You Can Do 26.2

How To Train For Your First Marathon

(Editor’sNote: This is the first in a series of articles by Kyle Visin that will appear in subsequent months leading up to the Santa Barbara International Marathon.)

The 2012 London Olympics are an opportunity for us all to witness the world’s best athletes display herculean physical feats. As we marvel at the physical prowess and mental fortitude of the Olympic competitors on television,  many of us become inspired to set our own athletic goals—motivated to stretch past our comfort zone and prepare, train, and achieve what we once thought out of reach.


If you’ve ever considered running a marathon, the Santa Barbara International Marathon on November 10th provides the perfect opportunity to push yourself, test your limits, and get into the best shape of your life. According to Running USA, over half-a-million Americans completed a marathon in 2011. This figure represents a 47% increase from 2000. The average 2011 marathon runner was 40 years old and finished their race in about 4.5 hours. Still have doubts? Even Puff Daddy, Oprah, Will Ferrell and, yes, George W. Bush have finished a marathon at one time or another. Each made a commitment, took action, and eventually accomplished their goal of crossing the finish line for a life-altering experience. Anyone who sets their mind on a marathon can do 26.2! 

Training for your first doesn’t have to be overly complex. Here’s my 14-Week Marathon Training Program that’s easy to follow and highly effective. The program breaks up your training into four phases, walking you through the necessary training, step-by-step, all the way to race day.

This training program is designed for the recreational or casual runner that typically jogs at least 2-3 times a week and is comfortable running at least six miles. If you are just coming off the couch, or have never run consistently, I would recommend first focusing on a shorter distance race such as a half-marathon, 10k, or 5k. Taking a slower and more conservative approach at first, with the ultimate goal of finishing a marathon down the road, will likely keep you healthy, injury free, and help avoid burnout.

Phase 1: Base Training

FocusThe first month of training focuses heavily on developing aerobic endurance, a key to success in all endurance sports. Until your aerobic endurance is well established and you are comfortable with steady easy running, harder “interval style” workouts will have little effect on your overall performance. Running is like building a pyramid, the larger the base of endurance, the higher the peak performance. The secondary focus of the base period is to increase strength. The best way to build sport-specific strength and increase the development of force while running is to do hill repeats. This will prepare your muscles for more race-specific workouts where your greatest gains are made.

Consistency and IntensityKiller_Tri_Athlete_1
The most important factor in training to reach a high level of fitness—and ultimately produce your best possible race performance—is consistency. In order to be successful, you must stay committed to your training schedule. In addition to consistency, you must also complete workouts at the proper intensity. Proper workout intensity ensures that you that you are making the best use of your training time and reduces the likelihood of injury, illness, burnout, and overtraining. The marathon training program included here focuses on your goal time and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE). If you have a general idea of your desired marathon race time, you can use an online calculator to determine what your average pace per mile will need to be. For example, a marathon time of 4 hours and 30 minutes equates to an average pace of 10 minutes and 18 seconds per mile. If you do not have a goal time in mind, then you should base your workouts on the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. It will be important to familiarize yourself with the RPE Scale prior to the start of your training.

Types of Workouts in the Base Phase

Long RunThe key to a successful marathon is the long run! This should be considered the most important run during the week and will build steadily throughout the program. Long runs should be done anywhere from 30-90 seconds SLOWER per mile than your projected goal pace. Long runs should always start out at an easy effort (RPE 4-5) and should be run at a consistent pace for as long as possible. Towards the end of a long run your RPE may climb to a 6-7 and you may have to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other to finish. The most important part is covering the distance, not the pace in which you run.

Easy Runs
Easy runs are similar to long runs as far as RPE, however they are much shorter in duration. They are scheduled Monday and Tuesday with an optional run on Friday. These are all to be run 30-90 seconds SLOWER than goal pace with the RPE at 4-5. Friday’s optional run should only be completed if you are feeling good and should never exceed the distance of Monday’s run. If you are feeling worn down or tired, you are better off cross-training and saving your legs for Saturday’s workout. 

Hill RepeatsHill repeats are designed to build running-specific strength while minimizing the impact sustained by your body. Each hill repeat should be completed on a moderately steep hill at a RPE of 6-7 and last 3-5 minutes. Recover by walking or jogging VERY easily back down to the start. Maintain good form on the downhill and go slowly to prevent injury. Each hill repeat session should involve a warm-up and cool-down consisting of 10-20 minutes of easy running. The hill on Cliff Drive—located between mile 23 and 24 on the course—is a great location.

Cross-TrainingCross-Training can be considered any form of aerobic exercise other than running. Cross-training for 30-60 minutes helps improve fitness and can also aid in muscle recovery. Among the best cross-training exercises, in my opinion, are swimming, cycling, or even walking due to the minimal impact they have on your legs.

RestIt is highly beneficial to take 1-2 days per week completely off to let your body rest. During periods of recovery, the body adapts to the stresses placed upon it previously. This is actually the time when you are becoming stronger and more fit.

 (Look for Kyle Visin’s article on the second phase of training in the September 2012 issue of SB Fitness.)

Coach Kyle Killer Tri

A USA Triathlon Certified Level 1 Coach, Kyle Visin specializes in coaching runners and triathletes in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. He is the co-founder of Killer Tri, an innovative triathlon training and development program that integrates hands-on instruction to maximize measurable results.

An elite competitor himself, Kyle heads to Kailua Kona this October to compete in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. His Personal Best for the marathon portion of an Ironman triathlon is 3:02:49. A graduate of UCSB, he works as a mechanical engineer at Asylum Research in Goleta when not racing or coaching, and lives with his wife in Santa Barbara. 

Top photograph and woman running on coastal ridge by Kevin Steele, other photographs courtesy of Kyle Visin.

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