So One Day You Woke Up and Decided to Run a Marathon...

So one day you woke up and realized you wanted to run a marathon. You didn't know the first thing about what to do, so maybe you googled it, or spoke to someone else who was a runner who had never run a full marathon. No matter how it happened, you were given the advice or you researched running plans and then possibly came up with a brilliant (thought to yourself ) idea.

What was this brilliant idea??? You discovered a plan that said something along the lines of Marathon Training Made Easy or How to train for a marathon in only 3 days a week or maybe someone told you, you only need one long run of 16 miles, or if you can run a half marathon, you don't need to do much more to finish a full... The list could be endless, but lets just say you fell into believing in one of these crazy words of bad advice.

A work acquaintance of mine and a small group of runners actually inspired this post. They don't know I blog, so there is no chance to offend them. However, their situation made me realize they are likely not the only ones who have done this. Having run many full marathons, if there is anything I have learned, it is how to train or how not train properly for a race.

This acquaintance of mine said: They researched running a marathon on google and found a book (won't mention it since I never asked the name of it) that some person wrote that said they could pull this off by only running 3 days a week... Me, *looking at them dumbfounded*
They figured, if that was all it really took, this could be possible for anyone to fit into their life and schedule... Me, *rolling my eyes*

Then the kicker, they said a small group of us at work are going to give the book and the marathon a try. He said, "most of us have never really liked running or have never even ran a mile. But with this plan, we think we can all pull it off." Me, well if your a runner, and a marathon runner you know exactly what I was thinking!

Of course after I took a deep breath so I wouldn't hurt their feelings with their good and now misguided intentions. I calmly told them the real truth, that some guy was just trying to sell a book and that I completely disagree with this training method, as likely would their doctor if they ran it by one (which I recommended they do.)
I did tell them, if you don't enjoy running, or don't want to spend the time to actually run and put the miles in, a marathon is not exactly cut out for you. But that is fine, there are several other distances like a 5k or 10k that 3 day a week training is more fitted for and can be just as rewarding for a person to finish.
I said, if you really want to train for a marathon you have 10 months until your race, it is still possible at this point to train correctly and learn to not only enjoy running, but put the training in so you will actually enjoy the race itself and set yourself up from the start to finish without all the risks of hurting yourself.

I gave this person a short rundown on what would be required.  I didn't even go into it much, just gave them some basic direction.
This person just looked at me and said, well you don't have a book out (note to self, write a book:) and this guy does have one so I think we will go off of of his methods. I just said, okay.. Good luck... Walked away and rolled my eyes.

I didn't think too much of it these past months, but this big race they trained for is coming up in a few weeks. So I thought I would ask how it was going last time I saw them.
First, all but two people in their group of 3 day a week runners had already dropped out. (Not surprised!)
Second, this person says to me. "I am worried you might have been right, I don't feel like I am all that much in shape. I went out for my one long run last week of 16 miles, and I walked over half of it, it was miserable."

Now all the thoughts of "I told you so" were running through my mind, and although I was tempted to say it.
I decided to do the polite thing and NOT go with my first instincts and instead keep most my opinions to myself. (For the most part).  After all, in a lot of ways it is impressive they'd gone so far as to no miles to sixteen!
So I said:  Well I wish you the best. However, if you don't feel like your ready, don't risk it, and if there is a shorter distance you can switch to, maybe that is something to consider and try for the full again next year.

After I walked away I thought to myself - What stupid author writes a book that tells a wannabe marathon runner to only run 3 days a week, and that they only need to get in one or two 16 milers and this will put them in great shape to run and finish a marathon???
But I already knew the answer as soon as the thought popped in my head.  Someone wanted to make money and a publisher that knew it would be an easy sell to newbie runners.

Two years ago I was running a marathon in Alaska, and I passed this guy around mile 7 that looked like death warned over. He was telling anyone who would listen his story, sounding more and more like an idiot by the sentence. He said he signed up 4 weeks ago, and figured it would be not hard at all since he was young and in shape.  He couldn't figure out why he was having so much trouble and said it was likely because we were going up a hill or the elevation (we were maybe at 500 feet??? LOL).
I kept my mouth shut as I passed him as he was now walking - But heard a lady tell him, after she asked him if he wanted her to send medical support back. "This is why the rest of us train." I loved her comment and just smiled. When I got to mile 9, I saw a medical 4 wheeler heading past me fast, I pretty much knew exactly where they were going.

