On Sunday, November 6, about 45,000 runners will stampede through the five boroughs of the Big Apple in the 2011 ING New York City Marathon. With more than 2 million spectators expected on the course and 315 million worldwide TV viewers, marathon fever is in full force. It's just enough to make you want to lace up your shoes and sign up for a race in 2012. Whether you set your sights on New York City, or decide to participate in one of the dozens of other 26.2-milers from coast to coast (it's a good idea to have a back-up choice—more than 100,000 people apply for New York's 45,000 spots every year), the plan here will help you conquer your first marathon.
This easy-to-follow 16-week training plan by Dan Finanger, manager of wellness coaching at OptumHealth, who has helped thousands of marathoners meet their goals, will help you gear up for the big day and cross the finish line strong. The instructions for each type of run are listed below, followed by a week-by-week schedule detailed on the next page.
Mix and match from the following menu of workouts—or be creative and make up your own. The effort level should be moderately hard—no sprinting—and go easier in the first three and last three weeks of your plan. Always sandwich workouts with a warmup and cooldown. (Try this strength-training warmup plan that does double duty.)
Fartlek: Pick up the pace for segments of 30 seconds to four minutes, interspersed with easy-paced segments of similar duration. Go by time or run them between trees, street signs, or other landmarks during your run.
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Kenyan Outbacks: These are like tempo runs—a few miles at a challenging pace—but with the second half much faster than the first. Example: Run an out-and-back route with the "out" in 20 minutes and the "back" in 17 minutes. (Bonus: Get the ultimate guide to help you run your butt off.)
Track ladders: Do a track workout up and down the distance ladder. Early in the buildup the ladder range can be 200 to 800 meters; later on it can rise to 800 to 1600 meters. Example: Run 200, 400, 800, 400, and 200. Include an equal amount of slow jogging to recover between each faster repeat. (Search: Tips to run faster)
Yasso 800s: In the early weeks of the schedule, run six 800-meter repeats with 400-meter recovery jogs. Increase the number to 10 during peak training. (More: Running drills that will get your heart pounding)
Hill repeats: Focus on form, not speed. In the early weeks, run four to six times up a moderate hill of 100 to 200 meters at an easy effort. Walk or jog down. In the middle of the training plan, simply do some tempo and long runs on hilly routes. Late in the buildup, run three to eight hill repeats of 100 to 400 meters at a medium to hard effort.