There is no such thing as being 100 percent ready for a marathon. While we can strive for perfection in terms of training, scheduling and recovery, the reality is that many of us simply fall short of the perfect little world that's outlined in the training plan taped to our fridge. This is partly due to extenuating circumstances (work, family, other commitments), but the truth is we often self-sabotage by adding extra miles or picking harder workouts to "make up" for our training imperfections. Instead of more fitness, we end up with more fatigue and potentially even an overuse injury. In this article, we are going to explore the true marathon training fundamentals you need to focus on (to measure success) and how you can use the "right" key run to be as prepared as possible for your race day.
Marathon Fitness Fundamentals
If you're like 95 percent of runners out there, you simply can't fit all the training in. So there's no sense in sweating the micro-level details. Instead, understand the big-picture elements that matter: (1) your fitness and (2) your ability to execute.
Fitness is Your Engine
Built over months and years of training, your fitness is much more than last week's 20-miler, it's the total sum of the work you have done as an athlete. Sure "recent" training really matters, but the truth is the longer you have played the endurance game the better you get at it, and the less training you need to be able to do more. At some point, in other words, your "baseline" fitness is pretty darn fit.
Inside Marathon Nation we train on a daily basis with paces as determined by a 5K test because we want every mile run to be as focused and effective as possible -- we strive for zero junk miles. The idea here is that even if you can't hit every run, the ones that you do get in are very specific to where your body is at right now. Running with others and doing track workouts are a great way to push yourself, but they aren't always specific to you.
Since your fitness is the sum of all the running work you do, then the focus is on getting in more work than just "a" workout. Another reason for the specificity of the Marathon Nation training philosophy is the understanding that the long run in week 8 of your 12-week plan isn't the be-all, end-all of your training program. The true measure of a long run is whether you can recovery quickly enough to continue your training cycle in the following week (at the proper paces).
The Right Race Simulation
Fitness aside, we still need to be able to put the race together on the big day. In addition to our free race execution guidance for marathoners, we also use a single Race Simulation workout to align our training with our expectations and to prepare ourselves to execute.
Basically there are two main goals within a race simulation: paces and planning.
First to make sure the paces you have picked for race day are, in fact, attainable. Better to find this out now, with a few weeks to go (and on your own) than at mile 18 of race day with little other alternative than to slow down or walk.
Second, to allow you to put your equipment, nutrition, and mental focus to the test before the crucible of the big day itself. Despite the fact that we've trained all year for this single event, we'll often make crucial errors in judgment that lead to the unraveling of our day. By creating a race plan and testing it in the simulation, we accelerate this learning process and increase our chances of success on race day.