The Beginner's Guide To Marathon & Triathlon Training!

This is a safe and effective introduction to running and endurance sports. The article will give general guidelines and also touch on injury prevention. Read on...
You do not have to be training for a marathon to use the following recommendations. The guidelines will help you train for any distance. These traditional recommendations for beginner endurance athletes are simple and are focused on increasing aerobic capacity and endurance.

For those with competitive endurance sport experience seeking an advanced program to increase performance, the following recommendations may not be of great benefit. Again, try the experts at Personal Best for experienced help. also offers corporate fitness and sport-specific training camps.

To improve endurance, you must be consistent with your training. If you are an absolute beginner, do not be put off by your inability to run (or swim) continuously for a long period of time. Simply begin your training with run-walk (swim-rest) intervals of a pre-determined length.

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As you progress, you will be able to shorten the length of the walking or rest intervals and soon you will be exercising continuously for an extended duration. Just make sure to complete the set length of the workout each time.

Training Sessions

For example, begin with a 30-minute training session partitioned into 10 intervals of 1-minute running interspersed with 2-minutes walking. This is an arbitrary example and depends greatly on your initial fitness. As well, if you are just beginning to swim, you may only be able to perform short work intervals. Whatever interval length you use, just be sure to train consistently!

Within 2-3 training sessions, you should begin shifting the duration of each interval to include more exercise and less rest. Eventually you will run for 30 minutes continuously. It is also recommended that you separate your initial workouts by a minimum of 48 hours, and perhaps even 72 hours. Therefore, in your first week you will only train 2 times.

As your muscles become accustomed to the stress of exercise and "eccentric" contractions (the force your muscles absorb when landing), you will have much less soreness from running and jogging.

What's The Difference Between Eccentric And Concentric?
Eccentric movements are those exercise movements involving the lengthening of muscle fibers. They are the opposite of concentric movements, which involve the contracting of the muscles.

Advanced Options

At this point you now have 2 options. You may choose to increase the intensity (running pace) of each individual 30-minute training session, or you may increase the length of each workout. It may be best to incorporate both for 1 session each week (i.e. 1 long session and 1 intense session).

Increase your training frequency to 3 sessions, if you have not done so already. This 3rd session will be of low-to-moderate-intensity and of a long duration to best simulate the actual competition.

Typically, the longest run (Session 3) will take place on a weekend or day that can be completely devoted to training and followed with rest and recovery. Remember, as you progress, the long runs may be up to 3 hours in length! For your first long run, you may need to return to the walk-run protocol you used in your early running development.

Therefore, you will certainly need time to fuel-up with a proper pre-run meal, 1-3 hours to perform the training session, and then plenty of time to recover (massage, cold baths and other additional recovery modalities).

What Are Modalities?
Forms (or types) of something.

Thus, the long run is typically a Saturday or Sunday event. The long run is important and needs specific preparation, and prepares you for shoe problems, fluid intake, proper clothing, etc. Try to run the course itself (if at all possible). You may also want to incorporate 2 or all 3 of the events into a long training session. Again, this allows for the most specific preparation possible.

Training Session Specifics

Session One

    Session 1 is scheduled for 2 days after the long run to allow your energy stores to be replenished and for muscle soreness to be reduced. If Session 3 is performed on a Sunday, you may not run again until Tuesday.

    For absolute beginners, it is recommended that 3 days' rest be scheduled after your first long run in order for your body to recover. You will be sore, so imagine what the day after the race is going to be like! Session 1 should be of increasing duration and moderate intensity. Try to add 5 minutes per week to each run so you cover a maximum of 60 minutes or 10 km on this day, whichever is less.

Session Two

    Finally, Session 2 will be performed on Thursday. By this time you should be ready to go and recovered from the long run. In this session, you will "hammer" it out for 30 minutes (but don't neglect a warm-up).

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    Set a distance you would like to complete and keep track of how far you get in each weekly "intensity" session. That will provide you with a goal for future sessions and allow you to judge your progress. This is an important area to focus on if increasing performance is your No. 1 goal.

Session Three

    Session 3 should also get progressively longer each week. However, it may not be wise to perform a session as long as the race itself. For the last 2 weeks before the big event, limit your longest sessions to 75% of the actual race.


Enter the distance of the race (in miles or kilometers) and press "Calculate".

