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Couch to Marathon

Disclaimer: I am not a professional. I ended my first marathon with a time of 4:25:14. That's slower than the time taken for the average male (4:21:03).

I went from couch to marathon in 20 weeks. Not an impressive feat, but I wanted to immortalise it by writing about it. These were some of the "notes" I wrote for my future self to read in the event I wanted to train for another marathon.

Marathon Training

There is one training method that has ruled over all other methods in recent years: The Maffetone Method.

What is the Maffetone Method? The Maffetone Method is a method of training solely dependent on your heart rate to keep your training aerobic. Here's an article on how it works:

The 180 Formula The bedrock of the Maffetone Method. This formula will give you your heart rate at your body's maximum aerobic function (I'll just call it the MAF HR). Most of your training will be done around this heart rate. You can calculate it with the following formula. 180 - (Your age) Now, take this number and subtract it according to the following conditions:

  1. If you have, or are recovering from, a major illness (heart disease, high blood pressure, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or you are taking medication, subtract an additional 10.
  2. If you have not exercised before or have been training inconsistently or injured, have not recently progressed in training or competition, or if you get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, or have allergies, subtract an additional 5.
  3. If you’ve been exercising regularly (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems listed in a or b, keep the number (180 – age) the same.
  4. If you have been competing for more than two years duration without any of the problems listed above, and have improved in competition without injury, add 5. Now, let's say you're like me, a 20-year-old who gets sick about twice a year, your MAF HR will be calculated as such: 180 - 20 - 5 = 155 What is the significance of this heart rate? You will always be training at 10 heartbeats lower than this no matter what. Note: For simplicity, if I mention "MAF HR" anytime in this post, I'll be referring to 10 beats below your MAF HR.

The Maffetone Test I did not do a single Maffetone Test, but I wish I did. It is essentially a way for you to track your overall running fitness. Here's a good video outlining the test: The general rule of thumb is that if you see your MAF test results stagnating, you'll need to incorporate more speed training for the next couple of weeks.


Note: The duration of time I added to each phase is under the assumption of couch to marathon.

Phase 1: Base-building (14 weeks)

The most important phase of marathon training if you were unfit like me.

The goal of this phase is to:

  • Train your legs to take load for long distances.
  • Train your body to use fat instead of carbohydrates for running.
  • Train your mind to handle the boredom that comes with long-distance running.
  • The typical week for me looked like this: Monday: Rest Tuesday: Base Run (MAF HR) Wednesday: Speed Run/ Base Run (Alternated every week) Thursday: Base Run (MAF HR) Friday: Easy Run Saturday: Long Run (MAF HR) Sunday: Recovery Run

Base runs are "shorter" distance runs that aim to increase total mileage for this period of time.

My base runs started at 2km and ended at 17km at increments of 1-2km every 2 weeks. (This was a horrible increment, and it led to many injuries. I suggest increasing the mileage by 10% each week.)

Speed runs are your typical interval runs. I did 8x400M intervals throughout this phase, tracking my timings for each session. The goal of this session is to maintain your speed. It is unwise to kill yourself here because this phase focuses on building your aerobic base. Side note: I did not care about my heart rate for speed runs; I just ran hard.

Long runs are your bread and butter. These were undoubtedly the most important runs the entire time I was training.

Long runs started at 8km and ended at 36km at increments of 2-3km each week. Again, a horrible decision, I should've stuck with the 10% increase as people suggested.

The one thing that struck me was actually how boring these long runs were. If you've never experienced "Runner's High", you'll be sure to feel it here. I kept myself entertained with podcasts on many topics. Some good podcasts I was introduced to during these runs were: 1. The Personal Finance Podcast: If you're interested in Personal Finance. 2. The Extramilest Show: An amazing podcast on long-distance running. 3. Modern Wisdom: Interviews of many great minds around the world. 4. The Diary of a CEO with Steven Bartlett: Sharings of a university dropout turned Millionaire: Steven Bartlett. 5. Founders: Sharing of biographies of great entrepreneurs.

As boring as they were, the experience these runs gave me made me love running, and they are largely the reason I still go for (almost) daily runs today.

Recovery Runs are an excellent form of active recovery. When you move, blood flows at a higher rate, and lactic acid gets flushed out faster (I'm not a scientist). These runs can be replaced with an easy swim or cycle.

Make these runs so easy to the point you’re almost walking. My max HR (I will show you how to calculate it soon) was roughly 200. My recovery HR was around 125. Painfully slow.

Phase 2: Speed Work (4 weeks)

The goal for this phase is to increase speed. You aren't going to be running at MAF HR during the marathon, so you need to let your body get used to the increase in speed.

