What is the minimum running level to participate in a marathon?

For novice runners, the ultimate goal is to complete a marathon I have come across various training plans online, but I find the first week of these plans to be quite challenging for me I would like to ask the experts what level of running ability is required to start marathon training For example, how many kilometers should one be able to run continuously, or what is the required pace for a 10-kilometer run

The Marathon Threshold: Running Half a Marathon as a Prerequisite

My friend “Jie Ge” just finished his first marathon in the 2023 Beijing Marathon.

Finishing time: 6 hours.

However, the cut-off time for the race was 6 hours and 15 minutes. So, using him as an example should be persuasive in explaining the “threshold for participating in a marathon”.

Jie Ge started running with me in January 2022. Of course, I had to drag him down the stairs (yes, we live in the same community, the same building). Because he really doesn’t like running. And, his running ability is really poor.

It’s been close to 2 years, his pace has always been between 6:30 and 8:00 minutes per kilometer, and he has never run more than 1,000 kilometers in total. The most common thing he says to me is, “Hey, buddy, my legs hurt behind the knees after running today.”

Don’t be deceived by his lack of speed improvement, but he started with 1 kilometer, and now he can easily complete a half marathon (21.0975 kilometers). In this Beijing Marathon, he completed it on the basis of the longest half marathon training distance.

So, if you can run the half marathon at a pace of 7-8 minutes per kilometer, like my friend Jie Ge, you can basically participate in a full marathon.

Marathon Training Fundamentals

The typical closing time for a marathon race is 6 hours. To complete the full 42.195 kilometers marathon distance before the closing time, your pace per kilometer should be around 8 minutes and 30 seconds. Therefore, the threshold for running a marathon, as you mentioned, is the ability to maintain a continuous pace of 8 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer for 6 hours. To adapt to a marathon race, you need to understand the basic logic your training plan should follow.

To have the ability to run a marathon, the first thing you need to do is to train for long duration aerobic running, which marathon runners commonly call LSD (Long Slow Distance). This is the foundation of marathon training. Generally speaking, for marathon runners, about 80% of their running volume should consist of long-distance slow running. For example, if your monthly running volume is 200 kilometers, at least 160 kilometers should be dedicated to long-distance slow running. The purpose of long-distance slow running is twofold: to improve your aerobic capacity so that you can maximize the utilization of fat as fuel during the marathon race and to provide the energy your body needs for the exercise.

Due to prolonged exercise, our bodies will inevitably produce lactic acid, which leads to fatigue. Therefore, in order to engage in endurance running, we must cultivate our ability to tolerate lactic acid. Therefore, in your running training, you must allocate a certain amount of time for lactate threshold running. This consideration can be around 10% of your total running volume.

In order to improve your performance, you also need to incorporate some high-intensity training, typically referring to interval running and repeat running. These types of training will help you improve your ability to perform in high-intensity situations, enhance anaerobic capacity, and increase your maximum oxygen uptake.

To improve muscle strength and endurance, you need to incorporate strength training into your routine, typically scheduled twice a week. Strength training can strengthen your muscles, improve exercise efficiency, and reduce the risk of injuries.

Regardless of the training schedule, it is designed around developing the abilities mentioned above. This is the basic logic of marathon runner training. You can customize your own training plan based on your physical condition and next goals.

Preparation and training for a full marathon

From the perspective of active participation, the threshold for participating in a marathon is not considered high. However, this “not high” is relative. If you cannot complete a 6-hour hike or a 40-kilometer walk, it will be very difficult to finish a full marathon.

I suggest that beginners who want to run a full marathon should aim to complete 10 kilometers in 70 minutes and a half-marathon within three hours. Based on this foundation, with dedicated training for 16-20 weeks, you can be confident in staying ahead of the sweep vehicle.

However, if you want to have a better experience, I recommend having the ability to run 10 kilometers in around 55 minutes. With training, you can complete the full marathon in 4.5 hours. This way, you won’t be exposed to the sun for too long during noon, and there will be sufficient support at the aid stations along the course. Even if there are any issues, you will have enough time to adjust and handle them.

