Start Training Now for Your Fall Marathon

Even though the Midwest is just thawing out from winter and fall marathons are more than six months away, now is the appropriate time to begin training.

Whether you’re a first-time marathoner, an experienced runner returning to the 26.2-mile distance or even someone who still has a spring marathon on the calendar, early preparation is essential. To give yourself time to build fitness is to give yourself the best chance to perform during training and on race day. 

Here’s some advice for different types of runners.

First-Time Marathoners

The first-time marathoner should be a case study on the importance of base-building. Your body needs time to adjust to the rigors distance training puts on your body.

Many typical “bucket-lister” plans are 18 weeks, but why not give yourself at least five to six months to build your base?  It will give you an opportunity to slowly build weekly mileage and the all-important long run.

The focus during the base-building phase is consistency – run at least three days a week and gradually increase the distance of one of those runs to six miles or farther.

The long runs will build to 20 miles at the peak of training in September, so a run of six to eight miles should not be too much of a challenge by late May or early June.

Your runs should be at an easy pace to start – if you can’t hold a conversation while running, you’re going too fast. Experimenting with tempo runs or speedwork is fine for beginners, but it’s imperative to start out conservatively with intensity, distance and space between workouts while building throughout the summer.


Returning to Marathon Distance

If you’ve run marathons before, but are just jumping in again to train for the 26.2 distance, you’ll also want to give yourself time to build fitness.

I’ve had a few experienced runners approach me for coaching and say: “I want to get in shape to PR for a marathon, but oh yeah, my race is in three months.” That’s far too short of a training window if you’re just coming back. You’ll be able to finish a fall marathon with a shorter training program, but a PR is an ambitious goal.

My best runners have success because they have a longer build for the marathon distance. Build the mileage and intensity slowly in April and May – three to four easy runs of 45 minutes to an hour with the long-run distance returning to an hour and a half.

Depending on experience and how much time you’ve taken off, you can pepper in speed and tempo training. Build gradually with the mileage and intensity of your speedwork in the early months and let your body adjust to the new paces.


Recovering from Spring Marathon

If you have the Boston Marathon or another upcoming spring marathon, I advise at least a month of recovery afterwards before returning to regular training. Take a week or so completely off from running, then go three to four days a week and build from 10 easy minutes to 20, 30, 45 and 60 during the next three weeks.

This may seem remedial; You’re used to running for hours and now you’re hardly getting warmed up. But your mind and body deserve a reset, and I’ve never had a runner regret a more conservative approach. Jump into faster-paced workouts or substantial long runs too early and you risk injury or mental burnout.


My advice for the next two months share a common theme for fall marathon training – make the most of this time. You won’t be in peak shape by then, but you’ll be primed to handle the demands of peak marathon training once summer begins.


Kevin Granato is a running coach for #GranatoRacing, a 2:38:00 marathoner, freelance writer and former professional hockey player. Feel free to contact him at 

Michael Chin