So you want to run a marathon but you’re unsure whether you could commit to the volume of training – or you’re worried your body won’t hold up. Well, there’s good news: depending on what your goals and motivators are, a marathon could involve less training than you think.
First off, we should say that running a marathon without any kind of training at all is a bad idea and you definitely shouldn’t do that. We’d always recommend following a good marathon training plan for 16 to 20 weeks.
What does marathon training usually look like?
There’s now one-size-fits-all approach to marathon training that works for everyone. Every runner has different fitness levels, different motivators and different commitments outside of running. Generally though, most amateur runners will run three to five times a week. On top of this they would ideally do some strength training.
What happens if you run a marathon without any training?
We’re not going to sugarcoat it: if you attempted to run a marathon tomorrow without any kind of training, it wouldn’t be fun. It would hurt a lot and there’s a good chance that you would get an injury and or drop out. If you did complete it, you could expect it to take a long time – marathon pace while walking can be 8 hours or more. Some races operate strict cut-off times after which you won’t get a medal – so check with the race you have in mind.
Running a marathon is a big physical challenge as well as a mental one and the mental toughness to push through is built in training. Without training your body, it’s hard to train your mind to use the necessary mental strategies for marathon running.
Reasons for reduced training
- Worried about injury – if you’re worried that your body won’t cope well with the volume of training needed to run a marathon, speak to a physio. They’ll be able to give you specific advice on any niggles or previous injuries you’ve had and work with you to build a strength plan that can help.
- Short on spare time – marathon training is a big commitment, but it doesn’t last forever – just a few months. Ask friends and family if they can help you free up some time. If you have caring responsibilities that mean you can’t get out for a run as regularly, make the most of at-home workouts and strength sessions to supplement the running with a busy schedule.
What’s the minimum marathon training you can do?
If you’re already a regular runner, you might be able to build up to a marathon within 10 weeks. But if you’re starting from zero, you’ll need to follow a 5k training plan first and then build up from there.
If you already do other sports such as swimming or cycling, you may have a good amount of aerobic fitness which will help with running a marathon. However, running is a high-impact activity and your bones and tendons will take several months to get used to running.
In terms of how much running you need to do – you can run a strong marathon with three training runs per week. If you’re supplementing your running with regular cross training and strength sessions, then you could get away with two runs per week if they include a long run that builds up gradually.
How long does your longest run need to be?
A lot of runners like to get to 20 miles in training, however, depending on your fitness and pace this might actually be too long. When it comes to a longest run for the marathon it’s sometimes better to think of it in terms of duration rather than distance and 3 hours is a good longest run. Any longer than this and it will take you far longer to properly recover than you have in your taper.
You should also let go of any notion you have that your HAVE to run the whole way. For many, adopting a run-walk method is a more efficient and more enjoyable way of covering their long runs.
Cross training for a marathon
If you’re limiting runs, cross-training should form an essential part of your training. Add in two or three other cardio sessions, such as cycling or swimming – and make sure you include high intensity workouts. Your heart and lungs don’t know the difference between running or cycling, so your cardiovascular fitness will improve.
Why do you want to run a marathon?
If you’re unwilling or unable to fully commit to marathon training in the conventional sense, it makes sense to consider your motivation for running a marathon. Some runners sign up for a marathon hoping that it will kickstart a new fitness regimen – in which case it might be better to take the pressure off and give yourself more time to properly train. See if you’re able to defer your race to a later year or find another race.
It’s important to remember that you don’t HAVE to run a marathon at all. You can chase other goals or just run for fun and you can still call yourself a runner.