Marathon Training: Phase One Tips

“You ran a marathon? I could never do that!” If only I had a dollar for every time I have heard those words. Truthfully, with time, patience, effort and intelligent training, most people can complete the marathon distance. A smart marathon program will have runners build up their training distance and intensity as the program progresses. Most programs build in some kind of periodization. I turned to Project Purple’s Coach Jane to learn more about what runners should do at the outset of their marathon training program.

training pays off in the marathon

Best practices for early marathon training.

Question: Coach Jane, what do you recommend for people who are just beginning to work towards the goal of running a marathon?

In the initial phase of marathon build-up, the focus should be building your mileage and developing your endurance. This means increasing the length – and potentially the frequency – of your runs and extending your weekly long run by 1-2 miles each week. This is key to develop your strength and stamina and prepare your body for the more rigorous phases of training. Remember not to increase your overall mileage by more than 10% each week, as doing too much too soon can lead to injury. If you are training for your first marathon, give yourself plenty of time to progress through this building phase. I recommend adopting a 20-week program instead of a 12 or 16-week plan so that you can focus on developing a strong running base before adding any intensity.

Question: What sort of pace or effort should runners focus on during the early stages of marathon training?

Most runs during the initial phase of marathon preparation should be done at an easy, conversational pace. Depending on your fitness level and running experience, you may wonder whether you should do interval workouts or runs of higher intensity. If you are accustomed to doing them during your training cycles, you can most definitely continue to do interval sessions – just keep them to once per week and at a moderate intensity. The focus should be on tempo runs, fartlek workouts or hill repeats to build your aerobic strength. Try not to focus on speed, times and splits but rather good running form and perceived effort. If you have never done interval workouts before, stick to easy runs for the first 4-8 weeks.

Question: What other activities should runners try to incorporate into their training?

In addition to running it is a good idea to do strength exercises at least once per week to help prevent overuse injuries. Doing activities like yoga or pilates are a great way to balance the stress of running on the body with restorative strength and stretching exercises.

Question: What other tips do you have for people just starting on their marathon journey?

The first stage of marathon preparation is also when you should experiment with footwear, clothing, hydration and nutrition pre- and post-run. It’s a good idea to figure out what works for you early on to better your chances of a smooth transition into the more demanding phases of training. You don’t want to figure out that gels give you stomach cramps during your first 20-miler!

Finally, I strongly recommend doing your long runs with a group. Running clubs are valuable sources of support and motivation; moreover, you will likely meet more experienced runners who can share the ins-and-outs of training and racing and help you figure out what kind of training routine works best for you. And of course, you might just gain a few extra friends along the way!

train hard, finish smiling

The Early Eight Dos and Don’ts (of early marathon training):


  1. Develop a regular running schedule
  2. Increase mileage by 10% per week
  3. Run at your own pace
  4. Run with friends
  5. Keep a training log
  6. Experiment with hydration and nutrition
  7. Skip a run if you feel persistently tired
  8. Rest for 48 hours when something hurts


  1. Expect all your runs to feel good
  2. Do all-out 400m repeats two weeks into training
  3. Compare your progress to others
  4. Skip a long run because the last one went so well
  5. Start your runs faster than you finish them
  6. Run through acute pain
  7. Try to make up for lost training by doubling your mileage
  8. Follow a training plan that is not at your level

Sign up to run your first or your next marathon with Project Purple and get personalized training advice from Coach Jane!

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