How to Pick a Marathon Training Plan


So you signed up for a race in a bout of excitement. Maybe you started running during the pandemic and can now add a race to your docket, or you missed having a goal on the calender, or perhaps you are finally running a race rescheduled from April 2020.

Now here’s the tricky part: training.

You’re in good company. The fall racing schedule is stacked, especially because many major spring marathons were rescheduled.


“There hasn’t been a better time in the world to be a marathoner,” said Hal Higdon, the author of “Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide,” now on its fifth edition after 30 years in print. “Right now, we are all coming off of the frustration of not having been able to race for the last year, so there’s a lot of adrenaline flowing.”

The Berlin Marathon kicks off the deluge on Sept. 26. Then there’s the London Marathon (Oct. 3), the Chicago Marathon (Oct. 10), the Boston Marathon (Oct. 11), the Tokyo Marathon (Oct. 17), the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington (Oct. 31), the New York City Marathon (Nov. 7) and the Los Angeles Marathon (Nov. 7).

That leaves about 16 weeks until the Berlin Marathon — just enough time to choose a marathon training plan and dial into a new routine. There are endless training resources online, from free, downloadable beginner’s guides to personalized training plans that include one-on-one time with a coach. There are also groups that meet and train on tracks and in parks, and virtual groups whose members encourage one another from afar.


“Finding a training plan is key,” said John Honerkamp, the founder of Run Kamp. “It doesn’t have to be the fanciest one or the most expensive one. It could be as simple as a PDF online.”

But how do you pick the plan that’s best for you? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Identify your current level of fitness: Start by tallying your mileage from the past four to eight weeks of training, Robyn LaLonde, the head coach and owner of Edge Athlete Lounge in Chicago, said. Then look for training plans that start at no more than 10 to 20 percent above that number. A big jump in mileage is a recipe for injury.

  • Be humble: Training plans want to get you to a finish line, but if you can’t get yourself to the start line, you’ll have a bigger problem. Try to think about choosing a plan that will guide you through an injury-free training cycle. “Don’t get overambitious,” Higdon said. “If you have to ask someone which training plan to use, you could probably go one level below and be really conservative.”

  • Be realistic with your schedule: LaLonde urges her athletes to be brutally honest about their time management. “How many days a week can you train, and how many days a week can you recover?” she asked. “Look for plans that really match that.” You want to have a training plan that can work with your schedule and scale up in a way that is conducive to your lifestyle.

  • Continue cross-training: Plans should include some sort of cross-training days. Do you hope to continue going to a CrossFit gym during your training cycle? Look for a training plan that includes more than one cross-training day. Want to keep the cross-training to the bare necessities? Look for a plan that suits that preference — while not entirely shying away from the importance of strength training.

  • Look for flexibility: Honerkamp advises runners to look for plans with built-in flexibility. “These are guides,” Honerkamp said. He advises runners (about 30,000 of whom he has coached to marathon finish lines) to write their plans in pencil, not in pen, to encourage moving days around as needed.

  • Find your paces: Your training plan may include advice on pace based on effort (easy, moderate, hard) or may be prescriptive based on benchmarks (one-mile pace, five-kilometer pace, half-marathon pace). While identifying pace based on effort is a learned skill (and will come quickly with practice), you may have to set yourself some time trials to see where your pace stands at different times, LaLonde advised.

  • Find your community: Many major metropolitan areas have training groups based in local running stores, and many marathons have training groups online and in person. Finding a group for weekend long runs or a community training for the same race can make a world of difference.


Once you have your training plan, get moving. But know when to let a different muscle guide your schedule, Higdon said. “Runners put great stock into following plans exactly as written,” he said, chuckling. “But sometimes you need to let your brain take over.”

On June 18, 2020, Mitchell S. Jackson wrote on Ahmaud Arbery’s life and death, and how running fails Black America.


“Peoples, I invite you to ask yourself, just what is a runner’s world?” Jackson wrote in Runner’s World.

He continued: “Ask yourself who deserves to run? Who has the right? Ask who’s a runner? What’s their so-called race? Their gender? Their class? Ask yourself where do they live, where do they run? Where can’t they live and run? Ask what are the sanctions for asserting their right to live and run — shit — to exist in the world. Ask why? Ask why? Ask why?”

On Friday, Jackson was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. Read the full article here.


Hayward Field is getting some action before the U.S. Olympic trials next weekend. The track in Eugene, Ore., is hosting the N.C.A.A. Track and Field Championship, where L.S.U. (men’s) and Georgia (women’s) are two of the top teams to watch. You can catch the final day of the meet on Saturday (6-8:30 p.m. Eastern, ESPNU). Here’s the full schedule and results.

Strength training should be approachable. Most of the best exercises recommended for runners are quite basic and can be leveled up with experience.

So let’s eliminate any concerns you may have about strength training before you even have them. Here’s how to get started.


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