Whether you’re just beginning your running journey or aiming high for your moonshot goal, running a marathon means you need a plan for success. For me, that means a well thought-out training schedule that gives me the structure and confidence to focus on my next run, knowing it’s helping me reach my goal. Below are some of the top factors to evaluate as you prepare your mind and body for a life-changing experience:
The main goal over the course of any marathon build is to remain consistent in your training and patiently wait for the accumulation of your workouts to translate into improvement. If you are preparing for your first marathon, give yourself time to slowly build up your mileage and stay consistent so that your body has time to adapt and get stronger, week after week. Your speed will come from hard workouts and your fitness will come from easy miles and time on your feet.
During the months before race day, every runner experiences cycles where you struggle to hit your goal paces during workouts, or show little improvement during your builds. This can be discouraging. In those moments, I try to focus on putting forth an honest effort to meet each day’s run plan, and trust that the process is working. One thing I’ve learned is that even when training doesn’t feel smooth, you are still gaining fitness. It’s important to not let rough patches deter you from putting forth your best efforts. More often than not, things will turn around.
It’s important to give yourself enough time to plan and train properly. For example, I typically work on a 16-week schedule when training for a marathon distance. This gives me ample time to build up my mileage over the first couple of weeks, so by the time I get to the big workouts in my program, I have a strong base of fitness. Having a longer build also gives you the opportunity to take some down weeks in mileage, which will help your body adapt to your training. That said, you need to make a realistic schedule that will fit your life. Try your best to stick to a regular routine and if possible, find a running community or training partner to keep you accountable and enjoying the journey.
Recovery is an essential part of any training schedule. In a week, my plan consists of two days of hard workouts and five days of easy-paced runs. For example, on my hard days I will alternate:
20 mins warm up
5 x 8 mins Tempo-pace with 90 secs easy jogs recs
20 mins warm down
20 mins warm up
90 mins Marathon-pace
90 mins warm down
While it has taken me several weeks to build up strength and fitness to do these workouts, these can be modified to suit your fitness by changing the duration of your Tempo-pace and Marathon-pace, and allowing for more recovery.
In order to go hard on your workout days, it’s important to treat your easy day runs as active recovery days. That easy pace can fluctuate between 5-15 seconds, depending on how your body feels. Similar to when you’re struggling with workouts, it’s easy to leave the house feeling strong and motivated, and run too hard on your easy runs. Again, remaining consistent will help you stay on track and lead you to your training goals, as opposed to pushing yourself to hard which can lead to lower quality workouts, burnouts, or injuries.
As part of my recovery this cycle, I am trying to be better at getting a good night’s sleep. This can be quite challenging but I really notice a difference when I consistently go to bed at the same time every night and get a full night of sleep.
Going through a training program with other runners makes the process a lot easier and more enjoyable. The best marathon I ran was Philadelphia in 2015 as one of my Toronto training partners, Cameron Bush, was on the start line with me. We ran about 30km together side-by-side, taking turns blocking the wind for each other. It was the ‘easiest’ marathon I have ever run, largely due to Cameron beside me and motivating me to keep on pace. If you can, I strongly advocate runners join communities and find other runners who are training for the same race or goals, as other athletes will always motivate you week after week, allowing for organic check-ins, and will push you even on the social runs.
During a build, it’s always nice to test your fitness by entering a race or two, to provide some dates and gates within your training. I normally pick a 10km about a month before race day. I find it’s a great opportunity to put in a hard effort on tired legs. The main goal is to feel strong and push through any fatigue that your legs are feeling. I find it’s often a huge confidence boost and reminder of the runners high that will come on race day.
The Finish Line
While 16 weeks is a long time to be consistently focusing on a goal, reflect on the things you enjoy most about training. My favourite part of training is the final weeks before race day when you start to taper. Some people count down the weeks until their goal race; I count down the weeks until my taper begins! I reduce my mileage, I get to sleep more, my body gets a chance to fully recover and I feel like I am buzzing with energy that I haven’t had for the last several weeks. The workouts seem effortless and I feel light on my feet. Everything you have been working on the last couple months comes together and hopefully, you are the fittest and strongest you have ever been!
I hope that regardless of where you are in your running journey, you’ll find some of these thoughts helpful in creating a training schedule that works best for you. Above all, stay consistent, take care of your body and trust the process. This will lead you on a path to success and reaching your end goal.
We’d love to hear what you’re training for and some of the goals that you have set for yourself this fall! And remember, if you have any questions for Eric as he shares his journey to the Chicago Marathon, fire away!!