On another note, for those considering running a marathon with minimal or little to no training. Do a little research on how many runners (per race) end up having a heart attack, or believe it or not die during that race! I remember running a series of races in different states 2 years ago and sadly hearing of 1 or 2 deaths in each race. It's unbelievable how many underestimate the marathon! Just ask the medics on the course!

The truth is, marathon training isn't easy, and really shouldn't be. I know people these days train for a race with the (just to finish) mentality. And that is completely fine, I am not putting that down. But even if you are training just to finish or walk a marathon, I still completely believe in training!

I disagree with any 3 or even 4 day a week training plans. I believe in 6 days and a rest day. I also 100% believe you have to put in the distance and several long runs of 18-20 miles! Get your body ready for what is to come, ahead of time!
If you don't enjoy running, or don't want to run much to train, then most likely a marathon is not for you. Not that you can't make your self eventually enjoy it, but I still believe if you are going to run a race, this is going to require running and very possibly depending on the race distance, lots of it!

Now I know there are those rare individuals (that the rest of us runners love to hate, or envy likely a little of both) who can go out and run almost any distance with little to no training, like it was nothing. Or do exceptionally well and fast at the minimalist of training - These so called Runner Naturals... (We all probably either know of have heard of one) Well as much as we would all like to believe we have that in us, these individuals are rare!
But for the rest of the normal people out there, I think its safe to say adequate training will be needed, and you can definitely count on a lot of running and time spent getting ready for it!

I don't want to put anyone down, I think it is totally awesome that people wake up and have these incredible or insane goals! In fact I love people that have many and fabulous goals!!
But sometimes an incredible goal won't happen over night, and most the time to achieve that goal, you are going to have to put the time and work into it. Some goals can take weeks to achieve, and others years to a lifetime... It just depends on what you are hoping to achieve.
Personally I believe a great positive goal is worth all the time and effort put into it to get there! I also believe the harder you are forced to work, the greater the reward and feeling of achievement after!

Hopefully, this situation sounds absolutely nothing like what you are doing. However, if it is you. Know I did not share this to offend, but to present as a reality check.
Although it may be true, that a person can train for a marathon by logging fewer miles and taking days off, my personal recommendation is that you don't follow this (newer - train less) mentality. Train to train, run for the love of it, enjoy the hard days and long miles, put in the time and enjoy the finishing reward in the end! If you don't believe me, visit a doctor who is a runner, and let him decide what is best for you!

So my questions are: Have you met people like this? If by some chance this was you at one point, and you are willing to admit it, what did you learn from the experience? 


  1. I don't know any people like this but realize they are out there. This is exactly why I will never have a marathon on my list. I do have a half on my list but I'm not even going to say when because right now I'm not running. I have to have perfect weather conditions. Now, I will, have, and will do a 10K with little training. As you mentioned this is a more realistic goal for someone who wants to only run 3 days a week. But honestly, a marathon. And the guy who thought he could go out there and run it just because he's young...well, all I can say is he thinks like a young person.

    1. I agree with you, I have done 5k & 10k's with little training. But ya for further distances I fully believe in training properly for safety and for other reasons!

  2. This is the exact reason I will never run a marathon. I don't think I can do it with only three days of training. And yes, a book like that will sell but shouldn't there be some social responsibility and massive disclaimers that this is not realistic for the majority of people. And if enough research was done you'd see that those "natural" runners really are rare. Just like you said.

    1. I agree, I have never actually picked on up. So maybe there is a disclaimer, but it must have been small print for the co-worker and the others to have skipped over that little bit of info:)

  3. I've run plenty of half marathons on only 3 day so running. The other 4 days are cross training, 3 days hiits or weights or both, and then 1 day off, or yoga or a walk.
    I don't plan on ever running a marathon any time soon. Simply for the fact that I don't have the time to dedicate to it. I rather spend that time with my family.
    But yeah it's frustrating, these people say they are going to do these things, and you know they have bitten off more than they can chew.

    1. They key for you is you cross train, and I think that is why you do so well. Your actually training:)
      I don't blame you a bit for wanting to spend more time with your family! I actually think that is pretty great of you! You have found the perfect combination of doing things you love and being with the family you love!

  4. Great post! I have never ran a marathon, but when I trained for my half marathon I got a time of 1:49.00, and that was running ten mile runs several days a week. Now I am worried about my training for my first marathon is not enough, I am still 30 pound or so overweight and still out of shape because my 20 mile runs take me anywhere from 5 to seven hours. I will continue even though some days I feel like giving up on my commitment but I feel like I should throw in an additional 20 mile run per week to achieve my goal time of 4 hours and 30 min on Oct 27th.

