PT on the Net Research

Short Training Program for Marathon


Help! I have agreed to train a client for the New York Marathon in November. She has done virtually no training. The research I have done suggests a minimum of six months is needed to train for a marathon. Is it possible in such a short period to train for this event, and can you provide any tips/programming advice?


With roughly 10.5 weeks until the NYC marathon, it is possible for your athlete to finish the race. Finish is the key word. There is no set training program timeline for runners to complete a marathon. However, I typically recommend a training program that spans between four to six months as it allows proper progression and recovery without injury, and it also allows some extra time for unexpected life happenings such as illnesses. However, when a first time runner is embarking upon the marathon journey, a longer preparation period is generally smarter, sometimes in upwards of eight to nine months depending on her sport background and history. If the athlete has been active her entire life and has been running at least three times per week for at least a few years, then she can certainly finish the marathon. While there is no official cut-off time for the NYC marathon, the clock is turned off at 10 hours. Walking a modest 3.5 miles per hour (a 17:08 minute per mile pace) would put her through the finish line tape at roughly 7.5 hours. So, finishing is not really the challenge. The challenge is to make sure she remains healthy and injury free throughout her shortened training program. Here are some progression steps to follow as you train her:

  1. Goal Setting - I firmly believe anyone can complete a marathon as long as he or she is in good physical health without injuries. However, realistic not idealistic goals should be set from the start. I would encourage this athlete to set her primary goal as finishing without injury. Often times, athletes (especially first timers) will converse with other athletes to set race goals, but these are often idealistic goals that are sure to set the athlete up for failure. Once you convince her that this goal is the smartest way to begin her training, then and only then should you construct her training program. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a well established and athlete supported goal before engaging in the training program.
  2. Assess Sport Background and History - This is even more important than program design because you will not know where to begin or how to progress the training program if you do not understand the athlete’s sport history. With so little time to train, the main goal I would have for this athlete would be injury prevention. She will finish the race even if she walks as I described above.
  3. Training Program - I will make the assumption that the athlete has not been running consistently (at least three times per week) for the past three to five years but does run one to two times per week at the longest duration of 30 minutes.
Week Walk Run Core Strength
1 2 times for 1 hour 2 times for 30 and 35 mins 1-2 times
2 2 times for 1 hour and 1 hour, 15 mins (hills) 2 times for 35 and 40 mins 1-2 times
3 1 times for 1 hour, 30 mins (hills) the day after the longer run 3 times for 30, 40 and 50 mins 1-2 times
4 1 time for 1 hour, 45 mins (hills) the day after the longer run 3 times for 40, 50 and 60 mins 1-2 times
5 2 times for 1 hour, 30 mins and 2 hours (hills) the day after the longer run 2 times for 45 and 60 mins 1-2 times
6 1 time for 1 hour, 30 mins (hills) the day after the longer run 3 times for 50, 60 and 70 mins 1-2 times
7 1 time for 1 hour (hills) 3 times for 60, 60 and 80 mins 1-2 times
8 1 time for 1 hour, 15 mins (hills) the day after the longer run 3 times for 45, 60 and 90 mins 1-2 times
9 1 time for 2 hours (hills) the day after the long run 3 times for 60, 60 and 110 mins 1 time
10 2 times for 1 hour each 1 time for 45-60 mins 2-3 days before race

As you can see from the outlined training program, progressing from walking to walking on hills and gradually introducing longer but safer run volume are the keys for finishing a marathon successfully. I also typically recommend performing longer runs on dirt roads or paths whenever possible to lessen the ground forces when the foot strikes the ground. When it comes to preparing an athlete for a marathon with only 10.5 weeks, it is important to err on the safe side of injury prevention. Runs can always be substituted for long walks and should be considered if the athlete experiences any type of musculoskeletal challenge upon beginning the training program.