Mind Over Miles: Conquer Marathon Training With A Plan

Introduction to Marathon Training

The Importance of a Structured Approach

When we embark on the journey to train for a first marathon, we’re not just running; we’re committing to a challenge that tests our limits and expands our understanding of what’s possible. A marathon training plan isn’t merely a schedule; it’s a blueprint for achieving something you’ve never done before. Why is a structured approach so vital, you might wonder? It prepares your body and mind for the rigors of running 26.2 miles, ensuring that each step you take builds towards your ultimate goal: crossing the finish line.

Understanding the Marathon Challenge

The challenge of a marathon isn’t just in the distance but in the journey to get there. To run 26.2 miles, you need more than just endurance; you require a strategy that balances weekly mileage, long runs, strength training, and crucial rest days. In many ways, the challenge of a marathon lies primarily in the training, and race day is a celebration of all your hard work. 

Crafting Your Marathon Training Plan

Setting Realistic Goals

Before lacing up your sneakers, it’s necessary to set realistic goals. Whether you’re a beginner aiming to finish or an experienced runner looking to set a personal best, your goals will shape your marathon training plan. Remember, each runner’s journey is unique, and what works for one may not work for another. Tailor your plan to your current fitness level, lifestyle, and, importantly, your ambitions. Realism is important – make sure your plan and goals align with your current capacity.

The Role of a 16 Week Marathon Training Plan

Many runners have found success with a 16 week marathon training plan. This time frame allows  for a gradual build-up of weekly mileage designed to progressively increase your endurance through long runs and tempo runs, strengthen your body with strength training, and ensure adequate recovery with rest days and cross-training sessions.

The Building Blocks of Marathon Preparation

Foundation of Your Training

Your weekly mileage is the cornerstone of your marathon preparation. One of the biggest rookie mistakes is running too much too soon, leading to injury and burnout.   Running as much as possible is not the key; instead, focus on gradually increasing the distance at a pace that suits your body and goals. Think of it as laying down the bricks of your marathon journey—one run at a time, building a strong foundation.

The Backbone of Endurance

Long runs are where you’ll accustom your body to the endurance demands you’re placing on it and practice mental focusing skills as you fatigue. They’re critical for building the endurance you’ll need on race day and provide an important opportunity to practice fueling, hydration, and pacing.

Enhancing Performance and Preventing Injuries

Including strength training into your plan does more than just improve performance; it’s key to preventing injuries. By strengthening the muscles you use for running, you’ll not only run more efficiently but also protect your body against the wear and tear of training.

Why Cross Training is Crucial for Runners

Cross training serves as the perfect complement to your running regimen. Engaging in activities like cycling, swimming, or even yoga not only provides your running muscles with a much-needed break but also enhances your overall fitness and resilience. By incorporating cross training into your training days, you reduce the risk of injury and improve your endurance, allowing for a greater training volume with less pounding.


A Closer Look at Training Elements

Tempo Runs

Tempo runs, also known as threshold runs, aim to improve your running efficiency. By running at a moderately uncomfortable pace, you adapt your body to use oxygen more effectively, increasing your endurance. These sessions are key to improving your aerobic capacity, and therefore, race pace! 

Gradually Increasing Distance

A successful marathon training plan gradually increases your running distance. A methodical approach helps your body adapt to longer distances over time, minimizing the risk of injury and increasing likelihood of success. Ideal mileage will vary for individuals, but  the key is to increase your mileage safely and sustainably from your starting point..

Rest Days

Rest days play a crucial role in any marathon training schedule. During these periods of rest, your body repairs and strengthens itself. Skipping rest days can lead to burnout and injury, derailing your training efforts. Embrace them as an integral part of your marathon training plan, knowing they’re as important as the days you clock miles.

Advanced Strategies for Experienced Runners

Adjusting Your Plan for Peak Performance

For the experienced runner, tailoring your marathon training plan can lead to significant improvements in performance. This might mean having more advanced training techniques, like long efforts at marathon pace, more long runs, or terrain-specific work to prepare for your next race. Adjusting your plan to include these elements ensures that you are optimally prepared when seeking a new PR.

