the same routine you have been following for the past few months.

7. Running faster for longer period of time creates a higher lactate tolerance.

My best marathon prior to running 2.19.35 at the 2007 California International Marathon was 2.40.02.

I focused on that pace, running at or below my goal pace for long period of time going into that race.

In fact, I did the same thing last year leading into the Monumental Indianapolis Marathon.

My long runs were much harder.

My best 20-mile long run prior to running 2.19 was 1.53.56 at 6,000ft running at a heart rate of 160 beats per minute.

I had run 1.50.02 6-weeks prior to the Monumental Indianapolis Marathon. So, faster training doesn’t always guarantee you results. That being said, your chances for success increase. Why? You have grown accustomed to running faster for longer periods of time.

1:50:02 is 5.30 per mile for 20 miles which leads me to the number 8 way on how to run a marathon.

Should You Start a Marathon Fast or Slow?

I always recommend running a negative split. So, focus on running the second half faster than you run the first half. There are far too many runners who go out too fast. The result is the go into oxygen debt and are forced to slow in the latter stages of the race.

8. Listen to your body.

Timing is everything.

There is only so many times you can push the body before there is a diminished return on investment.

It is like the runner who sees someone running 130 miles weeks and feels he or she has to do the same to get the same results.

Results come from patience and being smart, not being stupid and getting caught up in high mileage. Quality is what kills in this business. Furthermore, long slow miles and bragging to your friends you ran 130 miles last week does you no good.

What are the Basic Skills of Marathon?

Stay as relaxed as you can at sub-maximal to maximum efforts.

Is your goal to race fast or talk about how many miles a week you are doing? Remember what your why is.

It wastes your time and will diminish your mental confidence if you miss the mark come race day.

So, start tapering down your mileage and begin to rest. Remember, focus on a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper. 10 days is plenty of time to recover from several months of training.

Organize Your Schedule

9. Get the body to clear lactic acid faster than it is building up in your bloodstream

Why do runners slow in races of longer length? They are relying more on carbs than fats. We only have about 1800-2000 calories of carbohydrates stored in our muscles.

Where do most marathoners hit the ‘wall’ at?

Usually around the 18-20 mile mark.

Runners burn approximately 100-110 calories per mile, depending on the weight of the athlete.

Focus on running more time at or near goal race pace in your long run. This, along with proper hydration during the race, will help you significantly.

Why? The body is forced to burn fat rather than carbohydrates when you train at long period of time at an anaerobic effort.

Quality over Quantity

You don’t get this stimulus by running easy miles and this is where most marathoners fail if they miss their goal time.

Of course, there are many other factors that come into play.

There are many times runners do everything right and still miss their times. That being said, I have run my best times by following these steps. In addition, I ran my worst times by not adhering to them and payed a heavy price.

10. Follow your heart and surround yourself with supportive people.

Sometimes it is easier not to share your ambitions with others.

People will more often than not trample on your dreams. This will happen when people are not happy with their own circumstances but are too cowardly to do anything themselves.

You are, therefore, insulting them when you express such desires.┬áHe mentioned ‘the lobster effect‘.

I had never heard the term used before so had to look it up. Here is the definition.

The idea behind the lobster effect is what happens when fishermen lift their lobster pots. 

This, often times, is how human beings work as well.

I was told I was ‘not good enough’ when I was still ‘only’ a 53.12 10-miler and 2.43.36 marathoner.

I was not fast enough and should quit according to a 2.16.00 marathoner who thought I did not have what it took.

You have to follow your heart. I ended up earning a USA Track and Field Olympic Trials “A” marathon standard time of 2:19:35. So, never listen to naysayers and doubters.

Closing Thoughts

Associate with winners. Find like-minded people who will lift your spirits up and motivate you to do more.

I hope this post will benefit you and hopefully has answered some questions on how to run a marathon and what success in the distance entails.

Lastly, if you are not taking your easy days as seriously as you take your hard days you will never run the marathon time you are capable.

It takes just as much skill to back off when you should as it does to tun a hard 20 miler.

Always be wise in how you approach the days after you push your body. 

Take your easy days EASY, your body will thank you for it and so will the personal best you set at the finish line because you listened.

I hope this post on how to run a marathon has been helpful to you. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I create new content there each week to help runners like you get to the next level in their training and racing.

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