    In the final week leading up to race day, perform only 1 training session at a moderate intensity for a relatively short duration. Check out the nutritional recommendations that will give you a little edge as well.


This is a traditional training protocol for endurance events. Weight training fits in well on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Please realize that advanced training methods and schedules can be much more complex than this. Fortunately, this schedule has been outlined with performance and safety in mind, especially for beginners.

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Don't get hooked on the idea that more is better. It is certainly not, regardless of your activity. Again, if you find this training program to be below your level of capability; seek an expert in this area to help you improve.

This is a safe and effective introduction to running and endurance sports. You should greatly improve your endurance, decrease body fat, improve health and improve your aerobic power simply by training consistently along these general guidelines.

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Remember that if you begin to feel any pain or injury from "overuse", stop, rest, recover and make any adjustments necessary. If you don't, long-term problems lay in the future. Be conservative. It's only a fun marathon.

Injury Prevention

No article on an introduction to endurance training would be complete without addressing injury prevention. There are several hazards of running to which beginners often succumb. These can include dehydration (see tips for pre-hydration in CB Athletics, issue #57), gastrointestinal distress, shin splints and muscle pulls.

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See also some of the nutrition recommendation sections of past articles regarding when to eat around your training and racing so you can avoid an upset stomach during training.

Warm-up and stretching guidelines are always a controversial topic (check out issues #16, 54, & 60). Theoretically, because endurance running, biking and swimming are not explosive sports, the number of acute injuries should be limited. There is no scientific evidence proving that static stretching prevents injury in endurance sports.

There should be few, if any, incidences of muscle strains in a regularly-trained athlete. For the beginner, you must emphasize a low-intensity warm-up period consisting of simple specific movement. If you are about to jog/run for 40 minutes, then make the first 5-10 minutes a buildup from walking to jogging.

"Shin splints" are a common cause of discomfort in individuals beginning a running program. This pain, occurring in the front of the lower leg, is likely due to the eccentric force applied with each stride as the foot hits the ground.

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Shin splints can be avoided by ensuring you run in proper apparel (go to a running store to buy your running shoes, they are the experts!) and by trying to run on softer surfaces (grass is better than pavement, and concrete is the worst, don't run on sidewalks!).

Of note for beginners: Research shows that individuals with more fat mass may have more muscle soreness and could lose more leg strength after endurance running that incorporates a large downhill component. This is due to the greater load of the individual that will accentuate the eccentric stress on the muscle. The bottom line is that if you are overweight, then you should take it easy when going down hills. Don't be afraid to walk!

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Not Sure!

Bonus: Estimating Your VO2Max!

For the more serious athlete, here are some guidelines that may help you determine your aerobic power (VO2max). The calculation comes from Barrie Shepley at

What Does VO2max Mean?
VO2max is defined as the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can take in, deliver and use in one minute.

It is limited both by the amount of oxygenated blood the lungs and circulatory system can process, and by the amount of oxygen the muscles can extract from the blood.

It is estimated that VO2max goes down about 1% per year. The fall in marathon performance is known to be about 13% per decade. Click here to find out how to calculate your own VO2max!

The VO2max of an endurance and team sport athlete is often highly valued and gives some indication of performance level. You can also check back to issue #2 for an additional method of VO2max calculation, along with a full explanation of the term.

Before using the equation, you must first determine the time required for you to run 10 km. Now convert this into a decimal form. For example, if you ran 10 km in 40 minutes and 45 seconds, your decimal score would be 40.75. You may now enter this score into the following equation (or into our handy calculator, below):

    VO2max = 120.8 - (1.54 x 10 km time)

    For example, if your 10k time was 40 minutes and 45 seconds (40.75):
    VO2max = 120.8 - (1.54 x 40.75)

    VO2max = 58.045 ml/kg/min


Enter the time required for you to run 10 km, then press 'Calculate'. (10 km = 6.214 mi.)
Time: minutes (in decimal)
VO2 Max

For the numbers to have true value, you should be a runner and you must undertake an all-out effort when determining your 10 km time. Based on the above calculation, a 10 km time of just over 40 minutes will result in an estimated V02max in the high 50's. Accordingly, a time of 42 minutes will land the athlete in the range of 55-59 ml/kg/min. This calculation does not differ between males and females.