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Stepping up from 5km to the Marathon

If you can run 5km now, you can run a marathon in 6 months time


The marathon is an unnatural distance, but it is definitely achievable for most people. Even the most highly trained athletes in the world struggle in the final 10km of the marathon. This means that it is not necessary (or even wise) to run 42km in training before you run the marathon. As a rule of thumb, if you can comfortably run 25km in training as part of your usual training week, you will be able to run a marathon. Race day energy, adrenaline and sheer guts and determination will get you the rest of the way.

If your furthest you have run is 5km, 6 months is more than enough time to become a faster runner and also get you to that 25km long run distance. What you should focus on:

The slower you are as a runner, the longer it will take to run the marathon. That is obvious, but it means that a fast runner will run for 3 hours, and a slow runner will run for 5 hours. Becoming a faster runner should be the primary goal. If your first long run is 30 minutes and you run this at 6:00/km, your long run is 5km. In a few months, through the process of stepping up the time incrementally, this long run will be at around an hour. If your speed has not improved, you will run 10km in the hour. If you have improved your speed from 6:00/km to 5:00/km, you will run 12km in the hour. This demonstrates that as you improve your speed, your progress towards stepping up to the marathon distance is fast-tracked.

Running Fast is Important

To develop the ability to run fast, you need to run fast in training and there are 4 key types of workouts that will give you the stimulus you need to improve your speed:

1) Neuromuscular training. This type of workout poses the greatest risk to injury, so care should be taken. This type of workout includes running at 90-95% of your max effort, over 100m or less. An example of this type of workout would be 2 sets of 4 x 100m fast with 100m jog recovery and 2 minutes rest between sets. To avoid injury, make sure you warm up properly and stretch the calves, hip-flexors and quads and mobilize the hamstrings. Importantly, build up to speed in each 100m repeat, rather than smashing it out of the blocks.

2) VO2max training. Running between 200m and 1000m very fast (90% effort), with sufficient recovery between. An example would be 4 x 200m, 3 x 200m, 2 x 200m fast, with equal distance recovery jog between. This is also a fairly risky workout and care should be taken.

3) High intensity training. Mixed intervals of between 100m and 2400m. An example would be 1600m hard, 2 minutes recovery followed by 4 x 400m hard with 60-90s rest between each 400m.

4) Tempo running. These sessions are best done by running comfortably hard for between 3 and 12 minutes, with easy jogging between. For marathon training, the tempo run is the most essential of the speed training workouts and you could add one of the other types of workouts each week. These two speed workouts will be combined with the weekly long run to form the basic skeleton of the training program. More experienced runners will add easy aerobic runs to the basic skeleton to increase overall mileage. The most important workout for marathon runners, is still the long run.

Building up your mileage (the 10% rule):

Another well accepted rule of thumb is that your training should not increase by more than 10% per week, for any week, or more than 10% per month, for any month. So, if your current weekly time spent running is 90 minutes per week with a 30 minute long run, your first 8 weeks could look as follows, in a conservative build up:

Week 1: 90 minutes (30 minute long run)
Week 2: 95 minutes (33 minute long run)
Week 3: 100 minutes (36 minute long run)
Week 4: 95 minutes (33 minute long run)

Total for 4 weeks: 380 minutes

Week 5: 100 minutes (36 minute long run)
Week 6: 105 minutes (40 minute long run)
Week 7: 110 minutes (44 minute long run)
Week 8: 100 minutes (36 minute long run)

Total for next 4 weeks: 415 minutes

Remember, that if your speed improves, the distances will exceed the 10% rule. For that reason we use time rather than distance as the measurement of progression. Within 6 months, your long run will be over 2 hours and from a distance perspective, you will have enough mileage in the legs to confidently run a marathon.

Final considerations:

A very important thing to keep in mind, is that the hard parts of the training should not exceed 15-20% of the total training time. So, if your weekly training time is 100 minutes, no more than 15-20 minutes should be on hard running. This could be a tempo workout that includes 2 sets of 5 minutes comfortably hard, and a VO2max workout that includes 5 x 200m hard. The rest of the training time is easy to moderate and includes the warm up and cool down phases of each workout. The most important ingredient in all of the training is consistency. Hitting those 3 key workouts every week will guarantee you success in preparing for your marathon.

MPG creates a program specifically from your data and will automatically include all the right ingredients needed for you to maximize your build-up and guarantee success.

Happy running!


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