Marathon in Miles | Tips to Race Fast over 26.2 Miles

Are you wondering what is a marathon in miles? If so, I am happy you have made it here to RunDreamAchieve. I have run 2:19:35 for the marathon distance. No, that time didn’t come overnight for me. So, I can fully understand why so many runners get discouraged training for this event. It is certainly worth your time to participate in this event.

That being said, running easy doesn’t take much effort. It is running fast that is an art form and take a great deal of time and effort to achieve. I would highly recommend focusing on running 4 weeks easy and relaxed. Remember, you don’t want to be a in rush when it comes to preparing for your races. I have created running courses as well as marathon training plans here to help speed up your progress.

The training plans I have made range in duration from 8 to 24 weeks in length. The optimal time frame to train properly for a marathon is 16 and preferably 24 weeks in length. 4 to 6 months of training is adequate time to prepare to in the best possible shape for your race.

Why is a Marathon Exactly 26.2 Miles?

The marathon distances used to be 25 miles in length when Pheidippides delivered the news of the Greek victory in 490 B.C. He ran from Marathon, Greece to Athens to deliver the news of the Persian defeat. It wasn’t until the 1908 London Olympics when the Queen requested the race distance to be lengthened an additional 1.2 miles. She wanted the race to finish in front of the “royal” box in front of the Olympic stadium.

The marathon is an aerobic race as compared with an anaerobic event like the 800m or 5K distance. So, you need to focus on building your endurance. In addition, work on your speed work and leg speed. A lot runners run too much of their volume too slow. A major hurdle that a lot of marathoners deal with is pace sustainment. Also, they go out far too aggressive in the early miles of the race and pay for it later.

My role here as a coach and mentor is to help ensure you don’t do the same. Are you seeking to break the 5 hour marathon barrier? What about 4 hours? 3 hours? Do you have as your goal to break the 2:30 marathon barrier? If so, I have created running courses available here where I discuss, in depth-how to do this.

Can I Train for a Marathon in 24 Weeks?

Yes. In fact, 24 weeks is optimal timing to prepare fully for a marathon. The majority of my marathon build ups were a minimum of 16 and usually be 20 to 24 weeks in length. Again, you should focus on building a strong foundation of easy mileage first. The reason being is you want to strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the body first.

You can add in strides twice per week though. Strides will help you work on your form and acceleration. In addition, are great preparatory warm-up drills leading into your track workouts and tempo runs. The 4 main training phases we focus on here at RunDreamAchieve with our training plans are…

  • Base-building phase
  • Marathon specific training phase
  • Speed development phase
  • Taper phase

I am a big believer in doing a 10-day rather than a 3-week taper. I think a major mistake runners make is dropping their volume and intensity too far out from their main race. So, I train my athletes to continue to train up until 10 days out. 10 days is plenty of time to recover from the many months of training you do. Again, you want to go into your marathon feeling rested and ready, not tired and lethargic.

Is Running 3 Times a Week Enough for a Marathon?

Running 3 days a week for most runners can get the job done. Of course, many runners have busy work schedules. So, usually only have so much time during the week to train. That being said, if you are training to break a sub 3 hour marathon or faster you may need to do more. I usually ran between 6 to 7 days a week and needed that in order to become a professional level runner.

I was running between 80 and up to 142 miles a week training for my marathons. So, this amount of mileage is very difficult to achieve on running 3 days a week. The vast majority of runners can still get legitimate results running 3 days a week though. I would focus on 1, vo2 max workout, 1 tempo run and 1 long run each week. The rest of the week can be focused on rest and stretching.

Again, if you are aiming to run a very fast marathon time you are going to have think bigger. Remember, it isn’t about the amount of mileage you are doing but the quality of the work. What percentage of your weekly volume are you or have you trained at or far below your goal marathon race pace? A marathon in miles comes out to 26.2 miles. So, to run fast over this distance you have to train significantly faster than goal marathon race pace.

Why Do Marathon Plans Only Go to 20 Miles?

There is a 3-hour rule that basically states that after 3 hours of running your muscles don’t really get any additional benefit. So, 20 miles is usually optimal distance for most marathoners. Of course, you can go slightly further if you wish. The longest I ever went was 30 miles leading into the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis marathon.

I ended up running my second fastest marathon time in 2:26:42 to finish 5th. The time also included an emergency porta-john stop that probably cost me between 2 to 4 minutes. I don’t think running further than 22 miles is needed for your marathon long runs. What I don’t want you doing is running long and slow every single weekend.

Is your goal to run a fast marathon time or just to participate in the race? Athletes have different goals in mind. You will need to train much more specific if you are to break the 2:20 marathon barrier. Of course, you can get in great shape just by running easy mileage if you just want to start and finish a marathon.

Can You Train for a Marathon Only Running Once a Week?

Yes. The reason being is you can fit a lot of miles into one day. No, it isn’t optimal. Is running more than once per week necessary. Yes. Again, it comes down to the goal of the athlete. Is your goal just to get into shape to start and finish a marathon? If so, running once per week could be sufficient.

Is your goal to run a sub 4 hour marathon? You need to think bigger and be willing to put more work in then just one run per week. Of course, a runner could put in 20 to 30 mile in one day if the plan accordingly. For example, do a 20 miler in the morning and a 10 mile workout in the afternoon. The rest of the week can be focused on recovering from that one day of training.

