Choose the program below that best suits your current level and needs:
INTRODUCTION TO MARATHON TRAINING
Training Plan and Rest
Training for a single event such as the marathon can involve several phases of different types of running. Just as each week is comprised of different workouts, each phase is also somewhat different. A common fault to marathon training is not planning adequate rest. Many runners train too hard when they should be recovering from workouts, thereby not allowing for good quality training later in the training phase. Physical training stresses the body, and during recovery it adapts. Without rest and recovery, there can be no adaptation. The definition of rest is different for every runner. For the highly trained, it may be simply 30 minutes of easy running. For others, it may be a day completely off from training. All athletes need a day of complete rest (zero or very little exercise) regularly. This may be every week, ten days, or every two weeks. Nevertheless, it should be programmed into a training plan and adhered to. This allows the athlete to recover completely from workouts, and to train hard when it is time to train hard.
Almost every runner gauges his or her training by weekly mileage. It's useful for getting an idea of the volume of training, but too many runners feel it is the only measuring stick. How much one is training is a combination of volume and intensity. Don't get hung up on logging a set number of weekly miles. If a day or two of training is missed due to injury or illness or other reason, don't try to cram two days of training into one. Just pick-up the program and continue. Lost days are simply lost.
Marathon Tempo Running
One of the most important factors in marathon training is tempo running, which is defined as + 10 seconds per mile from your projected marathon pace. If you're planning on running 26.2 miles at 7:00 per mile, then do lots of training at or near this pace. This is one of the major differences between elite runners' marathon training and others training for the event. Most runners or joggers are simply trying to finish the event in halfway decent condition. Elite runners are essentially "racing" the event. That is, they will attempt to run 26.2 miles at a pace faster than their everyday run pace. Nearly everyone else is running marathons slower than their everyday pace. Marathon race pace for elite runners is at an interesting point, physiologically speaking. Many terms are used to describe this level, such as "threshold" and "capacity." They all describe the same thing. Marathon pace usually uses most of the capacity of the aerobic energy system and very little of the anaerobic energy systems. Traditional road race and track training tends to ignore this marathon pace. Most training is done well above or below it. But the marathon is a unique event, and one of the limiting factors to performance is fuel economy, and training at projected marathon tempo trains your body to use fuel (specifically carbohydrate) efficiently.
Simulate Race Conditions In Training
To a large degree, simulate race conditions as much as possible during training. Don't go out and race a marathon daily, but every facet of the race needs to be practiced. This training program includes tempo running toward the end of long runs, allowing your body to maintain your marathon race pace beyond 20 miles. Runners should also practice water stops and drinking large volumes of water and/or carbohydrate solutions during training. If you are training for a marathon such as Boston, then some downhill running needs to be incorporated. Try to train at the time of the day the race starts and in the predicted weather conditions as much as possible. Do a "dress rehearsal" several weeks prior to the event in a race or long run. This is the time to try out all racing clothing, shoes, socks, and pre-race meals. You want to do this far enough in advance to allow for changes to take place - and your blisters to heal.
Train the Long Runs
The long training runs of over 18 miles are the most important workouts in any training program. Every coach has a different philosophy on the long runs. Every week for 16 weeks is not required. Vary the long runs, mixing in some marathon tempo running. Much of a long training run is generally done at 30-45 seconds per mile slower than projected marathon race pace. Depending upon what training was completed in the previous few days, it may even be as slow as 1:30 per mile slower than projected race pace. Many runners get caught up in trying to run too much of a long run too hard. All too often, someone has a great workout of 18 miles at marathon pace three weeks before the main event, only to have a poor result.
Train and Compete with a Group
Running with a group is one of the most effective things an athlete can do to help his or her training. Everyone has a day when they are sluggish and needs the encouragement of a friend during a workout. At some point in time you will likely repay the favor by helping out that friend. Team running is great race strategy, but be careful that the group does not get too competitive and all of a sudden is racing the workout. Sometimes it is essential to select a person who is a good judge of pace and effort to control the tempo of a run, especially a long run. Don't race the workouts.
"How much" and "which" preparatory races are important questions. Much depends on the particular marathon and race schedule. It is easy to race too much leading to a major marathon. Since races typically fall on weekends, it usually means missing a long run or trying to do a long run the day after a race (generally not a good idea). Some runners like to do a couple of long races as long tempo runs a month or so prior to a targeted marathon. It is a good idea if you can go to a race and run at marathon pace. Be warned, however, most marathoners can't do this; they are simply too competitive and run too hard. A limited number of races within a marathon training program (perhaps three over a 12 week period) to assess the progress of a program is sufficient.
