As we start our ‘On Marathoning’ series today I wanted to start by giving a brief overview of the marathon training cycle. I’ve seen and read several published training programs that call from anything from 8 to 24 weeks of marathon specific training.
In all of my marathoning experiences it is best to work from 8 to 16 weeks total of specific marathon training. Now, the key words here are specific marathon training. Obviously, it would not be very smart to start with no pre-existing ‘condition’ 8-weeks out and expect to run a successful marathon.
Typically, my athletes will have 4-8 weeks of general aerobic conditioning (training) before we start the 8-16 week specific marathon training cycle. In some cases the athlete will have a 12-16 week training period before we start the training cycle, then take a brief 7-10 day rest or easy running period and then start the 8-16 week cycle.
So, why 8-16 weeks?
Why not shorter? Why not longer?
In my personal experiences anything longer than 16 weeks of specific training was just too long. The body (in training) is like a sponge and once the sponge is saturated it’s done. I’ve left all of my best marathons in training 2-3 weeks earlier…not because of ‘over-training’ or because of a ‘race-effort’ session…but mainly because I just could not hold the mental or physical energy that long. I usually got to the race no longer absorbing anything in training, but dreading every day.
I also don’t believe you have time to do the actual work needed and recover in time for a marathon in less time than 8-weeks. I usually ask our runners to do at least four 20+ mile long runs in advance of their marathon…if you are doing these within 8-weeks it’s tough to do them properly and RECOVER.
So, how would I scheduled the training leading up to a GOAL marathon race?
4-8 weeks of general aerobic conditioning (training); this should be very general training…things like strides, speed maintenance work, and building the base. Here is when we’ll do things like introductory tempo runs, progression runs, and hill repetition work. The long runs here will usually be much shorter than those 20+ mile long runs in the marathon specific segment.
We’ll usually have a shorter race to finish off this general conditioning block; typically something no longer than a half marathon. After the race we’ll run easy / rest for 7-10 days and then start the main marathon segment.
At that point we’ll dedicate 8-16 weeks of specific marathon training which leads to our goal race.
As usual, if you have any questions please email me at email@example.com.