16 Week Marathon Train­ing Schedule

marathon training

photo by lul­ule­mon athletica

16 Week Marathon Train­ing Sched­ule for Busy Families

Find­ing time to train for a full marathon when you have a fam­ily is hard.

Find­ing time to train for a marathon even when you don’t have a fam­ily is hard, but with a fam­ily it’s sig­nif­i­cantly harder. When can you fit in those crit­i­cal long runs? How many miles a week do you really need? What if you end up miss­ing a work­out? What if you end up miss­ing a long run?

Don’t worry. You can do it!

I devel­oped this marathon train­ing plan espe­cially for busy fam­i­lies. In fact, I use this plan myself. To keep it man­age­able, I built the plan around only three runs a week — two reg­u­lar runs, and one long run each week. It has plenty of room for flex­i­bil­ity, and it will get you ready for a marathon in 16 weeks.

Run a marathon in 16 weeks

This plan is not for begin­ners! It’s OK if you are a first-​​time marathoner, but you should not use this plan if you are a begin­ning run­ner. You need to estab­lish a solid base before try­ing to run a marathon.

To use this plan, you should be able to run a 10K and your reg­u­lar runs should be around 4 to 5 miles each. You should be healthy and injury free. If this is your first marathon, or if you have had train­ing injuries in the past, you should con­sult your physi­cian before start­ing. If you are not yet up to 10K and reg­u­lar 4–5 mile runs, then check out my Half Marathon Train­ing Schedule

Build sta­mina through dis­tance runs

The plan starts out with 5 mile runs, and grad­u­ally adds dis­tance to get you ready for the full 26.2 miles for your marathon.

To help fit train­ing into busy fam­ily life, the week­day runs are kept rel­a­tively short. There are two runs per week on week­days, at dis­tances of either 5 or 6 miles. The marathon train­ing sched­ule shows the week­day runs on Tues­day and Thurs­day, but you can run them when­ever they fit in. Make sure you get two of these runs in each week! Cumu­la­tive dis­tance is really impor­tant for marathon train­ing — more on that in a bit.

Long runs are reserved for week­ends (but again, you can run them dur­ing the week if that fits bet­ter with your fam­ily sched­ule). The marathon train­ing sched­ule lists long runs on Sun­days because most marathons fall on a Sun­day, but other days are fine too. You should run your long run when­ever it fits best into your fam­ily sched­ule — but make sure you run one long run each week! The long runs start at 8 miles and grad­u­ally work up to 21 miles. Dis­tance is added on alter­nat­ing weeks — if you bump up your dis­tance one week, then you cut back a lit­tle the next week to allow your body to recover. Sort of like an inch­worm — it stretches out to gain ground, then lets the rest of its body catch up. This con­cept is very impor­tant in help­ing to avoid train­ing injuries. The amount of dis­tance run each week is also care­fully cal­cu­lated to help avoid train­ing injuries. The 16 week marathon train­ing sched­ule doesn’t increase weekly mileage by more than 10% over the pre­vi­ous stretch week, with just one minor exception.

Fuel­ing and tapering

runners food

photo by nkzs

Marathon train­ing puts a toll on your body. Be good to your­self and make sure you stay well nour­ished. I’ve found a 40−30−30 diet to work best. That means that you con­sume 40% of your calo­ries in the form of com­plex car­bo­hy­drates (e.g. whole grain bread and pasta, fruit), 30% of your carbs in the form of pro­teins (e.g. meats, cheeses, and beans), and 30% of your carbs from fat. The high carb con­tent is impor­tant to give you the energy you need. The pro­tein is impor­tant to help your body strengthen and rebuild after each work­out. The fat gives you vital energy, but should be con­sumed in the form of healthy fats (not sat­u­rated fat).

You also need to find a way to fuel your body dur­ing your long runs. The most read­ily acces­si­ble source of energy for your mus­cles is found in the form of glyco­gen — which is actu­ally stored in your mus­cles. Most peo­ple run out of glyco­gen at around 50 min­utes of sus­tained activ­ity. At this point, your body will start burn­ing fat for energy. But this process is much less effi­cient and will cause your per­for­mance to suf­fer. This is why marathon­ers use per­for­mance gels and/​or sports drinks. If you take in eas­ily con­verted carbs (like those found in gels and sports drinks), those carbs will start to be avail­able to your body roughly 45 to 50 min­utes later — right when you start run­ning out of glyco­gen. I pre­fer sports gels, so I con­sume one pack before start­ing on my long run. I then carry enough packs with me to con­sume another every 45 min­utes. In this way, I pro­vide my body with a con­stant stream of eas­ily con­verted carbs through­out my long run.

Of course, you also need water. Some peo­ple carry water with them. There are a wide vari­ety of hydra­tion packs16 Week Marathon Training Schedule avail­able. Pick one that you are most com­fort­able with and use it. Rather than car­ry­ing a pack with shoul­der straps, I per­son­ally pre­fer a waist pack16 Week Marathon Training Schedule. My favorite (tried and tested over many years) is the Camel­Bak Flash­Flo16 Week Marathon Training Schedule waist pack. I find it to be more com­fort­able and less bouncy than shoul­der packs. If, how­ever, you pre­fer to not carry any extra weight at all, then you should prob­a­bly plan your route to run past drink­ing foun­tains, or cache some water along the route beforehand.

