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
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 packs 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 pack. My favorite (tried and tested over many years) is the CamelBak FlashFlo 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.
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.
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.
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!