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How to Run a Faster Marathon

A Reader Asks: Help! I'm Running My First Marathon!

FitSugar reader BriannEmal needs your help — she's about to start training for a marathon but wants to increase her speed. She posted her question in the FitSugar running community group, RunningSugar.

So I picked up running a few years ago to get healthier, and it's one of the best things I've ever done! So far I've completed a few 5 and 10Ks and a half marathon, and now the marathon is the logical next step. Now, in my other races I've been able to get away with just plain old running to prep myself. Now as my long runs get longer I've come to realize that I need to vary my training with shorter speed-work sessions if I'm gonna make all this mileage happen. Problem is . . . I am so not a speedy girl; I'm a leisurely-paced, distance kind of girl. Anybody have some advice on how to slowly build my speed without killing myself? Keep in mind also I live in Arizona, so for the next few months it will always be at least 100 degrees out during my workouts.

Read on for the advice we gave BriannEmal and share your own advice after the break!

Congrats BriannEmal on deciding to run a marathon! It's great that you've found that you love running and have already completed several races — you are off to a great start.

First, give yourself adequate time to train; we recommend four months. Check out this four-month marathon training plan. Having a specific training plan is essential for building both your speed and your endurance steadily so you don't risk overtraining or other injuries. Check out some more tips for first-time marathon planning here.

Another thing we'd recommend is starting interval training, if you haven't already done so. High-intensity interval training is important for increasing your endurance and speed. Since you live in the oh-so-hot state of Arizona, try an interval training workout on the treadmill so you can beat the heat. Here's an interval treadmill workout you may want to try during your next trip to the gym.

Another race-friendly way to increase speed is to practice negative splits, which means running the last half of your workout faster than the first half. By incorporating negative splits into your marathon training you'll win physically — gradually increasing your speed during your runs will make you faster over time — as well as psychologically, since come race day you may find yourself passing others by during the latter part of your run. Another strategy that helps with speed is tempo running, which is when you do a once-a-week run at a slightly increased pace over a set amount of time (like, say, 10 minutes), and increasing that set time as you get better. We have a few more tips for increasing your running speed; read them here!

Also, don't forget that when you're training for a marathon, what you eat is important. Make sure you eat a well-balanced diet consisting of protein, carbs, and iron-rich foods (and add some extra carbs about a week before your race).

Readers, have any other tips for BriannEmal? Share them in the comments below and don't forget to post your own running advice or questions in our RunningSugar group!

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bjeanne18 bjeanne18 5 years
Good luck girlie!! I used they have a training plan calculator online.. then again I'm still working on my 5ks and building up to a half :)
enduraLAB enduraLAB 5 years
The FIRST Training plan is an excellent resource to show you how the quality of runs are much more effective than the quantity of miles. In my training I have my runners doing a lot of speed and form work. This has been a very effective technique and we only have three scheduled runs a week (many lasting less than 45 minutes). The speed work is vital to build stronger muscles that will carry you for the 26.2 miles. Working on form will help you become a more efficient runner and reduce your risk of injury. I also recommend cross-training and am a big fan of CrossFit as well as some Pilates to find balance. Please feel free to check out my blog at We have a council of experts that can answer any endurance questions you might have! Cheers, Lee
kclulu kclulu 5 years
I would reccomend looking into Jeff Galloway, he uses a run/walk method that you can either just use to train with and build up mileage or even on race day. I have run 5 marathons and the race I did the Galloway run/walk method I felt better after the race was over than after any other race and my time was still one fo my better times (I am also a bit of a slow runner). When you are able to recover for brief periods of time throughout the entire marathon, you can go further and feel better. Also, I live in Fresno, CA which is a hot climate as well and using a walk/run method really helps me to stay out there longer and go further without getting over heated. I run on my lunch break and when it gets hot, I use this method and I can still run in 95 degree heat pretty easily. Anyway, it is worth checking out and bravo for deciding to do this. Best of luck! Here is a link to his website:
zc zc 5 years
I am also in the midst of training for my first Marathon. I have been following the Runner's world training program which includes, long runs (mileage increases gradually to build endurance), short easy runs and short interval runs to improve speed. I would suggest buying Runner's world magazine - it has great tips - everything from workouts, recovery, gear and nutrition. Good luck!
benheld benheld 5 years
I agree that it's hard to increase both distance AND speed. In fact, I find anytime I'm increasing my distance significantly, my speed drops. I'm a pretty slow runner, trying to get to a more "normal" running pace (I'd love to be under a 10 minute mile by the end of the year!). My favorite speed workouts that seem to add extra oomph are hill work outs (running up a hill for a set amount of time, then going back down), and track workouts (the ones that I do you run as hard as you can for 400 meters, walk for 200 meters, etc.) Good luck on your first marathon--finishing is an accomplishment, regardless of your time.
RunningOnCoffee RunningOnCoffee 5 years
whoops- here's the link for the running calculator:
RunningOnCoffee RunningOnCoffee 5 years
I have only run half marathons, but I really enjoyed Hal Higdon's half marathon plan for my 3rd and 4th half marathons. Here's the link to his marathon training plans (free!) - the FIRST training plans focus on 3 quality runs a week + 2 cross training days. My current half marathon training plan is roughly based on this, and I'm only 6 weeks in, so I don't have much of an opinion yet. The McMillan running calculator might be helpful to you as well. You plug in a recent race time and it gives you equivalent times for other distances and training paces (anywhere from speedwork to tempo to long runs). I think it might be hard to work on both getting significantly faster (speed) AND preparing for your first marathon (building more endurance) at the same time, but I guess it depends on how much time until your marathon. Good luck to you!
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