Nathan Pennington Running in The Distance

How to Train for a Marathon in 4 Months

Are you seeking how to train for a marathon in 4 months? If so, you’ve come to the right website. 4 months is sufficient time to train for the 26.2 mile classic distance. That being said, you want to be smart to ensure you don’t become stale. Remember, the key to running a successful marathon is working smarter. You don’t necessarily need to work hard but you certainly need to work smart.

How to Train for a Marathon in 4 Months

What do I mean? A common mistake marathoners make is getting caught up with high mileage.

High mileage has its place. That being said, if you are running too many of your miles too slow you are shooting yourself in the foot.

Quality miles count most. If your goal is to run under the 3 hour marathon you need to be training much faster than 6.52 mile pace.

Furthermore, you need to plan your work and work your plan. Athletes that succeed in the marathon distance have a strong why. There is something that is driving them to compete in this event. My goal was to break the sub-2.22.00 marathon barrier. I also had a personal best time of 2.43.36 when this was my goal. So, I knew there were some significant changes I needed to make in order to make that goal a reality.

Below are a few of my top recommendations on how to train for a marathon in 4 months. Well, I believe a 16 week marathon training plan can do wonders for you. I have always focused on 4 months. That being said, if you spend 8 weeks doing a solid base foundation of mileage this could work. You can always plan on 5 to 6 months but be very careful with this. Often times, the longer you train the staler you get. So, plan your work and work your plan.

Lay A Strong Foundation First

Again, I am a big believer in a 4-month build up for marathons. That being said, if you spend 2 months running nice and easy base mileage you will be successful. You’ll be on fire come time to race and your motivation will be sky high.

So, it is critical to first spend at least 1 month running a nice mileage base first. Do not get concerned about what pace you are running at or how many miles you are putting in. Keep things fun and gradually, over time, increase your mileage.

I would emphasize doing strides twice a week during this initial month build up. Strides are very short sprints that do not build up any lactic acid. In addition, they help to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers. The more fast twitch muscle fibers you recruit the more efficient you will run.

Focus on Quality over Quantity

You have to keep a level head about this. What is your goal with the marathon? Is it to break the 4 hour marathon barrier? Is it to run and complete your first marathon? We all have our reasons for competing in this event and it takes some sweat equity to run it well.

Running a marathon and racing a marathon are not the same – Nate Pennington, 2.19.35 PB

Anyone can run easy but it is an art form to run fast over a long period of time. So, remember to train at paces that are 1 to 2 minutes faster than your goal marathon race pace. I focused on this philosophy and dropped my marathon best from 2.43.36 to 2.19.35.

Run Your Long Runs Faster

What I did not write was to run every long run faster.Remember, the benefits of your hard work come in the rest. So, it is very important to allow time to recover from your harder, anaerobic efforts.

A common mistake I see many marathoners make myself included is running too slow. The long run is the hardest workout I do. Why? Well, I vary the paces of my long runs. Here is an example of one of the long runs I did preparing to break the sub-2.22.00 marathon. I ended up breaking the sub-2.20.00 marathon barrier instead.

20 miler – 2 miles easy jog at 130-50 BPM, 4 miles@160BPM, 4 miles@165BPM, 2 miles@130-50BPM, 1 mile in 4.50, 4 miles@160BPM, 1 mile in 4.50, 2 miles easy @ 130-50BPM

Do you notice a trend here? This is not a leisurely long run. Furthermore, a 20 miler run at 6.50 mile pace would not prepare me to run a 26.2 miles under 5.25 mile pace. My goal was to sustain 5.25 per mile for 26.2 miles while still a 2.43.36 marathoner (6.14 mile pace). So, what I would do is alternate one harder long run followed the next week by a relaxed easy long run. Why? Recovery.

The harder long runs are extremely taxing and take a lot out of you. So, it is important to back off at least 48 hours after that harder long run. The benefits of your hard training come within the rest. The workout itself tears down the body. That being said, if you are smart and allow recovery you will get a return on investment.

You always want to ensure your body is getting the maximum benefit from your hard work. You cannot push week in and week out and expect a return on your investment. Remember, use leverage and don’t work harder. There are plenty of athletes who work very hard and still miss their goals.

I teach my athletes online through my courses race pace strategies that work. How to train for a marathon in 4 months is about planning properly and getting results with less work. Leverage is a beautiful thing once you learn how to use it to your advantage.

Start Using a Heart Rate Monitor

One of the top distance running coaches in the world, Jack Hazen, got me interested in heart rate monitor use. I didn’t use heart rate monitors until 1996 when I arrived to Malone University.

Jack has been at Malone now for 52 years at the time of this writing. Our training revolved heavily on heart rate monitor use. Why are they so useful and important. One, they keep you from overtraining and running too fast on days you should be running much easier.

Sometimes it is hard to know if you are overtraining. A great way to ensure you are not is to check your morning, resting heart rate. If you find it to be 10 to 15 beats over what it usually is you need to take the day off. Remember, always focus on leverage and you will set yourself up. How to train for a marathon in 6 months takes focus and proper planning.

You are training over a very long period of time so you have to organize your training well. A heart rate monitor takes the stress off of worrying about mile and kilometer splits. Focus on the heart rate. In addition, stay in that heart rate zone for that tempo or long run.

The below listed heart rate zones are what I have followed since 1996. I was able to lower my 10 mile best from 55.32 to 50.54, half marathon from 1.10.29 to 1.07.06 and marathon from 2.43.36 to 2.19.35. How? Training at these heart rates.

Easy – 130-150 beats per minute (BPM)

Moderate – 151-160 BPM

Tempo Effort (aka Anaerobic Threshold) – 165 to 174 BPM

Aerobic Capacity – 174+BPM

Aerobic capacity workouts are track intervals and hill sprints. This is where you are training at maximum to near maximum effort.

Closing Thoughts

Remember, use and think about leverage at all times. You want to always focus on how can I get better results by working less. The answer isn’t always working harder. I tried running upwards of 142 miles a week to improve my 2.19.35 marathon best. It left me fatigued, irritable and frustrated.

I broke the 2.20.00 marathon barrier running 85 to 90 miles a week. So, higher mileage isn’t always the answer. That being said, sometimes it is. If you are running too few miles or too many miles, too slow you won’t always succeed.

Lastly, do not lose enthusiasm. The best marathoners I have ever known stayed focused despite setbacks. Remember, this is a marathon you are preparing for, not a sprint. How to train for a marathon in 4 months is doing the little things that add up to big results right. I cover this topic extensively in my marathon course. If interested, click the link below to learn more.

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