Marathon Advanced Training Plan

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Marathon Advanced Training Plan

Here is the training programme for advanced marathoners to follow. It’s a progressive buildup similar to that for novice and Intermediate runners, except you start at 10 miles and peak with three 20 milers. There is also more training at marathon pace (usually Saturdays, the day before Sunday long runs). Please note that we do not recommend doing your long runs at marathon pace. That adds too much stress, particularly when coupled with the speed sessions scheduled for Thursdays. If you overtrain, your performance will suffer. Speed sessions consist of hill repeats, interval training and tempo runs in various combinations. Admittedly, not everybody wants to do speedwork, or enjoys going to the track. The advanced schedule is designed only for the hard core, those willing to take it to the limit. Only a small percentage of today’s runners classify themselves as “Advanced” or are able to follow this demanding a schedule. You can be male or female, a 2:30 marathoner or a 4:30 marathoner and still train as an advanced runner. Speed doesn’t count. Sex doesn’t count. Age doesn’t count. What decides whether or not you are an advanced runner is your background and your familiarity with this type of training plus your attitude. If this is your first marathon, regardless of your talent, consider following the Novice programme and simply set as your goal finishing, rather than finishing fast.

Long Runs: The key to all my marathon programs are the long runs on weekends, which build from 10 miles in the first week (Week 1) to a maximum of 20 miles, done three times (Weeks 11, 13 and 15). Although some experienced runners do train longer, we see no advantage in doing 23, 26 or even 31 mile runs. Save your energy and concentrate on quality runs the rest of the week. Consistency is most important. You can skip an occasional workout, or juggle the schedule depending on other commitments, but do not cheat on the long runs. Notice that although the weekly long runs get progressively longer, every third week is a “stepback” week, where we reduce mileage to allow you to gather strength for the next push upward. Rest is an important component of any training program.

Run Slow: We know this is tough for you. You want to go out on those long runs fast. Normally we recommend that runners do their long runs anywhere from 30 to 90 or more seconds per mile slower than their marathon pace. This is very important, particularly for advanced runners who do speedwork during the week. The physiological benefits kick in around 90-120 minutes, no matter how fast you run. You’ll burn a few calories and trigger glycogen regenesis, teaching your muscles to conserve fuel. Running too fast defeats this purpose and may unnecessarily tear down your muscles, compromising not only your midweek workouts, but the following week’s long run. Save your fast running for the marathon itself. There are plenty of days during the rest of the week, when you can run fast. So simply do your long runs at a comfortable pace, one that allows you to converse with your training partners, at least during the beginning of the run.

3/1 Training: Toward the end of the run, if you’re still feeling fresh, you may want to pick up the pace and finish somewhat faster. This will convert your long run into what I call a 3/1 Run. That means you run the first three-fourths of your long run (say the first 12 miles of a 16-miler) at an easy pace, then do the final one-fourth (4 miles of a 16-miler) at a somewhat faster pace though still not race pace. This 3/1 strategy is advised for only the most experienced runners viewers like you and we don’t recommend you do it more than once out of every three weekends. In other words: first weekend, easy run; second weekend, 3/1 Run; third weekend, step back to a shorter distance. It’s better to run too slow during long runs, than too fast. The important point is that you cover the prescribed distance; how fast you cover it doesn’t matter. Note: You will only be able to accelerate into a 3/1 Run if you run in control during the “3” portion of the workout. In other words: slow.

Hill Training: Hill training in this program is scheduled for every third Thursday. We alternate hill training with tempo runs and interval training mainly to provide you with some variety in your training. If you want to juggle the workouts for your convenience, feel free to do so. Even though your marathon of choice has a flat course (e.g. Longford), hill repeats can be an important part of your training, because running hills will strengthen your quadriceps muscles. Also, there is less impact running up a hill than running fast on the flat. If your planned marathon is on a hilly course, you might want to run more than the half dozen hill workouts included in the Advanced schedule. Best choice would be to substitute hill repeats for some, if not all, of the interval workouts. And/or do your tempo runs over a hilly course if one is available to you. The speed benefits of hill training are similar to those for interval training on the track. Select a hill about a quarter-mile long, but don’t worry about the pitch or the exact distance. Run up hard, as hard as you might during a 400 track repeat. Then turn and jog back down, repeating the uphill sprints until finished. If you plan to run a marathon with more downhill than uphill running (Killarney), do some of your hill repeats down as well as up. This will condition your muscles to absorb the shock of downhill running. But don’t overdo it, otherwise you’ll increase your risk of injury.

