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Low Stress Training Plan for First Half/Full Marathon

Posted Nov 17 2008 9:07pm 2 Comments
The purpose of this training plan is to help you master the half marathon or full marathon distance, that is, master the stress of the distance. The plan does not include speed training, because I think the stress of speed should not be part of your first half/full marathon. Think of the plan as a series of enjoyable training runs that get progressively longer and are then repeated a number of times until you feel comfortable with the marathon or half marathon distance. The plan uses the 10% and heavy/light rules as its basis for increases in the weekly distance.

To begin the plan, you should be running about 24 miles (39 km) per week for several weeks and should feel comfortable with that distance. If you're running less than that, here is a plan to bring you up to the point where you can begin half marathon or marathon training. If you'll be running a full marathon, read my marathon page to get the "big picture" of training for a marathon.


Total time. The plan requires 35 weeks for a marathon and 17 weeks for a half marathon. For the marathon, this is a longer time than that required by other plans in common use. The extra time is due to smaller increases in distance, smaller jumps in distance after the fall back weeks, higher weekly mileage, and additional weeks of at least 45 miles per week. The additional weeks are to help your body adjust to the long distance, thus avoiding possible damage to your heart, and they are a key factor to running a pain-free race.

Number of days per week.The plan, for both marathons and half marathons, is set up for six days of running per week. For half marathons, the plan can easily be modified for three or four days of running per week by eliminating days. However, to have a successful experience in a half marathon, try to maintain 25-30 miles per week.

For a full marathon, the plan is designed to take you to a weekly mileage of 45 miles, and it is important to reach that figure before you run your marathon. That figure can be reached with either five or six days of running per week. As explained above, be aware that reducing the number of running days will increase the stress on your body.

Length of runs. The plan has you running three different lengths of runs: one long run, one medium run, and four rest or recovery runs. Some runners run more than one long run or more than one medium run, but doing that puts significantly more stress on your body.

Increases in distance. The increases in the miles per run are based on the assumption that you can handle 10% increases in your weekly distance. Some runners can't do that and will need to allow additional time to let their bodies adjust to the increased stress. During the week, listen to your body to see how you feel after that day's training. If you feel tired, dragged out, or have excessive soreness, allow another week at that same or reduced level. When you return to the scheduled increases, don't try to catch up; just continue from where you are. If your tiredness continues, consider reducing your increases in subsequent weeks.

Fall-back weeks. After three weeks of increases, the next week is a fall-back week of reduced mileage; that week is followed by a recovery week of the mileage you were running before the reduction. This recovery week is to give your body extra rest. The fall-back weeks are denoted by FB.

Comfortable pace. Run at a comfortable pace, especially during the light weeks. Your first marathon is not the race for setting a new personal best! Choose a pace that will allow you to talk to a running buddy (or to yourself) and to feel fine at the end of the run.

Walking breaks. As you train, and later as you run your race, take short walking breaks of 1 - 3 minutes every mile (2 km) during your runs. Walking uses muscles differently than running, thus giving your running muscles a rest, and the breaks help you to be invigorated and avoid slowing down during the last part of the run. Walk at a comfortable, restful pace. During the race do your walking breaks while passing the water tables. If you can do the shorter rest runs without stopping or slowing down much or being overly tired, you can omit the breaks during those runs, although you can do them if you want. If you're running hills, high temperatures, or high humidity, take walking breaks more often.

Using the plan. This plan can be used in several ways. You can start 35 weeks before your marathon and use it as written. You can start earlier than that, and when you finish week 27, you can level off and repeat combinations of weeks 25 - 27 until 8 weeks before your marathon; then you can start with week 28 and progress to your race. If you want to do more than one 20+ mile (32+ km) long run, you can do up to week 32 and do the 20 miler (32 km); then jump back and do weeks 24 or 25, 26, and 27 for three or four recovery weeks, and then do another 20+ (32+ km) long run, and so on. Just be sure your last 20+ (32+ km) run is three weeks before the race, and do weeks 33 - 35 to taper to the race.