Running a Marathon: Only for the Qualified

Throughout history, many people have believed that marathons are a sport for everyone. As long as you have two legs, you can complete 42.195 kilometers.

As a result, I have seen the phrase “Everyone can run a marathon” being amplified and promoted by some organizations, serving as a belief that supports runners.

At the same time, with more people around me running marathons, it has created a misconception for others: it seems like anyone can really run a marathon. This idea has spread widely like an epidemic.

This is truly: too young, too simple, sometimes naive.

To run a marathon, one must be qualified.

And currently, due to certain factors, the threshold for running marathons has been lowered, resulting in the misconception that “everyone can run a marathon”.

Every industry has its own threshold.

Marathons are endurance events, but in order to attract more participants and appear popular, organizers only mention that participants “need to engage in regular exercise” as a requirement. While it sounds responsible, it’s actually a comforting phrase similar to “drink more hot water” or “restart your device”.

The requirements of irresponsible events can be summed up as: pay the fee, have two legs, be able to breathe, and preferably not cause trouble for the organizers.

Top marathons abroad don’t operate like this.

Take the Boston Marathon for example, with age and performance limits, it forces many people to take it seriously, train continuously, and reach a competitive level. The Beijing Marathon in China has also taken a commendable step by raising the threshold, requiring participants to have experience in half marathons and invalidating online marathon results. They have also introduced classification for different levels of participants with specific performance requirements.

Registering for a marathon should include providing documents such as an electrocardiogram or medical report; these requirements should be mandatory for organizers and must be provided by participants. Failure to provide them or providing false information should result in rejection.

For novice runners who haven’t had much training, the first hurdle is to meet the cut-off time, and this forms the basis for continuous improvement in performance.

The cut-off time for a half marathon is generally 3 hours, and for a full marathon it’s typically 6 hours. The average pace per kilometer is 8 minutes and 30 seconds, considered slow for those who have been running consistently. The cut-off times for marathons can be considered quite lenient, with low requirements.

Marathons are high-intensity, high-load, long-distance athletic events and are also high-risk. They have higher requirements for the physical condition of participants, who should be in good health and have a foundation of long-term running training.

The cut-off time is carefully planned, and those who fail to reach it within the specified time are lacking in physical fitness and need more practice.

Like many others, I was deeply influenced by the quote from my running idol Haruki Murakami: “As long as you have a pair of shoes and a road, you can run whenever and for however long you want.”

In reality, people misunderstand that he was only talking about running, not running a marathon. Being able to run is not the same as being able to run a marathon, and it’s simple logic: everyone can cook instant noodles, but not everyone can make pastries; everyone can cook, but not everyone can become a chef. Even if everyone can run, let alone a marathon, running continuously for more than ten or twenty kilometers can be a problem.

Thinking that running a couple of 10-kilometer races means you can challenge a marathon is a common misconception. Let me tell you this: taking a bus past the Zhongnanhai area doesn’t make you a national master.

Running requires training, and that requires time and effort. How to train every day, the intensity and depth of training, all of this requires scientific planning. Running also involves strength training, which also requires time and effort. If you’re not doing it right, you may need to consult a coach at the gym.

However, time, energy, and money are the most precious things we have. If we devote too much to other things, we have less to spend on marathon training, and this trade-off continues.

Once you start running, you’ll realize that it’s not a low-cost activity; it requires a significant financial investment.

Having “a pair of shoes” is not enough; you need multiple pairs of shoes. A pair of shoes can cost several hundred or even thousands of yuan. Add to that the cost of other running gear, and you’ll realize that you’ll need the “qualifications” to afford them.

Especially when you’re striving for a 50-kilometer or 100-kilometer marathon goal, the physical and mental demands, along with the financial investment, are definitely not something “everyone” can achieve. This threshold has deterred many people.

Therefore, only when you realize that running requires real money, and when you have to buy a ticket to participate, perhaps then you will take marathons seriously.

The era of a false notion of a “marathon for everyone” should come to an end.

Running is something almost everyone can do, long-distance running is something most people can do, but running marathons to the extreme is something only a few can do.

In any field or industry, the distribution is hierarchical, and marathons are the pinnacle of the running field, without a doubt. Therefore, it is a “privilege” for some people.

