My Son Wants to Run a Marathon. Can You Suggest a Training Plan?

Dear Dumb Runner,
My son is a pretty avid runner and wants to train to run a marathon this fall. Some history: He's 21 and was an athlete in high school. When he started college he became somewhat sedentary. Then he decided to join the Navy and for the last year has been pretty active. He runs several times a week and swims a couple of times a week. Usually, he runs between 4 and 6 miles; I think the longest he's done is about 10 miles. Any advice on a training regimen?—Eric H., Ohio

Dear Eric,

Yes, but probably not the kind your son wants to hear. I would urge him to find a local half-marathon this fall, or even next spring, and register for that. 

Only after he's trained for and completed a half-marathon (or two, or three) would I recommend he take on a full marathon.  

I understand the appeal of the marathon—I've run 26 of them myself—and I can appreciate being eager to try one. But eagerness is not a substitute for preparation. And when it comes to the marathon, proper preparation takes time.

Note that phrase: proper preparation. 

Could your son run a marathon four to six months from now? Yeah, probably. Should he, based on what you've told me? I really don't think so. 

At best, he would suffer greatly during the race, despise the experience, and vow never to do another one. At worst, he would hurt himself before he even made it to the starting line.

When it comes to racing 26.2 miles, it's become a cliché to say that runners must "respect the distance." But it's a cliché for a reason.

If your son is truly determined to run a marathon this fall no matter what, then yeah, I can offer some tips and help him find a training plan. (Write back and let me know.)

In the end, he alone must choose.

I hope he'll take the long view and try a half-marathon first. The marathon has been around for a long time. It'll still be there in another year or two. 

One of the many things he'll learn when he finally does run that first marathon, by the way, is the importance of smart pacing. The marathon rewards those who are patient—and punishes those who aren't.

Let me know what he decides, and we'll go from there.



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