Fine-Tuning Your Strategy

Once the foundational aspects of marathon training are in place, it’s time to fine-tune your strategy. This could involve optimizing your nutrition, refining your pacing strategy for race day, and creating mental  focusing strategies to bolster your resilience. All of these components are critical for race day success and should be practiced in training. 

Preparing for Race Day

Tapering: The Final Step Before the Race

Tapering is the process of reducing your training load in the weeks leading up to the marathon. Tapering is a critical phase that allows your body to rest, recover, and gather strength for race day. Proper tapering can make the difference between a good performance and a great one- there is magic in supercompensation from training, and well-timed taper can greatly enhance race-day performance.

Nutrition and Hydration Strategies

In the final days before the marathon, you must optimize nutrition and hydration. Consuming adequate carbohydrates will  help maximize your energy reserves, while staying well-hydrated ensures that your body functions optimally throughout the race. It’s also important to create a fueling strategy for race day which should be practiced during your long training runs. 

Mental Preparation: Getting Ready to Run 26.2 Miles

The mental aspect of marathon running is just as crucial as the physical. Visualizing your race, setting manageable goals, and developing a positive mindset can greatly enhance your performance. 

Conclusion: Crossing the Finish Line

Recapping Key Points of a Successful Marathon Training Plan

As we reach the conclusion of our journey through marathon training, it’s crucial to reflect on the core pillars that hold up a successful marathon training plan. It starts with a well-structured approach that balances weekly mileage, incorporates long runs for endurance, includes strength training for injury prevention and performance, and recognizes the importance of rest days for recovery. Cross training can add  a valuable dimension to training, helping to progress  your endurance while giving your running muscles a much-needed break.

Tempo runs and a gradual increase in distance prepare you both physically and mentally for the challenges of marathon running, ensuring that you can maintain your pace and finish strong. For experienced runners, fine-tuning your plan for peak performance and exploring advanced strategies can make the difference in achieving a personal best.

Grit and Determination: Your Unseen Training Partners

The physical components of your training plan are tangible, but the journey to completing a marathon also relies on the intangible qualities of grit and determination. These are your unseen training partners, pushing you through those early morning runs, motivating you to lace up your shoes even when you’re not feeling up to it, and giving you the mental strength to persevere when the training gets tough.

The path to the marathon finish line is a challenge of both  mental fortitude and  physical preparation. Your determination to stick to your marathon training plan, coupled with the grit to push through the tough days, will see you through to the end. Remember, every step you take in training is a step closer to your goal..

As you embark on or continue your marathon training journey, hold onto these principles. With a comprehensive training plan, a focus on gradual improvement, and the resilience to overcome obstacles, you’ll not only reach the finish line but also discover the true extent of your potential. Marathon training is a challenge that tests your limits, but with the right plan and a steadfast spirit, it’s a challenge that you can undoubtedly conquer.

Join the Grit Coaching Family

Are you ready to enhance your marathon journey with a plan that’s tailored just for you? At Grit Coaching, we understand the commitment and determination it takes to train for a marathon. As olympic athletes and seasoned professionals, our training and coaching guidance is rooted in science and personalized to fit your unique goals and lifestyle.

Whether you’re a runner, an obstacle course athlete, a hybrid athlete, or getting back on track after an injury, our holistic approach ensures that you have all the tools you need for success. With no long-term contracts and a comprehensive program that includes mobility, injury prevention, and even customized strength training we’re here to support you every step of the way. Let’s go the extra mile together. Join Grit Coaching today and turn your marathon dreams into reality.


  1. How long should my longest run be before a marathon?

Typically, your longest run should be at least  20 to 22 miles, around three to four weeks before your marathon. Building to this gives you the endurance base needed for the race while allowing time for tapering and recovery.