The chart gives distance in miles (kilometers). The kilometers are rounded to be whole numbers.

1st Goal: Increase distance to 34 miles (54 km) per week

Week 13 (5)4 (6)6 (10)3 (5)4 (6)6 (10)off26 (42)
Week 24 (6)4 (6)6(10)4 (6)4 (6)6(10)off28 (44)
Week 34(6)5 (8)7 (11)4(6)4(6)7 (11)off31 (48)
Week 4 FB3 (5)4(6)5 (8)3 (5)3 (5)5(8)off23 (37)
Week 54(6)5(8)7(11)4(6)4(6)7(11)off31 (48)
Week 64 (6)5 (8)8 (13)4 (6)5 (8)8(13)off34 (54)

Stay at these distances until you feel comfortable with them.

2nd Goal: Increase distance to 45 miles (72 km) per week

Choose one run as your long run and slowly increase it up to 15 miles (24 km). The distances in Week 17 will be your new base, and they will give you 45 miles (72 km) per week.

Week 74 (6)5 (8)8 (13)4 (6)5 (8)9 (14)off35 (55)
Week 84 (6)5 (8)8 (13)4 (6)5 (8)10 (16)off36 (57)
Week 9 FB3(5)4 (6)7 (11)3(5)4 (6)8 (13)off29 (46)
Week 104 (6)5(8)8 (13)4 (6)5(8)10(16)off36 (57)
Week 114 (6)5(8)8 (13)4 (6)5(8)11 (18)off37 (59)
Week 124 (6)5(8)9 (14)4 (6)5(8)12 (19)off39 (61)
Week 134 (6)5(8)9 (14)4 (6)5(8)13 (21)off40 (63)
Week 14 FB3(5)4 (6)8 (13)3(5)4 (6)11(18)off33 (53)
Week 154 (6)5 (8)9 (14)4 (6)5 (8)13(21)off40 (63)
Week 164 (6)5(8)9 (14)5 (8)5(8)14 (23)off42 (67)
Week 175 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)15 (24)off45 (72)

If you're training for a half marathon and are having problems in running the 14 and 15 miles (23 and 24 km), you might want to cap your training at 13 miles (21 km), the distance of the half marathon, and do fall-back weeks of 11 miles (18 km).

Congratulations! You've conquered the half marathon distance, and you're ready to run the half! Allow one week to taper your mileage before your race (two weeks if you're older) so you'll be rested when you run the race. Consider a taper that reduces all of your runs by half. Try and keep a 13 -15 mile (21 - 24 km) long run during the year so you won't lose your ability to run distance and so you'll keep your heart healthy.

3rd Goal: Maintain at least 45 miles (72 km) per week for 8 additional weeks

The remainder of this plan is for those who are training for a full marathon. Research by sports scientists is showing that runners who don't train enough for their marathon may suffer cardiac problems after the race. The following is from The Boston Globe.

Among marathon runners, the biggest cardiac risk seems to arise in people who train the least. People who worked up to a marathon by running at least 45 miles a week for at least three to four months ''were golden. They didn't get into any trouble at all," said [ Dr. Malissa ] Wood. ''If they trained less than 35 miles a week, they were in big trouble."

Week 185 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)16 (26)off46 (74)
Week 19 FB4 (6)4 (6)9 (14)4 (6)4 (6)14 (23)off39 (61)
Week 205 (8)5 (8)10 (16)5 (8)5 (8)16 (26)off46 (74)
Week 215 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)15 (24)off45 (72)
Week 225 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)15(24)off45(72)
Week 235 (8)5 (8)10 (16)5 (8)5 (8)16 (26)off46 (74)
Week 24 FB4(6)4 (6)9 (14)4(6)4 (6)14(23)off39 (61)
Week 255(8)5(8)10(16)5 (8)5(8)16 (26)off46 (74)
Week 265 (8)5 (8)10 (16)5 (8)5 (8)15 (24)off45 (72)
Week 275 (8)5 (8)10 (16)5 (8)5 (8)15 (24)off45 (72)

