Marathon training

I want to train for the Chicago Marathon (October 10, 2010), and would like to find the right training program. I’ve glanced at Higdon and Galloway, and enjoyed Higdon’s 15K training program. I started running last spring, completed Couch to 5K, and ran several 5Ks and an 8K over the summer and fall.

I haven’t decided what program to do, but I know I’d like to work in some races (Soldier Field 10 mile on May 29, Chicago Half Marathon on September 12) into my training. I’m not concerned with working toward a time goal – I just want to finish!

For those who’ve completed a marathon, did you follow a training program and whose did you follow? What would you suggest for a novice? What did you do for cross training? Did you train with a group? What was the marathon experience like for you? Have you lost any toenails, and if so, how many?

Any advice, suggestions, information and anecdotes on marathon training are welcome. Even the horror stories.

I only ran 1 marathon, Chicago in 04. I did Higdon, and strongly recommend it. After following it closely - especially the longer weekly runs - the marathon itself was no big deal. Just 4 hours of long, hard work.

Realize that the long runs will be in August or so. To beat the heat you will likely be running early or late - and the run, resting up the night before, and recovering will take up a lot of your weekend. Just saying, training for a marathon requires committment by your entire family.

No lost toenails or other injuries, no prolonged recovery or anything.

Over the next couple of months I’d recommend that you focus on running regularly in the area of 3-5 miles at a time, 3-5 miles a week. As part of the program I did a half marathon a month or 2 before the marathon. IMO the half is a far more sensible distance than the full.

I had a buddy I ran with during the week, but did all my long runs solo. Your personality will decide whether you want a support group.

Consider whether you might prefer to run somewhere other than Chicago. Chicago’s route is very nice and flat, but I personally didn’t care for the enormous crowds - especially the thousands of people who started way further up than they had any business. My main concentration for 4 hours of running in a crowd was passing people without breaking stride or going significantly out of my way.


Hey Jude,

I’ve run five marathons, and I started with Hal Higdon’s program, which worked well. The goal is to gradually work yourself to the long runs (~18-20 miles/session). Make sure not to injure yourself, though. Skip a training day if your knees are feeling funny.

I run alone with my IPod shuffle, I wear New Balance shoes, and I’ve never lost any toenails.

FWIW, I’ve never found any scientific proof that salt intake reduces leg cramps, but this has always been true in my experience.

For my first marathon, I joined a training group that started 5-6 months before the marathon (not Team in Training). For me, it helped a lot because I wasn’t doing 13+ miles on my own and I had water support.
Our schedules were generally 2-3 short runs during the week and the long runs would be 3 weeks of increasing distance, followed by an “easy week.” (e.g., week 1: 8 miles, week 2: 9 miles, week 3: 10 miles, week 4: 9 miles - now a very doable distance. the next cycle would start at 11 miles) Then the cycle would repeat, with longer distances, until we got to the marathon.

I’ve used similar training schedules for marathons & half marathons since, it works for me.

I was doing triathlons at the time, so swimming and biking were my cross training.

I’ve never lost a toenail because I’m very particular about my shoes.

My husband is also planning to run the marathon, so I should have both support and understanding. Good note about the weather and the long runs – though I will say that the thought of running in hot weather is very pleasant right now.

I hear that. This will be my first marathon, so keeping it local is appealing in that I won’t have to deal with how travel might affect me.

That’s great. IMO, if you have one god running partner, you don’t need a group. The one thing you need to be RELIGIOUS about IMO is those long runs. You might be able to miss a weekday run or 2 here or there with no big problem, but if you miss your weekley 20-miler, you ain’t gonna easily make that up.

IME, having carefully followed Higdon, actually running the marathon was not really any big physical accomplishment. Looking back at it, I still see it mainly as a testiment to my eing able to set a goal and stick with a lengthy program in order to accomplish it. But the 26 miles itself was no big deal. (Does that make any sense?)

There are several marathons within the general area that draw WAY smaller crowds that Chicago. But I tend to not be a crowd person myself…

I did the higdon novice marathon. In hindsight I would have liked to have done 1 or 2 more high mileage weeks (basically 2 more 18ers).

I made sure to never miss a long run, but wouldn’t follow his weekday runs, would just make sure I ran 2-3 days during the week to what I felt like doing (most of the time it was more than he listed, any 2 or 3 mile days would always be 5 mile days for me).

I really feed off of the crowd and it keeps me going, so I like the crowds. I’ll be doing Chicago this year.

Also, for higdon he mentions race pace being faster than long run pace. I disagree with this for beginners. If you are running 9 minute miles or slower on your long runs, don’t plan on running faster or risk burning out. has great forums for information. I learned a lot while training, since all your concerns and problems are not unique.

Oh, and deciding on group runs vs solo also depends on your self motivation, since the trainining is what gets you to the finish line. You stop training you’re not gonna finish. Sometimes a group program helps motivate you to get out there on lazy days.

Here’s my race advice - try and do some smaller races (5K, 10K) during the summer. The problem with large races is that sometimes you can get sucked into a pace that is too fast for you - so get a little experience with setting your pace so it is less likely to happen.

