I’m one week out from beginning my next marathon training cycle. Some days I’m super excited and some days I’m nervous. I think that’s pretty normal right?
This time though I am doing something I’ve never done before: I completely creating my marathon training plan myself. Throughout the years I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned what my body responds well to and what it doesn’t. I also have a great support system between my husband and running friends that have all really encouraged me to take ownership of my training.
It’s a little scary because I alone am responsible not only for my performance on race day but also on all the training that it takes to get there. I know deep down though that I am ready to take this next step and am excited to really be able to control my own destiny in some ways!
Creating your own plan can feel a bit daunting but there are a few simple things to consider when beginning.
Here are 5 areas to focus on when creating your own training plan:
How long should your training plan be?
We all are at different places when it comes to running. Have you run a marathon before? What does your current mileage look like? What is your biggest weakness (speed or endurance)?
Over the past 6-8 weeks I’ve been working on getting a pretty good base built up to start my training. I chose to do a 12 week plan mostly because of that; however, if I was further away from my marathon mileage then I would have done anywhere from 14-20 weeks.
The less experience you have with the marathon distance the better off you are extending your training cycle. If you already have a decent base then you don’t have to extend it out quite as long. If you aren’t sure somewhere in the middle around 14-16 week is usually best.
How important is your long run and what should be your longest run in the marathon cycle?
This one doesn’t have the a set answer, as you will find with a lot of marathon training. I’ve had a coach who scheduled 21-22 mile runs for me and I followed Hansons Marathon Method I never ran over 16 miles (but I still got my biggest PR yet).
This question isn’t something I can give you a straight answer for. What I believe is that the long run is more about time on your feet than anything else. There is great benefit to running long but it also increases your risk of injury, That is the main reason that Hanson’s recommends not going over 16 because the risk wasn’t worth it. That being said some people find that being able to complete 20 miles is mentally important for their marathon performance. It took a lot for me to trust that 16 miles was enough to get me through 26.2 but I trusted the training and it got me there.
The golden “20 mile run” is often considered the point when many hit the wall during a marathon. I find that for training a slightly shorter but fast finish long run can imitate the same point in a marathon just as well, plus it allows you to be on your feet for less time overall.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some people who benefit from a 20+ mile long run during your training (my husband actually runs a 26 mile run during most cycles) but it isn’t for everyone and depending on your goal and history of training it definitely isn’t a end all be all for your marathon training cycle.
How do I set my race goal?
First off – I am a huge believe in BIG goals! I think they are great to have. However; they all can’t be achieved in one training cycle. It takes time to chip away at your marathon PR so it’s important to plan your goal knowing that and even have an A, B, and C goal for each race. If you find that A, B, and C goals tend to make it easier for you to cut corners in training then I wouldn’t recommend this. The important thing is to do what helps you mentally.
Take a look at your past performance. Plug your information into a race calculator just to give you an idea of where you are currently at. This doesn’t mean this is where you will end up at the end of your marathon cycle but it gives you an idea of where you are starting from.
Throughout your training you will be able to get an idea through tempos and speed workouts if your goal is attainable. Set a goal to work towards but be realistic with yourself. You don’t have to get to your biggest goal in one training cycle – sometimes a goal can be just cutting 1-2 minutes off your PR and working towards your ultimate goal.
After 4-5 weeks of training you can gauge to see if you are on track and if adjustments need to be made they can.
How do I help my training to match the race?
Your training plan should take into account the type of race you are going to do. For example – when I was training for the Boston Marathon I tried to incorporate the tougher parts of the course in my training. I planned my long runs to have hills near the end to mimmic the Newton Hills. I added in hill work more often, where as when I ran Chicago or Kiawah I don’t do as much hill work because they are relatively flat courses.
It’s important to do your research and look at the elevation of the courses. Read race reports and figure out where the toughest parts are and try to do your best to incorporate training that helps you practice for those conditions.
Figure out how you like to train and work that in.
There are many different training plans out there and everyone has their own belief as to what works. The key is finding training that works for YOU and fits your training style. There are individuals out there who love to run hours and hours by themselves while others prefer to run with others or in groups.
Switching up your training is important but it’s not going to help you if you don’t get to do any of your training that you enjoy. Work in your group runs if that’s what you love. Don’t try and cut that out – in the end it will only make it harder. If you are someone who likes to do different things to keep from getting bored – schedule in different types of workouts and move some days around. Are you someone who gets stressed out by pace work? If so, try adding in effort based runs, fartleks, and other types of runs. While some pace work might be necessary if you are going for a certain pain you don’t have to do it every day or even every week.
Creating your own training plan can be a bit nerve racking but it can also be very freeing to take control of your destiny! Go out and have fun! It’s good to be a little nervous – it means you are going after something new, something big, and something unknown!