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Training - Marathon Specific

As already mentioned, we are all different and no single marathon training structure is going to suit everyone. 
 
Hopefully the following information will help you navigate your way through the many & varied opinions and theories which are available.
 
As already explained in the “Training – General” area, training for any event should be broken down into four phases and for the marathon distance, this should ideally be over approximately a six month period. Obviously in the running club environment things are a bit different where we run pretty much all year round. Sometimes it’s good to go back to basics, focus and start from scratch so this is what the following info is based on.
 
The four phases are: Base / Strength / Speed & Event Specific / Peak & Taper for the big day. The article below from Running for Fitness gives a simple explanation of training phases for all distances and a table to illustrate approximate lengths of phases from 5k to marathon.
Read the full article – Click Here
 
So you can see that training for a spring marathon such as Brighton or London shouldn’t start in January, especially if you are starting from scratch. Ideally you should start putting some structure in place in October and start building that good aerobic base. Giving yourself a longer training period will also allow you more freedom of choice as to when and how frequently to factor in your long runs a bit later on.  
 
Plan
Write yourself a plan - NOW.  Run 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6 times a week, what ever suits your lifestyle and ambition. 
Just make sure you get that balance of type of session right to get the best out of your training.
  • Plot your "A" race (marathon).
  • Plot races that you are going to use as training events such Brighton Half. Plot the WSFRL races and Cross Country races etc.
  • Plot your long runs around everything else - every two or three weeks is fine, increasing by time (or distance) ideally to three hours max (or 16-18miles) depending on your ability & pace. (see below). Plan your last long run three or four weeks before the marathon to allow a good taper and recovery. This doesn't mean you stop running, it means you reduce the volume but increase the intensity for a few weeks. The aerobic building bit will be done but you can now work on fine tuning your pace for race day. See below for link to article on Tapering smartly.
  • Plot "Club" for Weds (always a speed session of some sort!). 
  • Add a short easy recovery run once a week (or two depending on how many times a week you're running). Easy pace means 90secs-2mins slower than your marathon pace.
  • Pick n Mix - Each week add either a mid distance tempo run and/or long interval session and/or Kenyan Hills for strength and/or Fartlek session. All proportionate in terms of time or distance to where you are with your long run.  Alternate the types of runs in this section doing each one every couple of weeks. Here is a good basic guide from Garmin to explain all those terms if you're not familiar. Read the full article - Click Here
Setting a realistic goal time.
These articles from Runners Connect explain the importance of setting a realistic goal time so you can train smartly towards achieving it. Setting a time goal that is too ambitious is the most common reason runners get injured, plateau, and race poorly. The most immediate problem with choosing the wrong goal time is that almost all template plans are based on your goal finishing time. As such, the workouts and the paces you are assigned to run all assume you’re targeting and hitting a specific physiological effort. However, if you are not at that level of fitness, then the workout is wasted because you didn’t accomplish the objective.
Read the full articles here. -  Click Here and Click Here
This article also from Runners Connect looks at calculating your goal marathon time based on a recent performance at a different distance. This can be surprisingly accurate as long as you prepare properly for the marathon distance. Calculate your predicted marathon finishing time before you start training. This will allow you to dial your marathon pace into your training for maximum benefit. Think about running increasing the time spent running your marathon pace during your mid distance runs and later on, weave them into segments of your long runs. 
Read the full article - Click Here
To sum up this section - For maximum results, benchmark your self, predict your goal time and train to it.  
 
The Long Run
The purpose of the long slow run is very specific.  It improves the endurance capabilities of your muscle fibers by increasing the number of mitochondria within your muscle cells. Mitochondria are the "powerhouse" of the cell because they are responsible for producing the energy required for muscle contraction. It can take several weeks to recover and make the training adaptions from a long, slow run so have a think about adopting a longer 10 or 14 day training cycle. See the chart below for the different time that is required to reap the benefit of different workouts. 
 
It is your overall weekly mileage that should not increase by any more than about 10-15%, not just the long run in isolation. Rather than running long every week, try running long every other week. Think in terms of time, distance or percent and add a mile, 10mins or around 15% to your long run. Use the week/s in between for a shorter tempo runs at marathon specific pace or races such as WSFRL / Half Marathons / 10k's etc. This means less overall mileage is needed to increase the length of your long run, reduced injury risk and time for quality pace work. It will also allow you to fit your long runs around WSFRL and other races instead of having to bolt them together. Have a play around and see which model fits your lifestyle.

Increasing the time between your long runs will ensure you will have adapted, recovered and reaped the benefit from the previous long run before embarking on the next one. You will naturally have weeks that vary between high volume (distance) / lower intensity (pace) and Lower volume / higher intensity.  This may also serve to lesson the injury risk.   
 
