With that in mind, we didn’t just want to post an off-the-shelf marathon training plan, there are plenty of those online already, but give out some advice on how best to use such a plan in your own marathon build-up. Profeet Ambassador Robbie Britton will take it from here, as a Performance Coach and 2:29 marathoner himself, Robbie has an excellent grasp of the intricate details of marathon training and how often it doesn’t all go to plan.
Adapting to the marathon
One of the reasons we love marathons, well I do, is because of the physical and psychological challenges they throw at us. It’s not simply a case of putting on your shoes and running 26.2 miles, but about smart preparation, mental fortitude, eating plenty of jelly babies and overcoming adversity. The same goes for marathon training.
Many people will follow training plans they get online, which give a good rough outline of how to prepare for a race but are limited in that they have to be written for thousands of people and are not able to take into account different levels of experience, how we adapt to training stimuli and just what our normal lives entail. Someone who’s just tackling their first marathon works in a physical 9-5 job and has a history of being a winger in a football team might need completely different training from another debut marathoner who has a desk job, but works shifts and doesn’t have a sporting background elsewhere.
One of the best things you can do is get down to your local club, speak to more experienced runners and maybe get some advice from the club coach, but there are also plenty of online coaches available these days too. Beware of anyone just giving you an off the shelf training plan and charging for that as well though!
The first thing that will help you with your training is to ask why a session is being set. A deeper understanding of the reasoning behind a tempo/threshold/interval session will help you adapt the training to suit yourself. It’s not simply a case of following orders and ticking all the boxes, because if you don’t understand why you’re doing something it might not be helping you improve. We all adapt differently and you may need to adapt the session to get the required outcome.
Again, your local club and more experienced runners can be really helpful when asking why, but also look online and do some research. There’s plenty of websites that break down what a threshold run is, like FastRunning.com, and you could even pop into one of the running forums around on Facebook or elsewhere. Runners love to talk about running.
There may even be different phases of training, so the first few weeks could be about “base building”, developing “Speed endurance” or simply building consistency and growing the length of your long run. Having a grasp at what you are currently trying to achieve at any one time can help you make sure you’re on the right track.
Don’t be afraid to move things around
Certain sessions can be more taxing than others, especially when you’re required to run a bit faster than marathon pace or run for an extended length of time. This means that your body needs a little longer to adapt and recover from these sessions. If you don’t respect the recovery time between these sessions then the likelihood of injury is increased.
So if you feel that you’re taking 3-4 days to recover and the training plan you’re following says to jump into another long run or tempo, then don’t be afraid to adjust slightly. We often work on a seven day week as it’s easier for marathoners to manage, but professionals can work on a 10 or 14-day cycle that gives them adequate time to recover from their harder workouts. We don’t need you to take time off work to get a long run in every 10 days, but it’s worth being aware of your recovery and if you need an extra day or have to shorten a long run one week, then please do.
Consistency is the most important factor in training and time off injured interrupts this, a slightly easier or shorter long run one week does not.
And remember it’s not just about getting X number of sessions in each week. If you miss a couple of days then don’t try and squeeze seven days of running into three. That’s a sure-fire way to pick up overuse injuries so just take a deep breath and think about how you should continue. Playing catch up is a dangerous game and if the time off was for an injury or an illness then bumping up the training load won’t help.
One reason we like training plans as it gives clear guidance on what has to be achieved when. Left to our own devices we might wander or just do what we want to do, rather than what is best for our marathon.
A coach might make you accountable, but even just training with a group of friends on the same plan, communicating regularly and offering each other advice on how to adapt the plan can be really beneficial. Tougher workouts are normally easier with a company (it changes our perception of how hard we’re working) and friends might be able to see if we’re overcooking it a little or squeezing hard sessions too close together.
Family can also hold you accountable, as well as setting a charity fundraising target, but even just sticking your plan to the fridge keeps it insight and makes sure you’re not ignoring the plan entirely.
A great measure of whether or not a training plan is right for you is whether or not you’re enjoying the running. Marathon training shouldn’t be a chore. Okay, the odd session may be a bit laborious after a tough day’s work or on tired legs, but in general, it’s a good sign to enjoy the whole journey. I love running and it makes everything a whole lot easier, but if one of my athletes isn’t enjoying their sessions then we’ve got something a little wrong there.
So if you’re not smiling at the thought of jumping out of the front door then ask yourself why you’re heading out (remember point one) and if you’re achieving the purpose of this run or if an easier run or a rest day will help you towards your goal instead.
AT the Fast Running Performance Project we have a whole community of runners who followed individualised plans but do so together, under the guidance of Tom Craggs and myself as the coaches. If the runners aren’t enjoying the training then as coaches we will ask ourselves why and how we can improve this. Variety is often key to enjoyment too, so if you do pick a plan online then make sure it’s not too repetitive.