As we head into the Fall running season, runners everywhere start activating with a focus on a key race. The renewed sense of purpose brings questions about their training, undoubtedly encouraged by the recent launch of our pace-based running training schedules.
Hands down most common questions people have about the training for a marathon or half marathon is volume-focused: “What’s the longest run?”
But just as you don’t focus on a single defining element of your job (How long is lunch?), or time with your family (How long is this dinner?), it’s really hard to boil down an effective training program into one single element.
Training successfully for a race requires hard work, recovery, consistency, commitment, etc. In other words, true training requires more than just hitting an arbitrary number.
It’s time you stopped thinking like a consumer of training programs, and instead focused on becoming a self-coached athlete.
That’s right, you need to be the creator of your own best version of a plan. There simply is no one right way for everyone…but there is a best way for you.
To help you on your quest, I am going to present the way we think of a full season of training inside Marathon Nation. So much of what we do, from our Race Simulations to our emphasis on intensity workouts, is counter to traditional long-distance running that it might not even be on your radar.
By the end of this article I hope you’ll at least consider a season where high-volume long-distance runs are the exception — not the norm.
Start Macro / Think Big Picture
The most important thing you can do is to step back from the daily perspective of training. There’s a simple punishment/reward mentality that most endurance athletes develop, where a day without a workout (or even with a sub-par one) is treated negatively, whereas a day with a workout is viewed positively.
This subconscious bias undermines our ability to plan and execute a long-term training cycle because it places all of our attention on the extreme short-term.
To be 100%, you need to be thinking about your running from the context of what your season looks like as a whole. It’s very easy to be drawn into thinking specifically about a particular workout or into choosing a particular workout regimen because it means the training will get done.
That’s okay if your goals are to be active. If you want to be fast or see improvement (whatever that might mean for you), then you’ll need to have some context for what you are doing.
Inside Marathon Nation, we think of each season as having four distinct components: Recovery, Basic Training, Get Fast Training, and Race Preparation.
Each of these sections serves a dual function by constituting an important part of your overall training and setting the stage for the next block.
Recovery – 10%
Every good season starts with….not training. Really. There is nothing worse than beginning a year on tired legs, as you are effectively capping just how fast or far you’ll be able to run. Not now, of course, but in the future when it really counts. It’s kind of like starting a crosscountry road trip with a great map but only half a tank of gas and no food. You’re going to have to stop or risk a roadside emergency!
If you finished off last year with a big race like a marathon or half marathon, you could use anywhere from two to four full weeks off. During this time, at least 50% of it should be dedicated to not running…ideally you won’t be very active at all at the start, but you can work in some cross training activities as your Recovery period gets longer.
None of these sessions would have goals other than keeping you sane, and maybe helping you to be social with other folks you don’t usually get to train with. Conversational pace only please!
Just how much recovery you need is entirely up to you. I know someone is ready to begin a season when they are both physically and mentally chomping at the bit to get running again. Take the time to let that hunger develop and you’ll be in a great place to run.
Basic Training – 30%
After recovery, it’s time to get in to a simple routine that will allow you to get consistent with your training and begin the process of getting fit again. The goal here is really to set the stage for your real training (which follows), not to get fast or add miles.
Inside Marathon Nation we have a template Basic Week that members can repeat as often as needed. It’s short, concise, and easily applied to the average person’s schedule.
Remember, it’s tempting to start laying down some personal best times, but we want to spend at least two to four weeks at the start of each training cycle to building a good rhythm and getting on a proper schedule that is easy to follow.
Get Fast Training – 40%
With the Recovery and Basic Training behind you, it’s time for you to start thinking about getting fast. Inside Marathon Nation we always build speed before we add distance, as experience has shown that adding intensity (speed) to a program with significant mileage in it (distance) is a recipe for over-training, fatigue, and potential disaster.
Our Get Fast training plans are all eight weeks long, although sometimes folks will follow them for just a few weeks. Regardless of your plans, know that the goal of the Get Fast plan is to improve your 5k or 10k time; the critical benchmark of your fitness inside Marathon Nation.
If you can improve your 5k by one or two minutes over the eight weeks, you will have improved your marathon potential by approximately ten minutes.
Many long-distance runners will switch to a volume-oriented approach when their race focus begins, but these early miles are often run very slowly — in other words there’s little fitness adaptation. Not to mention that a five- or six-month plan with consistent aerobic miles will stifle your fitness over the long term.
Don’t fall victim to the same old approach to adding miles; focus on the volume you can handle and manipulate the intensity to get the results you need to see great progress.
Race Preparation – 20%
And last, but not least, we have the race preparation block of your season. You started off rested, and then smartly added a basic routine that was manageable and effective. You followed that up with eight weeks of solid Get Fast training and build some serious fitness, and so far we’ve barely bumped up against your allotted training time…until now.
With the shift to Race Prep, we’ll see the intensity drop as we add more miles to your weekly program. These aren’t “hard” miles, per se, as running at 45 to 60 seconds per mile slower than your average Get Fast session is actually pretty easy in comparision. During this phase your weekly long run should progress to be between 75 and 80% of your goal race distance; you might even consider a race simulation run to test your fitness across a greater distance.
Even though the demands on your time and body have significantly increased in this phase, it’s manageable because you have been careful all year. You haven’t been training tons already, so you aren’t fatigued. You’ve been smart with your time, and as a result you are present at work and haven’t ditched your family and/or social commitments.
It’s time to focus exclusively on your race, from your diet to your equipment to training…and you have the physical, mental and personal bandwidth to make it happen!
Need Training Support?
If you are looking for assistance with structuring your training, feel free to reach our to Coach Patrick via Marathon Nation on Facebook or drop by one of our Weekly Chat sessions (details released each Monday on Facebook).
If you want to use one of our Marathon, Half Marathon or Get Fast plans as a starting point for your training, then please visit our Training Plan Store to browse all of your options.
Are you a total beginner? Then download our Couch to Marathon plan for free here.