Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

How To Run A Marathon Faster And Smarter

how to run a marathonHow to run a marathon

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 and am continuing to learn but the fact it, unless you get out an attempt racing 26.2 miles you will never know what to work on, where to start.

I ran my first marathon at the 2002 New York City Marathon.

It was my first year in the Army and I was called upon to be a part of an Armed Forces Marathon Running Team that was to compete in New York City.

**update** This post was written while I was in Afghanistan in 2012

I am now at Forward Operating Base Fenty in Eastern Afghanistan. This base was named after one my teammates that was on that running team with me back in 2002.

trainingHe was killed in action while serving in Afghanistan.

Joe was a quiet, professional senior Army Officer.

Be Patient

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.

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 to run a marathon

How To Run A Marathon Effectively

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.

Study The Best Coaches

He puts it like this,

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.

This is absolutely brilliant and what I wish I could have known a few years ago. 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?

Extend Your Long Run Paces

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.

Run Faster, Longer

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 to run a marathon5. 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

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 a 2.40.02.

I did some significant training, suffered the set backs along the way, and was not intimidated with running at 5.15-20 pace for the distance.


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.

Focus On “Feel”

8. Listen to your body.

Timing is everything.

My only regret is waiting 6 weeks to run a marathon after I had done that 1.50 20-miler. 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 so and so running 130 miles weeks and feels he or she has to do the same to get the same results. Not so.

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.

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.

If you are absolutely crushing it in workouts or long runs, start winding down your mileage and begin to rest, don't span your training block out too far.

I was fit 6 weeks after that long run but I stretched my training out too far. My wife said it best,

what you should have done is picked a marathon and ran one 2-3 weeks, rather than 6 after you did that 20-miler

She was right.

I finished with a 2.26.42, my second fastest marathon behind my 2.19.35 while fitting in training with the 101st Airborne Division.

Military work weeks don't fit well with training for marathons. It was the hardest training block of my life.

Organize Your Schedule

Furthermore, trying to fit in 20-mile runs at 2am during military field problems lasting a week is not my idea of proper training. That being said, you have to do what you have to do sometimes.

No one is going to provide your fitness goals to you. That is our job.

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.

stay at home business opportunitySometimes 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. He 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. The lobsters at the top could easily escape, only if the lobster below them had not let them go.

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 wasn't fast enough and should quit. This was told to me by a 2.16.00 marathoner who thought I didn't have what it took.

You have to follow your heart.

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. Too many athletes think they have to run 6.30 pace on their easy days, then brag to their friends…I am being blunt because I care..I have seen far too many runners do this.

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. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube Channel for new video updates and tips.

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