By Alex H.
If you ask 100 coaches how to train an athlete for the marathon, you’ll likely find 100 different answers. Some will give you some arbitrary number of mileage that any athlete needs to run to complete the distance. Others will tell you specific speed sessions that are sure to get an athlete to run a specific time. But only the special ones are humble enough to admit that there are many different ways to go about marathon training.
The cliche goes “the secret is that there is no secret.” Individuals looking for a workout or a long run distance that will make a giant difference in their training are wasting mental energy that they could be using to focus on whatever plan it is that they are following. Among the mass of information and studies that are available to anyone looking to race the marathon, the key principles of training remain constant.
It is a known fact that stress plus rest equals growth. Applying this to training, we must load the body with a new stressor and break down our aerobic and muscular systems in order for them to adapt and grow stronger. If we do not stress our bodies past their previous limits or thresholds, then they will not break down and in turn will not rebuild to be stronger than before. But even if we do work very hard, if rest and recovery are not adequate, then an individual will wind up over-trained or even worse, injured! So what should the focus of marathon training be? What does all of this even mean? Let me break it down by sharing what a timetable of marathon training looks like.
The Global Period is the time when an athlete is over 3 months out from their goal marathon. During this time, the focus is on building an aerobic base to create a foundation for later training. Training should consist of easy mileage, but also short sprints and long hills. Essentially, this time period is for building up maximum speed and overall aerobic capacity.
One to three months out from the goal race is what should be referred to as the Special Period. During this time, the long run should increase in length and begin to increase in pace. The paces to focus on during workouts around this time are those slightly faster and slightly slower than goal marathon pace. I would recommend keeping workout paces within 5-10% of goal marathon pace. For example, if your goal marathon pace is 8 minutes per mile, then key paces during this time would be 7:12 per mile and 8:48 per mile (8 minutes=480 seconds, so 10% of 480 is 48 seconds, and therefore 712-848 would be within 10%). These paces are going to help build your aerobic power and aerobic endurance without taxing you too much.
Within one month of the marathon is the Specific Period. During this time, all key workouts should focus on feeling comfortable at marathon pace. Between 97% and 103% of goal pace are the rhythms to be focused on during that last month. Many athletes make the mistake of trying to run fast 400s two weeks before the race, or 200s at mile pace to feel “sharp and quick.” The problem here is that during marathon training, your body is trying to focus on being smooth and efficient at marathon pace, and running short and fast when you haven’t been training at those paces can really throw the body off and set us back a bit.
Like I said to start this post, different coaches and training plans will prescribe many different types of workouts and long run distances and weekly mileage plans. It all depends on what an athlete’s goals are and what they have previously done and can handle. What is commonly agreed upon is that the further out an athlete is from the race, the further away from marathon pace they can train. As the race nears, our best bet is to buckle down on that goal pace or goal effort and trust what we’ve done to get to this point!
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