If we are just running for fun, for our health, then let’s quietly be runners. But if you aim to run a marathon, ask yourself if you have the “qualifications”.

Remember: Running and running a marathon are always two different things, just like the difference between Guo Jingming playing basketball and Yao Ming playing basketball – worlds apart.

Not mentioning the full marathon or half marathon, let’s consider it a half marathon for now. The threshold is not too high. Running a mileage of around 100 per month, after running for about half a year, there should be no major issues to complete the race. If you can run 15 kilometers or more, then there shouldn’t be any problem. Of course, if it’s a full marathon, that’s a different story. It’s definitely not just adding up two half marathons. Without a solid foundation, it’s better not to attempt it.

Prepare Physically and Mentally before Marathon:

Train regularly, have experience with long distances, maintain a decent pace, and avoid attempting a marathon without prior experience. Veterans are all born from novices. I believe it is a combination of physical and psychological preparation. Generally speaking, as long as you have a certain level of physical fitness, completing a marathon is possible. What one should be afraid of is not being mentally prepared, which may lead to a breakdown. Therefore, I recommend regular training of at least 10 kilometers. If you want to run a half marathon, it is recommended to have experience of running over 15 kilometers at least twice. If you want to run a full marathon, it is recommended to have experience of running over 30 kilometers at least twice.

As for pace, some people are fast, some are slow, but it is also not recommended to be too slow, to avoid missing the cut-off time and having no fun at all. Ideally, for a 10-kilometer distance, it is best to maintain a pace of within 6 minutes and 45 seconds, and at the very least, not exceed 7 minutes. Otherwise, it would be better to just run in the park without joining the event.

If you haven’t even run 5 kilometers, I suggest not considering attempting a marathon in the short term.

From 0 to 42 kilometers: How to train for a marathon effortlessly.

I started from scratch and it took me a year.

The idea of running my first marathon was purely accidental.

I was running on the track when a guy caught up with me and started chatting.

He first noticed that I had a decent speed. Then he asked me about my daily running distance.

When I said 15 kilometers, he asked if I had considered participating in a marathon.

Because I couldn’t even finish three kilometers before, I never dared to think about running a marathon.

But unconsciously, my daily mileage had already reached 15 kilometers, so maybe I could give it a try.

Then I started paying attention to marathon events.

I also started searching online for the things to pay attention to in marathons and how to train in everyday life.

But I found that those didn’t really help me.

Starting from scratch, the first kilometer was also very difficult for me. I had to walk and run.

After some time, I could complete one kilometer.

Then I tried to increase the distance and found that three kilometers was not that big of a deal.

Afterward, five kilometers.

Eight kilometers.

Ten kilometers.

I ran farther and farther.

After experiencing a single run of ten kilometers, I realized that I could possibly run even farther, and I wasn’t tired at all.

So I slowly increased to 15 kilometers.

After I had the idea of running a marathon, I directly increased to 21 kilometers and found no problems at all.

Occasionally, I even ran 30 kilometers, and it was still easy.

I’ve come up with a conclusion.

When the body can complete 10 kilometers continuously, it is fully adapted to long-distance aerobic exercise and has the foundation for longer distances.

As long as you slightly slow down the pace, you can adapt to longer distances.

Many ultra-marathon runners have trained themselves this way.

If you don’t pursue results, if you can easily complete 10 kilometers, you can challenge a full marathon in just two months.

So, without calculating the distance, when you finish 10 kilometers and feel like you can keep running, you can sign up.

With a little guidance, you can finish the race.

Marathon Training Tips: Set goals, follow a plan, prioritize health.

I believe that as long as you have faith and combine it with scientifically planned training, the threshold for running a marathon is not as high as you might imagine.

I have a friend in his forties who started running relatively late. When he first started, his pace was over 7 minutes per kilometer, and he would be exhausted after running 5 kilometers. After undergoing scientific and planned training, he achieved a good time of 3 hours and 25 minutes in his first full marathon within a year and a half.