Good luck - I haven’t done a Destination race like Chicago, but as long as you don’t have the heat you had a few years ago, it shouldn’t be too bad…

Of course you have to be religious when you have one god running partner :slight_smile:

Good luck.

The idea of a weekly 20 mile run makes me want to vomit. It makes me want to projectile vomit all over my keyboard. I’m sure that if I die and go to hell, a 20 mile run will be part of my eternal punishment.

Maybe I need to get my fat ass in shape?

It is pretty cool though the week after when you get to say things like, “Yea I’m cutting my mileage and running an easy 18.”

Most definitely. And how about the final couple of weeks when you can eat anything and everything you can get your hands on and the pounds still melt away? But I remember reconsidering whether marathoning was something I wanted to do when I realized was happy at the prospect of “light” workouts of say 10 miles or so.

Some folk run a lot of marathons, enjoy them, and incur no injuries. I personally think the shorter distances are a lot more sane. JMO.

You do get to feel superior to pretty much everyone for the rest of the day when you can look at them and think “I ran 18 miles this morning. Did he? I don’t think so” (You could be wrong, but probably not).

For me, though, I’m pretty sure I’m done with anything above 15 miles. 13.1 is pretty much a perfect long distance for me.

Oh, and I never lost weight marathon training. Never. My heart is probably healthier, I saw endurance benefits, I was stronger, but the scale didn’t move. That was also true of the group I trained with the first time, and people I’ve run with since.

I ran ten marathons in my 60s and early 70s (Boston and NYC twice), back before they had all these fancy schmancy training programs. I was a strong believer in LSD (long slow distance, that is) to build up a base, and some intervals once a week to sharpen your speed.

As somebody wrote, you have be be very careful not to get sucked in at the start at a pace that is too fast, or you will be sorry later. So part of the job is to run some accurately measured miles wearing a stopwatch, to really learn the pace you want to run for the whole race.

I had to run about 80 miles a week for about three months prior to the race to be able to finish one without dying the last six or seven miles. I did one long, 18-20 mile run every Sunday (actually, once I did 27 miles). Even world class runners sometimes hit the wall around the 17-18 mile point, so don’t feel bad if you have to stop and walk for a while.

Other than that, I didn’t do anything special, except remembering to stay hydrated throughout the whole race, but don’t drink too much either.

Afterwards you will find your quads are pretty much destroyed. You have to go downstairs backwards. :smiley:

Once you have one under your belt, you have to be insane to run any more, but…

Good luck,

I used Higdon’s approach for my marathon training. Basically I was running 5 times a week, but unlike KlondikeGeoff, my longest weeks were only 50 miles (two 10 miles runs, two 5 mile runs and a 20 mile run).

As everyone else has said, it will really come down to your commitment to the long run. The short runs will build up your base very nicely, but the long run will prepare you for the pounding you’ll take.

I really liked Higdon’s approach because it meant I didn’t have to do any hill or track work and it wasn’t 70 or 80 miles/week.

As others have noted, once you start running 15 or 18 miles at a time, doing a marathon isn’t nearly as big a deal.

A couple of things I learned during my training:

  1. For long runs, start slow and make the first 10+ miles “easy” miles.
  2. Listen to your body. Injury is just about the only thing that can stop you from completing this. Build up slowly, but be sure you are pushing up.
  3. When it comes to the actual marathon, DO NOT make big changes. Try to eat the same food and wear the same clothes. You’ll be very glad you did.
  4. Find what works for you. For some, they need goo or honey packs on a run. For me, eating while running only made me nauseated.

This is great advice – thanks so far. I’m going to go with Higdon’s novice 1 marathon training plan. I’m planning to do several races in the spring and summer, including the Soldier Field 10 mile. I may end up both cycling and swimming for cross training. And I cannot wait to do some long runs on the lakefront path! There’s something so wonderful about being able to run by a body of water.

csmodes, thanks for chiming in on fuel. My husband’s successfully used Shot Blox in his long cycles and is a Clif Bar devotee. I have no idea what I’ll need – all I know is that sugar often gives me gut rot.

After you get a marathon under your belt, you may want to check out triathalons. The non-Ironman distances are quite do-able. If you are down by the lakefront, you can join the swimmers just north of Oak Street Beach! :cool:

I did all of my weekday runs along the lake. One warning - the majority of it is concrete which can be tough on the joints - tho some portions have crushed gravel shoulders. I STRONGLY recommend the southern portion - south of the museum campus - as it is FAR less crowded than the stretches further north. The city does an amazing job of promptly clearing snow from the path - I often found it cleared more quickly and thoroughly than the sidewalks downtown.

Last I knew, sugar was found to inhibit the absoption of water into the body. I never drank anything except water during marathons, and never found the need to eat anything until I finished.

An isotonic solution (6-8% carbohydrate) empties from the stomach at a similar rate to water.

There is a performance (and better recovery) advantage to a small intake of carbs during competition.