The typical week for me during this phase looked like this: Monday: Rest Tuesday: Base Run (MAF HR) Wednesday: Speed Run Thursday: Base Run (MAF HR) Friday: Easy Run Saturday: Speed Run Sunday: Recovery Run

Base runs are there so your aerobic fitness does not die off. I maintained my base runs at roughly 12.5 to 15km during this phase.

My speed runs were a range of 8x400M, 4x800M, 4KM Tempo, and 6KM Tempo. I'll be honest in saying I had no idea what I was doing during these speed runs, so I will not give any "advice". What I can say is that these runs will likely dictate your pace for the first half of the marathon. The second half will be determined by your base building phase.

Phase 3: Tapering (2 weeks)

This will be the month before your marathon. I did a 2 weeks taper which I felt wasn't enough. The aim here is to rest your body to get it ready for the big day. My schedule here largely followed that of the base building phase, but with the removal of the speed run and the replacement of the long run with a base run. For every base run, there should be a slight decrement in distance from the previous. You should be maintaining your fitness while allowing your body to rest. A delicate balance that I had trouble controlling.


  1. Shoes Contrary to popular belief, the number of shoes you have does not equate to your running ability. That being said, though possible with 1 pair of shoes, the ideal situation would be to have at least 2 pairs of shoes. Here are some possible shoe rotations.

    1 Pair: Daily Trainer 2 Pairs: Race Day and Daily Trainer 3 Pairs: Race Day, Speed Shoe, Daily Trainer 4 Pairs: Race Day, Speed Shoe, Daily Trainer, Recovery

Daily Trainers are like the swiss-army knife of shoes. They're known to be able to do everything, but not excel at any. They can be used for base runs, recovery runs, speed runs, and race day but bear in mind, they are not optimal.

Some popular daily trainers include: Nike Pegasus, Hoka Rincon, Hoka Clifton, Asics Novablast.

Race Day shoes are used for, well, race day. The pair you'll be running your 42.2km in. They're snappy, they're fast, but they won't last for long. Remember to break into your shoes a few weeks before the race, you don't want any injuries on your big day.

Some popular race day shoes include: Nike Vaporfly, Asics Metaspeed, Saucony Endorphin Pro, Adidas Adios Pro, Puma Fast R Nitro Elite, New Balance Fuel Cell Elite.

Speed Shoes are used for speed runs, whether tempo or intervals. They're much snappier than your daily trainers. Though not as snappy as race day shoes, they can last much longer than them.

Some popular speed shoes include: Asics Magic Speed, Hoka Carbon X, Saucony Endorphin Speed.

Recovery shoes are for your recovery runs. Heavy as a brick, but extremely kind on the joints. Made to be comfortable. They can be used for base runs and long runs too, though I don't recommend it.

Some popular recovery shoes include: Nike Invincible Run, Hoka Bondi, New Balance Fresh Foam X.

The shoes I recommended were mostly what I researched while training, but countless other shoes suit many kinds of feet and running types. Find the one suitable for you.

  1. Peripherals There are many other things you can purchase to make your running life easier, though I feel it is not a necessity to have all of these.
  • Heart Rate Monitor You''ll definitely need this if you're training using the Maffetone Method. Any equipment that can track and give you your present heart rate works fine. I recommend watches. I used a Garmin Forerunner 955.

  • Running Gels The sugars found in these gels give you a major spike in energy. You can bring 1 or 2 along with you on your long runs, and consume 1 if you feel a serious need to. I mostly ate the "Chocolate Outrage" from GU Energy Labs. The extra caffeine they had inside gave me a good boost.

  • Others Running socks, Running pants, Handheld Running Water Bottle.. There's no end to the amount of equipment you can buy for running.

During the Marathon

42.2km is long.

The goal for the marathon is not to run your fastest but to end at the pace you started with.

Marathon Heart Rate This all bows down to knowing your ideal race day heart rate. The typical heart rate for a marathon would be 65-80% of your maximum heart rate. Your maximum heart rate can be calculated using

220 - (your age)

So, if you're a 30-year-old, your maximum heart rate would be 190.

Now, how do you know what your race-day heart rate is? Simple, experiment. Use some of your base runs and long runs to test different heart rates. You'll find the ideal one with time. It's a game of feeling, find one that is slightly challenging but where you end the run wanting more.

Nutrition There'll likely be water points set up during the run. You may think you do not need the water at some points but future you is likely to regret missing any (If it's your first marathon). Drink a cup of water at each water station.

One big thing many "beginners" skip out on is salts. You need salts to survive the run. The reason many people cramp up during runs is because of a lack of salts.

Drink any isotonic drinks and eat any running gels that contain electrolytes (You should bring a couple). I suffered cramps in both quads and glutes because of a lack of salt. Don't be like me.