  1. How many times a week should I run during marathon training?

Most training plans recommend running four to six times a week. This schedule allows for a mix of long runs, speed workouts, easy days, and rest or cross-training days to optimize training and recovery.

  1. Is cross-training beneficial for marathon training?

Absolutely. Cross-training, such as cycling, swimming, or yoga, can improve your aerobic fitness without the added impact on your joints. Cross training is a great way to recover while still building endurance and strength.

  1. What should I focus on in the last week before the marathon?

The last week is all about tapering and resting. Reduce your mileage significantly, focus on maintaining your fitness with short, easy runs, and ensure your body is well-rested. Hydrate well and prioritize carbs a few days before the race to ensure your energy reserves are full.

  1. How can I avoid hitting the wall during the marathon?

To avoid hitting the wall, ensure your training includes long runs that simulate race conditions, practice your nutrition and hydration strategy during training, and pace yourself wisely during the race. Starting too fast too early can deplete your energy reserves, leading to a mid-race bonk.


Coach Faye in 'GRIT' athletic attire confidently poses with crossed arms.

Faye’s journey in athletics is marked by dedication and impressive achievements. Throughout her high school and university years, she was deeply engaged in running, competing for the University of Calgary’s track and cross-country teams. Her standout moments include earning the “All Canadian” cross-country status and participating in the 2008 Olympic trials for the 5000m. After obtaining her Bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology, Faye embarked on a career as a personal trainer, where her passion for fitness and a healthy lifestyle became a source of inspiration for her diverse range of clients.

Transitioning from competitive running, Faye soon discovered her next athletic passion: obstacle course racing (OCR). Her strong foundation in running and strength training quickly propelled her to success in the OCR world. Faye’s talents were recognized in 2016 when she joined the Spartan Pro Team, and her athletic ability was furthered with a bronze medal at the Spartan World Championships.

Continuing to compete among the elite, Faye has consistently demonstrated her skill and tenacity in OCR. She has secured two 4th place finishes at both the Spartan North Americans and the Spartan World Championship. Her record of Spartan podium finishes over the past decade showcases her enduring excellence in the sport.

Beyond the thrill of competition, it’s the OCR community that deeply resonates with Faye. The opportunity to travel, share her passion for fitness and adventure, and connect with an array of positive, inspiring individuals fuels her year after year. Faye embodies the essence of the “work hard, play hard” ethos, living it to the fullest in both her professional and personal life.

Jess O'Connell

Coach Jess in 'GRIT' athletic attire confidently poses with crossed arms.

Though Jess spent much of her free time growing up competing in Irish dancing, once she hit the track, she never looked back! As a specialist in the 5000m, she boasts a personal best time of an impressive 15:06.66. Her accomplishments include competing in the 2016 Rio Olympics in the 5000m and formerly holding the Canadian national records for the indoor 3000m and 2 mile races. Jess’s career is further highlighted by being a 15-time Canadian national team member across track and field, cross country, and road running, a four-time National Champion, a Pan Am Games silver medalist, an NCAA Division I All-American, and achieving a personal bests of 32:22 in the 10km (road race) and 4:30 in the mile.

Jess has always been “nerdy” about her training, which shows through in her impressive academic background. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University and a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Calgary. As a CSEP-CEP (Clinical Exercise Physiologist) with a High-Performance specialization, Jess holds the highest level of certification available in Canada. Jess also holds NCCP Performance Coach certification for endurance events. She applies her vast athletic experience and educational background to her role in Grit Coaching, and also serves as the distance track and cross country coach at the University of Calgary. 

Jess’s commitment to sport extends beyond her personal achievements, as she actively works to inspire and uplift the next generation of athletes. She has passionately volunteered for Fast and Female, an organization dedicated to empowering girls and young women to remain active and engaged in sports, and has served as the athlete representative on the board of Athletics Alberta, the provincial governing body for track and field. Jess believes that balance, health, and FUN are essential for longevity in sport, and she loves sharing her love of running with others.