When a long run is bolted on to the back of a fun run, even though the miles have been completed, two very different workouts have been completed and you may not have entirely achieved the purpose of the long run. Take Splashpoint in Worthing as an example. This is a great flat 4m out and back blast along Worthing seafront. Historically, after this run, some runners have set off for additional run of up to 8 miles to get a long run totalling 12miles. What runners are actually getting is a great 4mile Tempo run followed by an 8mile easy run. The purpose of a 12mile (or 2hr+) long slow run actually hasn't really been achieved. By spreading out your long runs, you can give 100% effort to a fun run and 100% effort at the correct pace to your long run at a different time.    
 
This is another good article form Runners Connect titled  - "The Long Run - Too Much Emphasis"
Read the full article - Click Here
 
The following article was written for Runners Connect by Sarah Russell, consultant editor at Running Fitness. Sarah also recently delivered a LCDP workshop on Nutrition for Endurance Athletes which several BHR coaches went to. The article is titled "Are you sabotaging your long run by running at the wrong pace". 
Read the full article - Click Here 

To reinforce the Train by Time not Miles" theory and Lisa's blog (See Marathon Bio's page), here is another good article from Active.com
Read the full article - Click Here
 
Speed
Don't neglect your speed during your marathon training. An ability to run shorter distances faster means that you should be able to run longer quicker and by inference with the correct training slower for longer. An athlete who can run 10k in 35 minutes will find running at 6 min km pace very comfortable whereas someone whose 10k time is 50 minutes will find it relatively harder to maintain 6 min k pace. So training to improve your speed at shorter distances will help your speed at longer distances – provided you do an appropriate amount of endurance training in addition.

Here's a great article form Runners Connect on Speed Development and why you should do it. Factor in a good speed workout once every couple of weeks throughout the year. There are some great ideas for sessions here.
Read the full article - Click Here 


Recovery
Don't neglect your recovery which is a vital part of any training schedule. Your easy and rest days are when you body will repair itself, make its adaptions and fitness gains. Slow, easy running helps to flush oxygen-rich blood through the legs and also heals micro-tears and other damage that a workout creates. As soon as you begin to push the pace, you are creating more damage to your legs rather than helping them heal. Think of your training as a set of stairs, just as the hard workouts are a steep climb that propels your fitness higher; your easy days are a plateau that allows your body to rebuild and reset after the hard workout and before the next big climb. Always try to slot in at least one recovery run a week at a very easy pace which should be around 90secs to 2mins slower than your predicted / intended marathon pace. This is another good article from Runners Connect.
Read the full article - Click Here 
 
This chart is taken from an article, again from runners connect which breaks down the general timeframe it takes to realise the benefits from each particular workout. If you hammer your body too soon with a similar workout, you wont allow it to realise that benefit. As you can see, the benefit of a long run will not be gained for several weeks which is why doing one weekly may not be the best thing. By doing a weekly long run, you may not have recovered and adapted from the previous weeks run yet.  
 
Workout typeIntensity/difficultyWhen you’ll see benefits
Speed developmentHard1-3 days
Medium1-3 days
VO2 max/HillsHard12-15 days
Medium9-11 days
ThresholdHard10-12 days
Medium7-10 days
Long RunHard or Medium4-6 weeks
Read the full article - Click Here

Taper
An important and often misunderstood part of your marathon training. Months of hard work can often be wasted on a over or under taper. Most generic plans have a three week taper period but I quite like four. Another great article from Runners Connect 
Read the full article - Click Here
 
Marathon Bio's
Have a look at the Marathon Bio's page - Click Here. They are from people who all achieved PB’s at the marathon distance in 2014 but who all trained in very different ways. Be warned, there are contradictions and no “one size fits all” solution.  
 
The most important things to consider before embarking on a marathon training schedule are your lifestyle & other commitments, running background, current fitness level and ultimate goal. If you have previously trained for a marathon and found following a conventional programme too much, maybe try something different. 
 
To Sum Up
Try training by time instead of fixed distances, to a maximum of around three hours for the long run. This will lesson the risk of injury and over training. Remember its your overall weekly mileage that you should not increase by no more than about 10-15%, not the long run in isolation. A good structure of a long steady aerobic base build up, good quality speed work, consistent running,good recovery and a smart taper is the key to your success.  
 
Check out the "Sample Marathon Schedule" tab for an example of how the build up to your 2015 spring marathon might look. This sample plan is based on the "Training to Time" theory and also allows for WSFRL events without having to bolt on additional mileage afterwards. There are plenty of mileage based plans available on line so these haven't been duplicated.