I am frequently asked what program I am following or what type of training am I doing to prepare for a marathon. I have followed many programs in the past ranging from all of Hal Higdons to the newly published Hanson’s Marathon training program. For me, there is one variable that I adhere to which seems to work the best for me – miles. Simply put, my program consists of running as many miles per week as I can by safely increasing without creating an overuse injury. Well, its not that simple, but you get the point. Basically I’m not following a black and white scripted program where I look at e calendar to see how my miles I have to do today. I do of course understand the training principals involved in preparing for a marathon, and I implement them, but they’re tailored according to my level of fitness and current mileage which I build upon. If I can stress one aspect to those of you reading this and training for a marathon, you cannot train for a marathon in 4 months (or even 6 months for that matter). It takes years of preparation. Now, you may see programs that are based on a four month schedule, but your body needs a base of running before you even consider attempting this. Trust me, I’ve attempted it 8 years ago and have injured myself. It wasn’t pretty.
When decided to get back into running marathons again a few years ago after overcoming my foot issue, I new that I had to really figure out my running and what worked for me. I had spent 2 years trying to break 1:50 in a half marathon and had been unsuccessful multiple times consecutively. In three consecutive attempts, my times varied by seconds with the fastest at 1:50:30 (talk about being frustrated!!). With that last attempted my frustration was magnified because I had really adhered to an advanced program and spent a lot of time running intervals yet failed to get faster. My last three miles of the half marathon were really tough for me. I had four months to then figure out a new plan before my next half marathon. I had been discussing my issues with physician Mark Cuccuzzella, MD who I had been lecturing with in Florida at the Andrews Institute for Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine . He stressed to me that I needed to stop worrying about pace and focus on building a base using my aerobic pace. In other words focus on my heart rate. So I did. Instead of running my next long run trying to go at race pace, I set out for a long slow run at my aerobic pace which is a heart rate of 147 (180-age plus 5 if you’ve been running for 2 years injury free). I stopped interval training and did only tempo runs, easy runs, and long runs on the weekends. The result? In 4 months I took 9 minutes off my half marathon time and ran a PR at 1:41:21. But most importantly it felt like an easy run and I wasn’t injured.
So how does all this translate into my training for a marathon? The bottom line is more long slow miles. It’s not speed that I need, it’s endurance. Most people training for a marathon do not quite get this. They think that because they can finish a marathon, but not under their goal of four hours, they have endurance and need to work on speed. This is the exact opposite. They have the speed, they need to focus on endurance. Consider that if you can already run a mile at 9:00 mile pace, your goal is to increase your endurance to run 26.2 miles at this pace. Not get faster. Building endurance has become the focus of my training.
How do you increase your endurance?
Adding miles is probably the best way to increase your endurance. This comes through both weekly mileage and long run mileage. Most elite marathoners will run anywhere from 100 to 120 miles a week. You don’t have to be elite to adhere to this, but the point is increase your weekly mileage. If you want to PR for a marathon, then logging 40-50 miles a week may not get you there. Increasing your weekly mileage safely without creating an overuse injury should be your focus. This can take years to accomplish not 18-20 weeks as most “programs” have you follow. When you hear runners discuss base training, this is what they are referring to. Logging slow miles in the year or more leading up to a training period for a marathon.
My last marathon was in May 2013 (which was 6 weeks after one I had run in April) and following that I spent the summer months running slow easy miles at my aerobic pace until mid July when I started adding tempo runs. The tempo runs began at 4 miles and I have progressed to 10 miles. The 4 mile tempo runs are faster paced then the 10 mile ones. As for long weekend miles, I kept them up at 18-23 miles which will have me perform 6 of these prior to the Akron Marathon. My long runs are usually done slow 9:30 to 10:00 pace which adheres to the rule of going 1:00 to 1:30 minutes slower then race pace. My weekly mileage had been maintained at a minimum of 50 miles a week and will at times reach 65-70 in a 7 day period. My last long run will come 3 weeks prior to the race and will consist of a slow run for 4 hours. There is a lot of debate as to how long a “long run” should be. This is how I view it. Absolutely you can run a marathon by only doing a long run of 18-20 miles. But consider this, your body needs the strength and endurance to go another 6 to 8 miles after this. If your going for a PR you’ll also need a bit of speed during thes last miles as well. Wouldn’t it make sense to have your body prepared for the entire duration? I equate it to training for a 10k and only maxing at at three miles. You would say I’m crazy to only run 3 miles in training for 6.2 mile race. Ryan Hall states that he reaches time frame of 2 and a half hours or more for his long runs. This is almost 30 minutes longer the his race times!
As for my nutrition? I try to focus on lots of whole foods. Tons of fruits and veggies. Eating every 3 hours as opposed to just 3 meals a day. I also recommend fueling with something on long runs if you’ll be out there for more then 2 and a half hours. You can avoid this fueling to train your body to burn fat of you’re only going 2 to 2:30 hours but any longer an you’ll need some extra glucose. I’ve experimented with this and there’s not much benefit. You’ll need some glucose being active that long. You can do with less and I never fuel on my 12-16 milers.
Probably one of the most important parts of training for a marathon. Its important because the body needs to repair itself as it keeps encountering more stress. Rest comes in two forms- sleep and easy runs. Most of you reading this will probably say you don’t have time to train for a marathon and this may be the case. However, when it comes time to undergo a training program for this rigorous event, I feel that it needs to become a lifestyle change. To run marathon safely it takes months and months of training that comes after years of running to build a base. With this lifestyle change you’ll find it easier to do your runs and it will no longer be something that you have to “fit in” to your schedule. As miles increase you’ll need more sleep. For me I tend to average around seven hours a night and some nights I will get eight. As I put the kids to bed at night sometimes ill fall asleep with them, and other nights when I’m up reading, if I start to “doze off” I shut it down and fall asleep wherever I may be. I try to listen to my body. The second form of rest comes with easy runs. This is EXTREMELY important as it will allow your legs to recover from previous hard runs yet still works the cardiovascular system. I try to get 2 days of rest after a hill workout before doing a tempo run and the same goes for doing the hill workout after a long run. If your legs aren’t recovered for a hard tempo run, you will not reap the benefits of that run. So for the days I log 6-8 miles in between my hard workouts, they are really easy. I don’t even look at my pace. If you are trying to run too many of these hard and at your marathon pace, your legs will never recover and your body won’t improve to become a faster and more efficient runner.
In summary, I adhere to the miles and miles of training to prepare the body for this event. Lets face it, 26.2 miles is a long run compared to what most are running and if you want to attempt it, or do it faster, your body has to be used to running a lot. As many of you will see by reading about elite runners albeit high school/college runners or professional runners, they log anywhere from 70 to even 120 miles a week. While you may not be striving to be an elite, one can’t argue that more miles will improve anyone’s running if its done correctly and safely.
Good luck and I’m here to answer anyone’s questions!!