4th Goal: Increase your long run to 20 miles and taper to your marathon

Beginning at 8 weeks before your full marathon, lengthen your long run to 20 miles (32 km). In addition, I strongly urge you to add three or four more weeks to your training so you can increase your long run to 21 miles (34 km) and then to 22 miles (35 km). If you go to 22 miles (35 km), take four weeks for your taper.
Week 285 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)16 (26)off46 (74)
Week 29 FB4 (6)4 (6)9 (14)4 (6)4 (6)14 (23)off39 (61)
Week 305 (8)5 (8)10 (16)5 (8)5 (8)16 (26)off46 (74)
Week 315 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)18 (29)off48 (77)
Week 325 (8)5(8)10 (16)5 (8)5(8)20 (32)off50 (80)
Week 33 T4 (6)4 (6)7 (11)4 (6)4 (6)12 (19)off35 (54)
Week 34 T2 (3)3 (5)4 (6)2 (3)3 (5)6 (10)off18 (32)
Week 35 T2 (3)2 (3)2(3)0026.2 (42)off6 (9)

The 20 miler (32 km) gives you a 50 mile (80 km) week, your peak distance for your marathon training. It's important that the 20-miler (32 km) occurs three weeks before your race. If the 20-miler (32 km) occurs before that, you may lose some of the effect of the peak distance when you run the marathon. If it occurs later than that, you may not be fully recovered from your training when you run the marathon. During the taper you will recover from the 20 miler (32 km), and you will rest for the race.

During the last 3 - 4 miles (5 - 6 km) of the race, you can skip the walking breaks if you feel fine and haven't slowed down much. After you finish the race, walk around for a few minutes before you sit down to help keep blood from pooling in your feet.

Last Goal: Take a month to Recover

Congratulations, marathoner! After the marathon, take a week or more off to help your body start its recovery. During that time, don't just sit & watch TV. Be active by walking, swimming, biking, etc, but do those activities in moderation. When you feel ready to run, do a reverse but longer taper to return to your pre-race mileage. Begin with short distances at a slow, easy pace to help your body continue its recovery. On the first day that you run, do 1/4 to 1/2 mile (1 km). Add a little distance each time you run. By the end of the first week you might be up to something like 1 1/2 mile (2.4 km). By the end of a month, you'll probably be close to your normal weekly distance. Listen to your body during this time and avoid pushing yourself to do longer distances and faster paces. Let your body dictate how often you increase.

Future Marathons

If you plan on running additional half or full marathons, try to keep a base of 30 - 45 miles (48 - 72 km) per week all year long, and keep 13 - 15 mile (21 - 24 km) long runs as part of that base. This will help you keep your ability to run long distance. Don't run the same mixture of miles or the same route every week. Mix it up to add variety and to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries that can happen from doing the same thing over and over.

As you work up to your second marathon, aim for a base of 5, 6, 11, 5, 6, 16 miles (8, 10, 18, 8, 10, 26 km) per week. Then, inch up to a peak long run of 22 miles (35 km), giving a mileage of 55 miles (89 km) for that week. For your third marathon, try a base of 6, 7, 12, 6, 7, 17 miles (10, 11, 19, 10, 11, 27 km) and a peak long run of 22 miles (35 km), giving a mileage of 60 miles (97 km) for that week.


Are you a distance runner or athlete looking for health information on nutrition while working out other medical advice? Visit a medical resource today and stay healthy while working out!

Comments (2)
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Looks like a simple plan and good for a long slow build up in order to avoid injury which is key to good preperation, but most people on the marathon training journey suffer from motivation problems,  adding a little more variety, such as tempo runs, repetition sessions and fartlek training will help with the onset of boardem.


Scott ( 

I agree, Scott, although the things you mentioned are better IMHO for later marathons. The best solution for boredom that I've found is to just enjoy running. Forget for a while the marathon and just run for enjoyment. Use the 10% rule and heavy/light to bring your distance up to 15 miles, and enjoy the trip more than the end result. I started running when I was 38, and I ran for 8 years before I ran my first marathon. I just enjoyed myself for those 8 years.

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