There are three phases to marathon training. The first phase is base building during which the runner builds the strength and endurance base necessary for specific marathon training. This phase may take 4 to 6 months for the beginning marathoner. The second phase is the sharpening phase which employs specific marathon workouts to achieve maximum marathon performance. This phase is usually 8 to 10 weeks. The last phase is the race preparation phase which encompasses final preparation, planning and resting during the week or so before the race. Twenty six week marathon training programs for beginning, intermediate and advanced marathoners are listed throughout the book to be used as examples.
The specific endurance training requirements for a marathon are too demanding to be "done from scratch". The average runner who runs 20 to 30 miles per week would quickly break down if he attempted to do 20 mile marathon training runs because of the lack of an adequate base. To run long training runs, you must run enough miles to adequately prepare your body for the stresses involved.
What is adequate mileage base for a marathon? It depends on your goal and your body. If you are a beginner and your goal is to finish, you may do so on 45 miles per week if that training is very specific for the marathon. For experienced runners who want to achieve a good performance, we recommend a minimum of 60-65 miles per week. With a 65 mile a week base, you would easily be able to tolerate the 20 mile training runs and some specific "speed work" during the sharpening phase. Part of your training involves becoming attuned to your body and being able to judge how many miles your body will tolerate; how it will respond to the different training techniques and what is optimal for you.
Before going any further, we will reiterate some training terms in the context of building a mileage base. Later, as we get into the sharpening phase we will expand these definitions.
Charts of "easy" paces (75-80% effort) are given in the Appendix for runners of different abilities.
The basic training for all distance racing is endurance training. The runner must have the stamina to cover the desired distance. Cardiovascular endurance comes first. Then the specific muscles become stronger, followed by the connective tissues, tendons and ligaments. Injury often occurs because the runner wrongly feels that he has the stamina to run the required number of miles, but actually lacks the muscular and connective tissue strength which develops much more slowly. Base building for the marathon should follow a schedule designed to build mileage slowly and comfortably to the level where your body can tolerate the necessary long training runs.
During the base building phase, a general scheme of workouts over a 7 day (weekly) period might look something like this:
The normalized distances are based on the hard runs being either 2 or 3 times the distance of the easy runs. All of the runs are done ar any easy (75-80%) effort. This results in maximum improvements in aerobic metabolism which lead to increased aerobic enzyme production, better fat utilization and adaption of convertible muscle to aerobic use. There are three "hard" runs per week and 4 easy recovery runs. One of the hard runs is particularly long and is followed by two recovery days. Most runners refer to this workout as their "long run" of the week. It is the basis for their endurance training. The ultimate goal of the base building phase is to slowly build up the length of your daily runs to the point where the long run simulates the endurance requirements of the marathon.
Many runners will start marathon training from schedules that are low in total miles, do not reflect a hard/easy structure and do not support 7 days a week of running. The first improvement to be made is to adopt the hard/easy approach to training. The easy days may in fact be days of no running at all or may mean playing golf or bicycling. But you must have hard days for overload and easy days for recovery to get maximum benefit from training.
More advanced runners with higher weekly mileage should also examine their weekly workouts to see if hard/easy cycles are being used. They may already be running a total mileage consistent with marathon training (8-9 miles/day), but not be completing long runs sufficient for proper marathon training requirements (20 miles or more). Base building in this group may not require running more miles per week as much as it may require slowly changing workouts to adapt to longer runs.
During the building phase, the primary goal is to develop endurance. Hence the emphasis for the hard runs should be on increased distance rather than speed (remember the matrix). Training at 75-80% of the pace you could run in a race of the same distance is an adequate speed to accomplish this. Pace charts are in the Appendix to help you decide how slowly you should be running. Other ways to tell if you are running at the proper pace are by perceived exertion and the "talk test". If you feel that you are working hard or that the pace will be difficult to maintain, slow down until the work level is easy or moderate. If you can not carry on a conversation with another runner or need to speak between gasps of air, slow down to what would be a conversational level. You can also monitor effort using training heart rates. The exercise heart rate is based on a calculated per cent of maximum HR. Find your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Then, calculate 60 to 70% of your maximum. (Example age 40, 220-40=180, 0.60x180=108, 0.70x180=126. A forty year old's easy training heart rate should be between 108 and 126.) If you are increasing your mileage a great deal, you are getting all the stress or overload needed without doing any fast paced running. Be patient and stay healthy, speed will be developed later when your body has the strength to handle its increased demands.
Once you have established a hard/easy routine in your training, you can begin to add mileage to build a base for the marathon. Mileage increases should be no more than 5% per week. A hard/easy version of progression is to add 10% every two weeks. To increase mileage, first increase the length of your longer runs. Increase the length of your rest runs only when they are well below 10% of your weekly mileage. This will assure that you get maximum recovery. Plan your schedule to allow you to reach long runs of about 20 miles 8 to 10 weeks prior to the marathon. Exactly how long does the long run need to be for marathon performance? For the beginning marathoner, you need to run for about the same length of time as you will run during the marathon. This means about a 20 mile run, if you run it at the recommended 75-80% easy effort. The balance of your training may not support runs much longer than this with attempts at longer distance leading to injury or extreme fatigue. For those with more experience, especially those trying to improve performance, a few runs up to and possibly beyond the marathon distance could be valuable. Try to keep your schedule close to the 3:1:1:2:1:2:1 daily ratios discussed above.
Each workout should consist of at least a 5 minute warm-up, (a fast walk or slow jog), before the run and a five minute cool-down, (again a slow jog or walk), after the run. These can be incorporated into the training run by simply starting and finishing at a slower pace. Increased mileage makes a stretching program a necessity, especially for the muscles in the lower back and the entire back of the legs. A program of slow stretching should be done after the completion of the workout at least 3 times per week; stretching every day is recommended and more beneficial. A specific stretching program is described in the Supplemental Training Chapter.
Some runners like to break up their longer mileage workout days into two runs. Endurance training benefits still are derived from this due to incomplete recovery between runs. However, the benefits are certainly not as great as from a single longer run. Specificty demands running 20+ mile runs if you want to train adequately for the marathon.
To assist you to devise a personal training program, several base building mileage progressions are given below. Remember to use the training pace charts given in the appendix to determine a target pace for your training runs.
Starting Point - Six months of running experience and a base of 20 miles per week.
Goals - Long term: To finish a marathon. Medium term: To build a base that will support some 20 mile training runs and some marathon specific speedwork during the sharpening phase (weeks 18-25).
|All runs done at 75-80% pace. See pace charts in Appendix.|
Starting Point - Experienced runner, may have run one or more marathons; has a base of 35 to 40 miles per week
Goals - Long term: to improve marathon time by building better endurance and using more specific training. Medium term: to achieve an endurance base which will support 20 mile runs and some marathon specific speedwork during the shapening phase (weeks 18-25).
|All runs done at 75-80% pace. See pace charts in Appendix.|
Starting Point - Experienced road racer, most likely with previous marathon experience; has a mileage base of 50 miles per week.
Goals - Long term: to improve marathon time by building extra endurance and speed. Medium term: to achieve a base which will support runs of marathon length and marathon specific speed work during the sharpening phase (weeks 18-25).
|* Runs may be replaced with equivalent speed workout of about half the distance (See Sharpening). Otherwise, all workouts are at 75-80% pace. See pace charts in Appendix.|
Run The Planet thanks Patti & Warren Finke and Team Oregon for the permission to reprint the complete online version of the first edition of the book Marathoning Start to Finish (Hypertext Version 1.02) by Patti & Warren Finke. © 1986, 1996 wY'east Consulting, All Rights reserved.