Interval Training: In training for a marathon, long repeats (800, 1600, or even longer) generally work better than short repeats (200, 400). We’ve prescribed 800 repeats for this program, also done every third week. Run an 800 at faster-than-marathon pace, rest by jogging and/or walking 400, then start again. We suggest that you run your 800 repeats using the same numbers as your marathon time. In other words, if you run a 3-hour marathon, you do the 800s in 3 minutes. A 3:10 marathoner does 3:10 repeats; 3:20 marathoner, 3:20 repeats, etc. Note: Just because you can run 10 x 800 in 3:10, there is no guarantee that you can run 3:10 in the marathon. It works the other way around: If you can run a 3:10 marathon, you probably can do that workout without straining too much.

Tempo Runs: A tempo run is a continuous run with a buildup in the middle to near 10-K race pace. Note “near” 10K race pace. Peak pace for tempo runs is the pace you might run if racing flat-out for about an hour. That’s fairly fast, particularly if the tempo run is 45 minutes long, but you’re only going to be near peak pace for 3-6 minutes in the middle of the run. In the Advanced programs, tempo runs also are scheduled for Thursdays. Here’s how to do this workout. A tempo run of 30 to 40 minutes would begin with 10-15 minutes easy running, build to peak speed during the next 10-20 minutes, then finish with 5-10 minutes easy running. The pace buildup should be gradual, not sudden, with peak speed coming about two-thirds into the workout and only for those few minutes mentioned above. You can do tempo runs almost anywhere: on the road, on trails or even on a track. Tempo runs should not be punishing. You should finish refreshed, which will happen if you don’t push the pace too hard or too long. It helps also to pick a scenic course for your tempo runs. You can do your tempo run with another runner, but usually it works better to run solo. There’s less danger of going too slow or (more the problem) too fast if you choose his pace, not yours.

Cross-Training: There’s no cross-training scheduled for advanced runners. If you feel you need to (or like to) cross train as a means of avoiding injuries (or as a variation from running), you can substitute an aerobic workout (swimming, cycling, walking) for the running you might do on Mondays or Wednesdays. Go for about the same length of time it would take you to do the running workout scheduled for that day. For instance, if you would normally take a half hour to run an easy four-miler, cross-train for that length of time. Resist the temptation to turn this into a hard workout, which is easy to do because you’ll be using muscles different from those you use running. Cross train at about the same stress level as you would on a running day. Friday is not a good day to cross train. We feel you need this day of rest to prepare yourself for the tough weekend workouts.

Race Pace: Most of the Saturday runs are done at race pace. Race pace is the pace you plan to run in the race you’re training for. If you’re training for a 4:00 marathon, your average pace per mile is 9:09.

Races: In most of our training programs, we do not prescribe races. We don’t want runners feeling that they are obligated to race on a specific weekend, and at specific distances, because that’s what the schedule says. But a certain amount of racing is good, because it forces you to run at peak speed and provides feedback related to your fitness level. If you know your 10K time, for instance, you can use one popular formula and multiply that time in minutes by 4.66 and get an estimate of your marathon potential. If you run other distances, you can use various prediction calculators to do the same. One of the best calculators, is that offered on McMillanRunning.com. I suggest doing a half marathon in Week 9 to help you assess your fitness, but there is no magic to that distance or that week for racing. As an advanced runner, you should know how to make at least minor modifications to suit your schedule.

Easy Runs: Training on Mondays and Wednesdays should be done mostly at a comparatively easy pace. These are days of semi-rest, nevertheless, as the weekend mileage builds, the weekday mileage also builds. Add up the numbers, and you’ll see that you run only slightly more miles during the week as you do during long runs on the weekends. The program is built on the concept that you do more toward the end than at the start.

Rest: Despite its listing at the end, rest is an important component of this or any training program. Scientists will tell you that it is during the rest period (the 24 to 72 hours between hard bouts of exercise) that the muscles actually regenerate and get stronger. Coaches also instruct that you can’t run hard unless you are well rested. And it’s the hard running that allows you to improve. If you’re constantly fatigued, you will fail to reach your potential. This is why we designate Friday as a day of rest even for Advanced runners. It allows you to gather forces for hard running on Saturdays and Sundays. If you need to take more rest days do so. And if you’re tired from the weekend, take Monday off as well or cut the length of your Wednesday run. The secret to success in any training program is consistency, so as long as you are consistent with your training during the full 18 weeks of the program, you can afford and may benefit from extra rest.

Click here to download the Marathon Advanced Schedule