The last three weeks of the 16 week marathon train­ing sched­ule are designed to help you taper so that your body is in prime con­di­tion for your marathon. Dur­ing your taper, you should resist the urge to run extra miles. After all the dis­tance you’ve been putting on, you will feel like you should be doing more. Don’t! Just take it easy. Let your body repair and rebuild itself so that you’re ready to go when the big day comes.

A crit­i­cal part of your taper is carb-​​loading. The pur­pose of carb-​​loading is to tem­porar­ily increase the amount of glyco­gen stored in your mus­cles. There are many tech­niques for doing this, some more extreme than oth­ers. I tend to use a mod­er­ate tech­nique which has you switch your diet to 70−15−15 (70% carbs, 15% pro­tien, 15% fat) for four full days prior to your event. This increase in carbs, cou­pled with a decrease in your mileage, will cause your avail­able glyco­gen to increase sig­nif­i­cantly for your race.

Track­ing your progress

Because this marathon train­ing sched­ule is scaled back to only three runs per week, it is impor­tant that you stick with it! Make sure you don’t skip any runs, espe­cially the long runs. The marathon train­ing sched­ule includes sev­eral charts to help you track your progress.

16 week marathon training schedule progress chart - scheduled vs. actual
The first chart plots your actual daily mileage run against the planned mileage. As you can see in the sam­ple chart above, your actual dis­tance run (shown by the solid light blue line) will prob­a­bly vary from the plan. Each run is rep­re­sented by a dot on the line. If you miss a run or need to resched­ule a run, try to stay as close as you can to the sched­uled line.

16 week marathon training schedule pace chart
The next chart helps you track your pace through­out your train­ing. You’ll find that your pace will be slower on your long runs (indi­cated by higher points on the chart) and faster on your shorter runs (indi­cated by lower points). It’s OK for your long runs to be slow. In fact, you want your long runs to be slow. If you push it too hard, you may end up cut­ting back on mileage, which would be counter pro­duc­tive. Bet­ter to take it slow and easy so that you can make sure you com­plete the dis­tance. Once you’ve cov­ered a cer­tain dis­tance, when you go back to it dur­ing your eas­ier weeks you can try to push a lit­tle harder if you feel like it — but don’t overdo it.

The pace chart is a good indi­ca­tor of pos­si­ble over­train­ing.  While your long run pace will be slow and will vary greatly, your short run pace should stay rel­a­tively con­sis­tent as you progress through your train­ing. If you find your short run pace improv­ing over time (i.e. the points are lower on the chart), great! If, how­ever, you find your short run pace get­ting slower (points mov­ing higher), then you may be at risk of over-​​training. Make sure you get some rest, make sure you are eat­ing well, and try run­ning your long runs slower. If this doesn’t help, then you should con­sider tak­ing a break to let your body recover.

progress chart - cumulative distance
The final chart shows your cumu­la­tive dis­tance run plot­ted against the sched­uled cumu­la­tive dis­tance. As you track your progress, the cumu­la­tive dis­tance chart will “fill up” to show your progress. If you find your actual cumu­la­tive dis­tance to exceed the sched­ule, then pull back. You don’t want to risk injury from over­train­ing. If, on the other hand, you find a gap grow­ing between your actual cumu­la­tive dis­tance and the sched­uled dis­tance, then try to make up some miles so you don’t fall behind.

Because this plan is scaled back to allow you to spend time with your fam­ily, it’s impor­tant that you keep your cumu­la­tive dis­tance on track. Make sure you keep “fill­ing the tank” on this chart. Cut­ting your­self short on total miles over the dura­tion of your train­ing may lead to injury. Don’t cheat yourself.

If you do fall back and the gap on this chart becomes sig­nif­i­cant, don’t overex­tend your­self try­ing to catch up. A lit­tle catch­ing up is OK. A lot of catch­ing up is not. Try­ing too hard to catch up on dis­tance is a great way to get your­self injured. It’s bet­ter to repeat a week, extend your plan, and pick another race, than to side­line your­self through injury and not be able to run at all.

If you do hap­pen to have time to squeeze in some extra work­outs, try cross-​​training! Swim some laps, use an ellipse or other car­dio machine, do an upper body work­out, or go for a bike ride. If you choose to run any extra days, keep those runs as easy as pos­si­ble — nice easy pace and no longer than 5 miles.

The Marathon Train­ing Schedule

The sched­ule is avail­able as an Excel file. The cells in the file are pro­tected so you don’t acci­den­tally delete or edit some­thing you shouldn’t. In the top right cor­ner of the spread­sheet you’ll see a spot for the Race Date. The first thing you should do is enter the date of your race here. This will auto­mat­i­cally adjust the dates through­out the 16 week marathon train­ing sched­ule based on your race date.

As you progress with your train­ing, enter the actual dis­tance and pace of your train­ing runs in the appro­pri­ate cells. Dis­tance should be mea­sured in miles. Pace should be mea­sured as min­utes per mile, with sec­onds expressed as a dec­i­mal rather than actual sec­onds. For exam­ple, a 9 minute 30 sec­ond pace would be entered as 9.5. An easy way to con­vert sec­onds to dec­i­mals is to just divide by 6. The charts (scroll down below the marathon train­ing sched­ule to see the charts) will auto­mat­i­cally update as you enter your actu­als so that you can eas­ily track your progress.

Use the 16 week marathon train­ing sched­ule wisely and good luck with your training!

Down­load the Plan » Down­load the 16 Week Marathon Train­ing Sched­ule in XLSX format.

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The 16 Week Marathon Train­ing Sched­ule by Run­ning in the Fam­ily is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons Attribution-​​Share Alike 3.0 United States License.