First Marathon: 3:04:51 – How I Trained

In my last post, I stated that I felt running countless hours logging miles was an inefficient way to train for my first marathon.  I wanted to accomplish a number of things through my training that I couldn’t have done with running only:

Avoid overuse injury: I, like every runner, have experienced injuries from putting on too many miles.  I was much healthier on race day as a result of running less often.

Maintain lean muscle: I didn’t want all muscle to waste away from too much low intensity cardio.  Strength workouts also helped me throughout the hilly course and during the last several miles of the marathon.

Confuse my body: Many runners jog the same route multiple times during their training.  If the marathon was a few loops in Central Park, I’d probably run that race very well because it’s my home course and my body became accustomed to it.  The problem is, I can’t replicate the experience of running the actual marathon course during training (hills, wind, crowds, adrenaline, etc.) so I wanted to throw as many challenges at myself so I could get accustomed to handling surprises.  With the exception of speed drills and long runs (which I used to benchmark myself), few workouts were the same.

Increase my VO2 max:  This is the maximum rate at which you can consume oxygen.  A high VO2 max can account for 70 percent of the variation in race performances among individual runners.  You can improve it by pushing your threshold through high intensity training.  In fact, elite soccer players have a similar VO2 max as 2:36 marathoners.

Improve mental toughness: As with most things, a marathon is more of a mental battle than a physical one, especially through the last few miles.  Navy Seals will tell you that the human body is capable of 10x more than what most people think if it can overcome mental barriers.  A marathon can be mental hell so in order to perform well, it shouldn’t be the first time you experience that degree of pain and exhaustion.  High intensity workouts and fast long runs will get you there, maybe even more effectively than long, slow distance runs.

Have fun: I would often get bored during long, lonely runs so I varied my workouts and made them easy to do with friends or make into games.


I didn’t adhere to a very strict training program, but this was a typical week in the months leading up to the marathon.  I included examples of the workouts I completed during my training, but everything would vary from week to week with little repeat of the same workouts.  The specific movements are not as important as the intensity and duration of the workouts.

Monday: 30-45 minute metabolic conditioning workout with bodyweight exercises and running or rowing sprints. (Incorporating running with squats, burpees and lunges is a good way to force yourself to move while your legs are flooded with lactic acid.  See lactic acid threshold)

EXAMPLE – Divide and conquer the following as fast as possible (split up as desired):

  • 2000 meter row (or run)
  • 50 squats
  • 50 sit-ups
  • 50 pull-ups
  • 50 burpees
  • 50 push-ups

(If 50 reps of each is too easy or too hard, modify the count)

Tuesday: Strength workout (squats, deadlifts, cleans, jerks, etc) followed by a short metabolic conditioning workout with weights.

EXAMPLE – 5 sets of 8 deadlifts (1-2 min rest in between sets)

Followed by

  • 5 rounds for time of:
    • 6 power cleans (135 lbs)
    • 9 lunges (9 each leg)
    • 12 kettlebell swings (53lbs) 

Wednesday: More metabolic conditioning.  (This is what the phys. ed. portion of a Throwback workout looks like)

EXAMPLE – Between 3 and 5 rounds of:

  • 2 minutes max distance row
  • 2 minutes max rounds and reps of
    • 2 wall climbs
    • 3 muscle ups
    • 4 toes-to-bar

Thursday: Speed work (usually running, but can be substituted with rowing)

EXAMPLE – 800 meter sprints (Yasso 800s are a predictor of marathon time)

  • 5 sets in beginning of training period, working up to 10 at peak
  • Rest the same amount of time it took to complete the last interval
  • Keep intervals within a few seconds of each other

ANOTHER FAVORITE – sprint ladder

  • 1600m, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m, 1600m

Friday: Rest or light workout

Saturday: Long run

  • 12 miles in beginning of training period, working up to 22 with 3 weeks out from race day
  • Get close to your marathon pace especially in the 2nd half

Sunday: Rest

Some of these movements are difficult/technical but can be substituted with other exercises.  Strength training is important, but olympic lifts in particular are not crucial if they are new to you.  I valued intensity and variety more than I did any specific exercise (other than running and rowing).

Completing one long run each week was crucial to my training.  It helped improve my endurance and confidence leading up to the race.  However, I strongly believe that if all I did was run in the months leading up to the marathon, I would have been less healthy and not performed up to my potential during the race. My training method may not work for everyone, but the efficiency of my training routine allowed me to run a very respectable first marathon, maintain muscle mass AND save my joints and bones from all the pounding inherent in typical marathon training.  More importantly, I looked forward to many of these workouts.

But however you train, you'll still probably feel pretty rough when the marathon is over.

$48 for a 7 block pedicab ride

$48 for a 7 block pedicab ride

Stay tuned for more workouts.

Written by Ryan