What’s the goal of your training plan? Is it to run a specific time? Tackle a new distance? Qualify for Boston? How much does your training plan match up to your goal? Really, all training plans are the same. Whether you’re looking to run a sub-3-hour marathon or to simply cross the finish line the structure of a given training plan should be consistent.
That’s right. There’s little difference in the structure of a marathon training plan that aims to run a four-hour or three-hour plan. Sure, the total weekly miles and the speed at which they’re run are different, but the overall structure is (or should be) the same.
I’ve been following the same set of principles (with little tweaks over time) to continually improve my marathon time. In 2008 I transitioned away from rugby due to injury and filled my competitive void with running. 2008 brought me my first marathon finish in 4:06.
Through the next four years I refined my training plan and schedule. I toed the starting line at the 2012 Hamilton Marathon, culminating in a massive PR: 2:57:59. This was the start of five consecutive marathon PR’s, culminating in a 2:51:59 at Grandma’s Marathon in 2015. From 2012 to 2015 I’ve slowly and consistently chopped time off every consecutive marathon. I’m not going to lie, it took some patience, persistence, and consistency.
My training plan is fairly consistent from one year to the next. My average running paces are faster as my fitness improves from one year to the next, but my max mileage and structure of when I add specific pieces of training (ie speed work) rarely changes. I’ve seen the system I use work not only for me, but for other runners in the past.
What does your training plan look like? Is it just a list of miles to run for the week with an occasional tempo and speed workout?
Here are the three biggest training plan mistakes:
Not Building a Base
Building a solid base is a staple of every great training plan. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been running for 30 years and already think you have a solid base. Base training allows you to do a few things:
Base building typically encompasses the first 30-40% of your training plan. Building your base is more than running, too. During this period of relatively slower running you should have a strong focus on strength training—typically twice weekly.
Speed Work Too Early, Often
Harder runs, typically built from tempo or interval work, are intended to boost your speed; however, speed work has a shelf life. Starting your speed work too early may result in peaking too early. Who wants to maximally fit three weeks before race day? Not me and I’m guessing not you.
Generally, you’ll want to start working on speed work within two months of race day. Think about starting with long, tempo-based intervals and progress to shorter intervals. Make a commitment to nix the one speed workout a week until race day.
Poor pacing for Training
Are you heading out the door with a pacing or heart rate plan for your run? Most runners log their miles at “comfortable hard.” Each run is sustainable, but not at that “this sucks” type of pace. Unfortunately, this is a bad place to train. Comfortable hard causes breakdown and is the quickest path to injury. Not only that, it will leave you feeling flat on race day.
Ultimately, you want to have a training plan that is specific to your fitness, minimizes injury, and leaves you feeling fresh on race day. Long periods of base training (at the correct pace), incorporating strength workouts, targeted speed workouts, paired with an awesome taper plan is ideal.
I’ve outlined all my training principles in this online seminar. I outline how you can build your own plan or modify one you find online. You’ll learn how to determine your training paces, how to build your base and add strength workouts, when to add speed, and how to taper. These are the exact principles I’ve used to cut over an hour off my first marathon and PR my last five marathons.
To access the seminar, you can download it here and save $20 or become a member of RunSmartOnline.com and get access to my PEAK on Race Day seminar, all 18 hours of strength workouts, and much more (including a private Facebook group with me!).