    1. I follow your blog, and to be honest I think you are doing fine. If you added an extra 20 miler to your week you would actually hurt yourself and be too tired. Just stick to what your doing!
      4-5 days a week running 6-8 miles and one long run of at least 18 and 1 rest day, is great and I think that is what you already do right?
      If you are varying from 5-7 hours for a 20 miler something is not right, If I were you I'd keep a training journal and see what is happening on the weeks you are going 7 hours vs the 5. Could be over training, or hydration... A journal is a great way to pinpoint issues you might not be noticing!
      I think you'll do fine, just keep that 20 miler at 5 hours or less and you'll have no problem beating the bridge at MCM next month!!!
      Oh, and most importantly start believing in yourself, and don't worry about your weight, your fine! A marathon is 60% physical and 40% mental, start working on that mental side and you'll do great girl!!!

    2. Thanks I the long runs that took 7 hours was in hot humid weather and I was fighting dehydration.

    3. I also forgot I stopped to eat at quiznos subs & talked to soldiers and stop for pictures along the way, I need to cut that out.

    4. Hot and humid can get anyone. I wouldn't worry about it, especially since by the time MCM, it should be near perfect running temps and the run is early in the morning! You'll do great and you'll finish, just tell yourself that every day!

    5. LOL LOL LOL, ya stop and talk to soldiers after the run:) Quizno's can wait too! The only good food stop at MCM is the donuts at mile 23 (I think) and you won't have to stop, they'll hand them to you in a cup to eat while you run:)

  5. I agree with your post to a certain extent (would love to know who the moron was that said you don't need to run longer than 16 miles!! SERIOUSLY?!?) I think all newbie runners need to log the miles so 5-6 days a week of training is necessary. That's how I got through my first 2 marathons. For my 3rd marathon, I dropped my training down to 4 days a week and added cross training in because I was having some injury issues. That seemed to solve the problem. Fast forward 12 years and now I only run 3-4 days a week. I trained for Boston last year using the Run Less Run Faster program and it got me a PR (3 days a week). I wouldn't recommend it for a newbie runner but I think if you have a few marathons under your belt and you're looking to try something different then that might be another approach. I think the key to running less is making sure you get your cross training in.

    1. (Ya, I really should ask them the name of that book...)
      I am exactly with you, I probably should have put a little more emphasis on the difference between newbie and experienced runners. I just think as a newer marathon runner there is so much to learn and experience as you get to know your body and how it works as you push it. Once you have a few under your belt, you know your body more to switch things up:)
      Like you mentioned the key was adding cross training to your run less program. That and your experience!

  6. I think everyone requires different amounts of training for a marathon, some can do 30 miles a week, some need 70. I can totally appreciate the differences in each athlete and the training it takes for them to achieve their goals. MY problem is when people try and go the shorter (3 times a week) route because of it's convenience and short cut to success. Sorry but that's just a lame excuse for not wanting to put in the time and dedication to completing something as grueling as a marathon. After having done 5 and training for 6 right now I have learned what works for me and what doesn't with training. Each person has to learn that and NO little manual about cheat sheets to getting to the finish line is going to help anyone!

    1. I completely agree, I think you gain experience by each marathon and you may learn when you can switch running for cross training to benefit you more, but like you said no cheat sheets are going to help you get to the finishline! Good luck with your 6th marathon!!!

  7. I ran the Disney marathon while training 3 days a week. I did do several runs that were 18-22 miles beforehand. I have also trained and completed 12 Half marathon in the last 2 years on 3 days a week. BUT on the other days I do cross train. I work out to some extent almost every day. I am currently training for Dopey on 3-4 days a week.
    Disclaimer: I am not fast. I still have 15 pounds to lose. I will likely never be super fast. My best 5K time is just under 30, and my best half is 2:23. The Disney marathon took 7 hours. I stopped at practically every character stop and rode a roller coaster in those 7 hours. If I hadn't it probably would have taken 6 or less.
    I think, though, that you have a very valid point. I was not a couch potato when I started training for the marathon. Overweight or not, I have exercised regularly for the last 20 years. If I hadn't been exercising, that marathon training would have killed me!

    1. I think the key for you is you cross train! These individuals I spoke about, have apparently not been doing this, because it wasn't in "their book"
      I believe everyone trains differently and can come away with different types of training, but ultimately I do believe in regular exercise and training whether that be running or cross training I would guess that is why you have had success with your own training programs!

      I had to say, I smiled at you saying you stopped to ride a roller coaster in the race:) How fun!


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