The truth is: Anyone can do a marathon. I remember reading a post by my friend Kenzie back before I even did a marathon and she said this paragraph that has stuck with me.
If you can do a 5K, you can do a 10K. If you can do a 10K, you can do a half. If you can do a half, then you can do a full. If you can do a full, then you can do a 100 miler. So, if you can do a 5K, you can do a 100 miler.
Wow. Such truth, but not really I know. There is a limit for most people.
I want to say that I could do a 100 miler, and I might one day but ironman has me thinking that maybe the 50K distance is as far as I'll go and the marathon is my specialty distance, but we shall see where life takes us. Either way, let's get to the point. What is the minimal amount that you can do to get to a marathon?
Can you train just 4 days per week? Just 3? I remember Tanner telling me years ago that he wanted to do a marathon only training 3 days per week and I was annoyed. Like, why even do it then bro? LOL! But then, my first and second marathons I did on 3 days per week mostly and definitely no more than 4. I know this is rare, and it's not ideal. Yes, on the day of the race you are going to feel much better if you don't do that. I totally bonked on my first marathon because I was dumb in a lot of areas, but either way, I finished.
That's the first question that you have to ask yourself... Are you just wanting to finish? Well, then, you could probably do it next week. You could walk, run, shuffle and make it to the end. But I don't think that's really what anyone wants. The girl that I ran with at the end of my first marathon said that she had only trained up to 13 miles because she was in med school. Ashley Horner is not a runner at all, and ran 280 miles across the eastern US in 7 days (~40-50 miles/day) and she made it. ITS.100%.MENTAL! So, that's the first leap you have to get over is thinking that you "can't do it" because you definitely can.
Then, what are your goals? Are you wanting to PR? Are you wanting to qualify for Boston which requires shaving a lot of time off? Are you wanting to just do your best but not focus on time? Either way, that requires some extra thought. Next, what is your lifestyle like? Do you have kids? Do you only have a certain amount of days that you can run? How can you make that work best? Are you a nurse and have to work 12 hour shifts leaving some days impossible? These are all VITAL and why many times, as usual, cookie cutter plans do not work for everyone, and that's okay. That doesn't mean you can't run a marathon.
Physiologically, you can run a marathon proficiently at a cap of 18 miles for the long run, and even some methods stop at 16 miles. One major thing in that determining factor is how fast that you run. If your 20 miler is going to take you over 2.5 hours, then you don't need to run that far before your marathon because the benefit doesn't outweigh the risk. You are breaking down your body too much at that point, and risking injury too close to the race.
When I ran my first marathon, I didn't follow a plan. I looked at some, but decided I just wanted to do a 6 miler, 8 miler, and a long run. I didn't do any workouts (speed work, tempos, etc) and I just ran and lifted. I loved the journey but that's definitely not for everyone, and probably sounds very silly to some. I just wanted to finish but keep my life normal. I've slowly added more and more as you've noticed. However, you aren't doing your best with just that amount.
We all have a set VO2max and we can't increase that, but we can work towards it. Running more builds mitochondrial density (essentially building endurance) and makes it easier to do these distances. But are you okay with just suffering the day of? I was at that time. That's also probably why I took 12 minutes off from my first to third marathon because I trained more appropriately.
If you've never run distance before, you need to start with just getting a base. The recommendation is 500 miles under your belt before adding in any tempo or interval work, but obviously that's unrealistic, but you do want to spend a few months building because if not, you risk injury. Tempo runs should be the next inclusion and then interval, speed workouts. My point is that if you are just running your first marathon with minimal distances each week, it might behoove you to just keep the runs as natural, conversation pace runs and not worry about tempo and interval workouts but you can expect that in your other marathons, if you continue forward, you will likely shave a lot off of your time.
So, to wrap is up, I thought I'd recap the questions to ask yourself when deciding if low mileage is okay for you going into your marathon.
- Are you okay with just finishing?
- What are your goals?
- Do you want to PR? Boston qualify?
- What are your life responsibilities?
- What is your job?
- Is this your first marathon?
I hope this helps to show you also, that you CAN do this and that's what I hope to show everyone with my personal journey as well. You have to find joy in your journey which might look entirely different than someone else's. I know my ironman training is NOTHING like most, but it works for me! :)