Writing your own marathon training plan is an art. Not to be confused with art that resembles something my nephew could paint, but an organized, deliberate, approach that systematically improves and builds fitness. Unfortunately, most running (including triathlon) plans resemble that of a jumbled piece of splattered art. To me, it’s a collection of races and runs that resemble little purpose or organization. Not only does it yield results that show minimal improvement, but surely opens the door for injury.
Too many athletes are blind to the big picture. Their hard days are too easy or frequent, while their easy days aren’t easy enough. Races are far too numerous and are often disruptive to the overall plan.
I get it. Some runners are out for a good time and love the social aspect of racing. Others are out to PR. Most are out for both. Can you have the best of both worlds? Likely not. Your schedule should be broken into A, B, and C races. Your goal is to nail your A race (note: this does not read all 3). This means checking your ego at the start line and racing with the foresight that you have another training run to nail in a day or so.
Too many athletes are worried what their finish time reads. Trust me, anyone who is looking will forget within 48 hours.
Your B and C races should be confidence and fitness builders. These races are great for those workouts that are just too tough to do alone and require a little extra ‘umph’. They should march you confidently to the start line of your A race. These confidence builders should mimic your A race. What do I mean by that? It means that a C race for a marathon is a 15k or a half, not a 5k. We live in a community where you can throw a dart at a calendar and land in a 5k. Although true, it doesn’t mean you should be racing them. Again, this is for the runners looking to nail their A race (presumably half/full marathon, half/full ironman). Every race, run, or bike should be given a purpose: base, recovery, etc. Ask yourself, “What’s the purpose today? Is it moving me towards my A race? Does this race mean anything in the big picture?”
We see too many athletes red lining their body far to often and for far too long. When’s the last time you went for a run that was so slow you were bored? If you can’t remember then you need to evaluate your plan. Recovery and base runs are slow and may be upwards of 90-100 seconds slower than marathon pace. To be more accurate base your recovery runs off of your max heart rate (<75%).
Here are a few tips to nail your A race:
1. Is it worth it? Ask yourself if your race schedule is building to your goal race. Far too often marathoners litter their training with weekly 5k’s. If you can’t check your ego at the start line then refrain from forking over the race fee.
2. Every plan should begin with building a strong aerobic base. If you’ve been racing endurance events for a lengthy period of time you will likely spend less time here. In general, your base building workouts will be held at conversation pace. If you can’t hold a conversation you’re training too hard.
3. Too hard too soon. Your speed has somewhat of a shelf life. Consider it be roughly 8 weeks. If you’re looking to peak for one long endurance race then plan on ramping long to short intervals 2 months from the gun going off.
4. Work in strength/balance exercises. As your training goes up, your free time goes down. Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your muscle imbalances and weaknesses. Schedule 30 minutes 1-2x/week for these exercises.
Your plan should build, peak, and recover. You can work shorter races into your plan, but be sure their placement is on track with your A race, particularly during speed development. If you want to race 5k’s, don’t let them derail other key workouts (distance and tempo).
This graph gives you the idea behind the overall plan. You’re crazy to think you can run hard all the time and not get hurt. If you haven’t learned your lesson yet, you will. You need to run with intent and purpose. Enjoy your easy days and survive the harder workouts. It’s ok to go out and run by feel occasionally, but doing so every time you lace up will surely lead to disaster.