As for my first half marathon over ten years ago (the Angkor Wat Half Marathon), I only trained for a little over 100 kilometers beforehand. I remember my training pace was around 5 minutes and 30 seconds to 6 minutes per kilometer, and the longest distance I ran was only 10 kilometers. Nevertheless, I still nervously and excitedly participated in the race. Although I was worried I wouldn’t be able to finish, when I actually started running, I didn’t feel anything particular. I finished with a time of 2 hours and 4 minutes. Of course, due to the lack of training, I started walking after 16 kilometers, so my performance was average. But at least I successfully completed the race. The most important principle for me in running a marathon is: prioritize your health. I won’t risk pushing myself too hard for a personal best. When I can’t run anymore, I walk.

My true first full marathon was the Chiang Mai Marathon. I ran about 150 kilometers per month, at a pace of about 5 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometer. Training intermittently over eight months, I ran two half marathons during that time, but I didn’t do any long slow distance (LSD) training, such as a 25-kilometer run. During the Chiang Mai Marathon, I hit the wall at around 33 kilometers, feeling cramps and unable to move my legs. So I resorted to my usual method of running and walking at the same time. In the end, I still completed the race in a time of 4 hours and 4 minutes. It wasn’t too impressive, but I was quite happy since it was my first marathon.

I want to share more about my marathon experiences with you: don’t overly worry about the threshold issue. As long as you have steadfast belief, set a goal for yourself in terms of a marathon finishing time, and then begin your training with that goal in mind. I believe there’s nothing you can’t achieve. Therefore, strategically, we can take marathons lightly, but tactically, we must take them seriously. It’s important to have scientifically planned training; otherwise, hitting the wall is inevitable, just like when I rushed into my first marathon. Of course, hitting the wall is not scary. We have one fundamental principle: prioritize your health. It’s okay to run and walk at the same time.

If you want to have scientifically planned training, you can create a running plan for six months and strictly adhere to it. I suggest setting a weekly running volume between 150 and 200 kilometers, running three times a week, with each run being 10 kilometers. Every two weeks, run a half marathon if possible, and maybe a 25-kilometer run once a month. In the rest intervals during running, you can strengthen yourself with strength training. For example, go to the gym one to two times a week and do some strength exercises. If that’s not possible, you can do squats at home, doing 50 squats per set, with four or eight sets. Additionally, you can also do some cross-training, such as skipping rope or swimming. Lastly, make sure to keep up with nutrition. In your daily life, consume more carbohydrates and protein, including whole grains, whole grain bread, vegetables, milk, fish, and eggs.

Finally, let me emphasize once again: establish firm belief and goals, make a scientifically planned running plan based on those goals, and stick to it. When running a marathon, go at your own pace, but if you can’t run anymore, don’t force it. Your health is the most important thing. It’s okay to run and walk at the same time, and there’s no problem in successfully completing the race.

You can also refer to some of my previous answers:

Can you provide advice on my pace for my first half marathon? How can I maintain a fitness routine while frequently traveling? Why am I running so slowly, and why am I so exhausted in the last kilometer? How should I taper my training during the three weeks before a half marathon? What should I eat during these three weeks?

Not suitable for complete beginners.

This training plan is not designed for absolute beginners like you.

If you are an absolute beginner, not too old, not excessively overweight, and have relatively more time and tolerance for hard work.

Simply in terms of completing a race, six months is enough time.

If you have a large body weight, such as being around 170 cm tall and weighing over 70 kg, or being around 180 cm tall and weighing over 90 kg, then spend some time first by controlling your diet and doing exercises like brisk walking to lose 10 kg of body weight before starting running practice.

标题: 马拉松完赛的要求

English translation: Marathon finishing requirements If we follow the standard for safely completing a race, we should be able to run continuously for at least 25 kilometers, with a pace of 70 minutes per 10 kilometers. After the 25-kilometer mark, if we can’t run anymore or feel unwell, we can walk instead. This should allow us to participate in a marathon and finish within 6 hours. If we want to finish comfortably without specific performance requirements, it is recommended to have a monthly running volume of over 150 kilometers. It would be even better if we can run 35 kilometers in one go. For a half marathon, the requirements are lower, as being able to run 10 kilometers should be sufficient to complete it.