Strides, Drills, and Stretching
This is another component that can make a big difference on race day. Doing a complete set of strides, 6-8 x 100-meter efforts at mile race pace (not sprints), two to three times per week is enough to maintain leg turnover by stimulating certain neural pathways and fast-twitch muscle fibers. And some days it just makes your legs feel better. Drills focus on a small aspect of the running stride and exaggerate it. Drills always pay off in the latter miles of the marathon when the major muscles are failing and the accessory muscles are called upon to help maintain running form. A brief stretching session done regularly will help improve your performance and reduce your risk of injury. (The debate of whether to stretch before or after running is hotly contested, so try both and see what works for you.) The total routine need not last for more than 15 minutes. Muscle groups to stretch include the quads, hamstrings, Achilles tendons, calves, back, and the upper body. Stretch according to need, depending on soreness, tightness or the upcoming workout. Some tips for stretching are: warm-up for at least 5 minutes with light jogging; perform stretches in a controlled and smooth manner; hold each stretch for at least 15-25 seconds; and, don't strain, bounce or force a stretch.
Be Flexible with Your Workouts
Always be willing to adjust and adapt a workout to the conditions. In New England the winter weather can vary from Arctic-like conditions to mild Spring days. If it is an exceptionally poor day, then adjust the workout by cutting down the distance or intensity, decrease the number of reps, or increase the rest time. Expect that in cold weather you will run slower, have a higher heart rate, and feel worse than you would in good conditions. Adjust the workout accordingly so the physical stress is not going to ruin your training for the remainder of the week.
Listen to Your Body
Pay close attention to what your body tells you. Listen to yourself honestly. If you've been fatigued for several days in a row, then you may need to schedule in some rest and recovery time. Persistent foot pain for several weeks usually doesn't just go away. Usually, it gets worse. It is always better to deal with these types of problems as early as possible, rather than wait until they grow into something serious.
The "Advanced" training program is for the runner with a peak weekly mileage of approximately 60 to 70 miles and has raced four or more marathons. The "Beginner" program has a weekly mileage range of 40 to 65 miles and is intended for those runners who have raced one to three marathons.
You should incorporate some longer races (10 miles through 20 miles) into your training program. They are a good opportunity to practice running in a competitive environment, simulate racing conditions, and run at your marathon pace. If you can, try to find races that are similar in conditions to your target marathon. They will make ideal preparatory races.
All training programs must have planned recovery. How often this takes place is highly variable between athletes. Some people take two or three days off from training each week. Others rarely take a day off. Everyone should have planned easy days with little or no training. The program has the recovery day set every Monday, which is a day many people usually have as their easy day.
Tuesday nights are the set interval workout night. This is an important weekly workout, but not as important as many runners think. Runners should get in 3-5 miles of fast paced-running with intervals generally ranging from 800 meters to 3,000 meters (about 2 miles). A common training flaw is that runners in marathon training do their interval workouts too fast and do not fully recover for their other workouts during the week. The pace of the intervals should usually fall between your current 10K and 5K race pace.
This is your typical daily run, which we suggest be three days per week for most people. The length and pace of your distance runs will vary from person to person and how you feel at the time. The distance runs in the schedule are the most flexible in terms of your training. If you're feeling tired, then cut back on the distance and pace of the run. Likewise, do the same if the weather conditions are poor. This day is a great day to do some alternate form of exercise if you cross-train.
Medium-Long Runs (MLR)
These runs appear in the marathon training program on alternate Thursdays. The MLR is important training run done at a fairly steady pace (approximately 30 seconds per mile slower than marathon pace) for 10-14 miles.
Marathon Tempo Running
Often overlooked and increasingly important for faster marathoners. If your projected marathon pace is faster than the pace at which you typically train, then marathon tempo running is an extremely important component. Marathon Tempo is defined as the pace that is within 10 seconds of your projected marathon pace. If your projected marathon pace is 7:00 per mile, then you should do your tempo running at 6:50 to 7:10 per mile. Do not run these training sessions any faster than the prescribed pace.
We're all very familiar with the weekly long run, which is an important piece of the marathon training puzzle. The long run can be the most beneficial, but also can cause the most damage if done too hard, too long, and too frequently. The program cycles the long runs in three week cycles (shorter to longer). One of the keys to marathon success is doing some tempo running within the long run. Most of the long run pace is done 30 seconds to a minute or more slower than projected marathon pace. It is important to do some running at your projected marathon pace during your long run, usually in the middle or to conclude the run. That way, when you hit the 20-mile marker during the marathon your legs will be somewhat familiar with maintaining that pace. Long runs do not necessarily need to be done every week throughout the program. It may be beneficial to take one week off a month from the long runs.
The Last Few Weeks
Tapering is what every marathoner tries to do in the last three weeks leading up to the marathon. Unfortunately you can ruin months of training by not reducing your training enough or by reducing your training too much. The goal of the taper is to get you to the starting line in the best fitness and the most rested state possible. Total mileage comes down in the last two to three weeks, mostly in the distance runs and long runs. It is important to continue to do interval and tempo workouts during the taper, albeit at a slightly reduced volume. Everyone's last few days will be different. Some like to take off completely; others like to run a little the day prior to the marathon. This is something you may want to experiment with in the days prior to the two scheduled races.