There is no three-month couch-to-marathon plan.
Is it a challenge for you to run without stopping? Do you often wonder how some people can keep up the pace of running a 7-minute mile for over an hour?
When I started distance running, I had this same struggle. If I ran, I wanted to run hard. I played football my whole life. I wasn’t meant to run long distances, I thought.
Then after my football days ended in college, I decided to start running as a form of exercise. I didn’t know how to pace myself. This was the time before smartwatches so I went to the store and got a Timex watch that had an interval timer on it.
For 90 seconds, I would run easy, for 30 seconds, I would run hard.
This became my go-to workout for almost a year. I had no idea how many miles I was running, my guess was about 3–4 miles each session and I would leave it at that.
Then I got this crazy idea that I wanted to run the Chicago Marathon. Marathon prep was alien to me. My marathon prep was to basically keep doing the same interval workout and then a couple of longer runs each week in which I would gradually increase my mileage.
Since that time, over 10 years ago, I learned a lot of tricks I could have used to increase my running endurance instead of trying to bulldoze through it like my first rodeo.
I enjoyed the discipline and solitariness of long-distance running, which allowed me to escape from the hurly-burly of school life. — Nelson Mandela
Gradually Increase Your Miles
The rule of increasing your mileage by about 10% each week is a good one to follow. However, if you’re new to running, this rule can be broken a little bit. For example, if you start off running about 10 miles a week, jumping to 12–15 miles the next week is probably okay. I wouldn’t suggest starting of the gate trying to run 40 miles in a week unless you are in incredible shape already.
Even with that being said, an injury from overreaching can be detrimental to your progress. Listen to your body and take it easy on days you aren’t feeling it.
The more you run, the more you’ll start to learn your body’s signals. There’s a difference between feeling a burn and feeling your muscle starting to pull.
Easy runs are important when building up your mileage.
What qualifies as an easy run? An easy run should be run at a pace where you can speak full sentences if you have to. Your heart rate should only be at about 60% of your max heart rate (120–135 bpm for most).
Easy runs will build your foundation. If you are going to run longer distances, you need to train your body to be on its feet more. It’s not realistic or great to go out every day and max out your heart rate every run.
Speed training can be an important foundation for building your VO2 max. If you are starting, start super basic with training exercises like this:
- Interval training: 2 minutes jogging, 30 seconds running hard. Repeat 5–7x.
- Tempo Runs: Run at a comfortably hard pace for about 15 minutes if you are starting.
- Repeats: If you can get to a track, do 400m repeats (1 lap) 4–5x with full rest between.
Speed training workouts can be hard and only do them about 1–2x a week. If you plan to run the day after a speed workout, make it an easy run.
More runners need to do more strength training. Start with doing some basic strength training exercises that will help mobility and correct some underused muscles like this:
- Goblet squats: Grab a kettlebell or dumbbell, hold it in front of you, and perform squats
- Lunges: Do this with or without weights.
- Hamstrings: One of the most underrated leg muscles. You can do Swiss ball hamstring curls or use a hamstring curl machine at a jump. If you have no equipment, do some bridges.
- Tibialis raises: Ever feel shin splints? The shins can be a nagging injury for a lot of runners. The tibialis muscle (shin muscle) is an important muscle to work. An easy exercise to do this is to lean against a wall and lift your shins. No equipment is required.
The runner's mentality can often be to go hard all the time. When you run, you feel alive. There’s nothing like a runner's high. Sometimes dialing it back is important. Listen to your body and cut down on your workout or take a day off.
One rule I like to use when training is this. If I don’t feel like running, I’ll push through for that one day. If I still feel run down the next day then maybe it’s time to take it easy.
When building up your endurance as a runner, mindset is critical.
Patience is an important attribute to have. In today's world, we often want everything to come immediately. There’s no three-month couch-to-marathon plan that exists to my knowledge.
Having consistency combined with patience will be the thing that gets you through to the other side. You may run for months and feel like you’re not making any progress then all of a sudden it all seems to come together in one day.
It didn’t come together in that one day but the cumulation of all the days that came before it.
Looking to start running but don’t know where to start? If you’re looking to run your first 5K, look here for a free beginner 5K training plan.