Below are some tips I would keep in mind as you prepare for your marathon. Remember, these tips are mainly focused on runners who have specific time goals in mind for the marathon. You are someone who is seeking to run under your goal marathon race pace for 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers.

Alternate Your Paces During Your Long Runs

Don’t run long and slow every single weekend. Remember, the goal here is to improve the body’s lactate tolerance. So, our goal is to slow down less than our competition. In addition, main our goal marathon race pace longer. Yes, running easy for your long runs is still important. You just don’t want to do this every weekend.

3 hour marathon pace
Coach Pennington finishing as the top American and in 4th place at the 2007 California International marathon in 2:19:35 (1:07:09/1:12:26)

I recommend doing a varied paced long run one weekend followed the next with an easy, relaxed long run. I used this tactic to lower my personal best for the marathon from 2:43:36 to 2:19:35. Below are some examples of the types of long runs I was doing prior to running 2:19 for the marathon…

  • 2 mile jog, 10 miles@5:30 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 4:55, 5 miles@5:55 mile pace, 2 miles easy (22 miles)
  • 1 mile jog, 4 miles@5:25 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 4 miles@5:35 mile pace, 2 miles easy, 1 mile in 5:00, 1 mile easy, 4 miles@5:30 mile pace, 1 mile jog (21 miles)

Run Longer

Remember, the following weekend I would jpg 9 to 10 minute mile pace for my long run. The long run was the hardest workout that I did. Also, it was not uncommon for me to need between 2 to 3 days of easy jogging the days after workouts like this. How does one go from holding 6:14 mile pace (2:43:36) to 5:19 mile pace (2:19:35) for the marathon? Workouts like you see above.

Running longer is also important. Has your longest long run been 12 to 14 miles? You may still need to eventually lengthen the duration of your long runs. It could be one of the reasons you are having pace sustainment issues in your marathons. More importantly, you have to start running a portion of your long runs at faster paces like you see the examples above.

Again, we want to work to get better equipped to handle higher amounts of lactic acid build up. So, work toward getting your long runs out toward 20 to 23 miles in length. I don’t recommend running further than 23 miles for your long runs. There is a point where you begin to get diminished returns on your investment.

Related Posts

How to Run a Faster Marathon

Running a Faster Marathon

Sub 4 Hour Marathon Tips

How to Break a 3 Hour Marathon

Extend the Duration of Your Tempo Runs

Remember, a marathon in miles comes out to 26.2 miles. So, to run effectively throughout the race you need to train for longer periods of time at your anaerobic threshold. We are running between 85 to 88 percent of our maximum heart rate at this effort. The longer you can run at this effort the more effective you are going to be at holding your goal marathon race pace.

A problem I see for many runners is that they simply haven’t trained long enough at these efforts. In addition, at efforts much faster than tempo effort. Again, the end goal here is to get marathon race pace to feel easier on you. So, you can sustain your goal pace for the entire duration of the race. Easy running won’t teach you to do this. The reason being is there is too little lactic acid build up at this effort.

So, you are not truly being challenged running easy. The real challenge comes once you reach anaerobic threshold or higher efforts. It is not pleasant running at 85 to 88 percent effort. Yes, it will take some time to adapt. You need to learn to do a 2 to 3 mile tempo before you can get to 10 to 14 miles at the same effort.

Improve Your Leg Speed

Do 1, vo2 max workout each week. Vo2 max workouts can be track or road intervals or fartlek workouts. In addition, hill repetitions. These types of workouts will get your heart rate up closer to 95 to 100 percent of its maximum. So, these are extremely difficult training sessions. The goal of these types of workouts is to help you to recruit more fast twitch muscle fibers.

marathon in miles
Coach Pennington finishing in 5th at the 2011 Monumental Indianapolis Marathon

The more of these you can recruit the more economical (efficient) you are going to cover the 26.2 miles. In addition, they will help marathon race pace to feel easier. Your vo2 max is your body’s maximum oxygen uptake. So, you are running so fast you can’t clear lactic acid faster than it is building up. Naturally, we will need to take small rest breaks in between. Remember, focus on starting your next interval once your heart rate gets back to 120BPM.

Consider Using a Heart Rate Monitor

Heart rate monitor training will help to ensure you are not overtraining. There are many runners who are still running too easy on hard days and too fast on easy days. One major way to safeguard against this is to use a heart rate monitor. I use the Garmin 245 and highly recommend it. It helps me to stay within the correct heart rate zone while I am running.

I focus less on what mile or kilometer splits I am going to hit and more on the heart rate itself. Remember, the end goal is to get you to the finish line in record time. So, you have to think outside the box and follow what the best runners do. Success leaves clues.

Closing Thoughts

Again, a marathon in miles comes out to 26.2 miles or 42.2 kilometers. The only way to run this distance successfully is to plan well. Don’t run too many of your miles or kilometers too slow in training. Again, this all depends on the goals of the athlete. The majority of marathoners have a time goal. They want to break 4 hours or maybe 5 or 3 hours.

Perhaps you want to break 2:40, 2:50 or even 2:20. So, in order to do this you need train adequately far below your goal pace. In addition, slow down and jog on your recovery days. The real benefits of your hard training are going to come from within the rest cycle after you have done your workouts. Make sure to subscribe to the RunDreamAchieve YouTube channel. I routinely make new videos to help runners achieve new personal bests and gain in confidence there.

You are more than welcome to visit the about page if you want to know more about my racing background. I am looking forward to hearing about your training and racing. Reach out me anytime at nathanpennington [at] protonmail [dot] com.

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