How to Balance Marathon Training With Life

Count on Disruptions to Your Schedule

No matter how well prepared you are for the training season, disruptions will occur. Illness, schedule conflicts, bad weather, unanticipated soreness from a workout ... you just can't fully control such things, especially over a multi-month period. The key is to learn to look at such disruptions as opportunities to enhance your training where possible or, at the least, to avoid letting them become sources of stress. By planning proactively, you can sometimes steer your schedule around such barriers. Examples include:

  • Do a medium-long and long run back-to-back. This can get you used to running on lower glycogen stores and tired legs, as long as each run isn't too intense.
  • Run doubles. Complete a medium-effort run in the morning with a recovery run later in the day, for example.
  • Execute a workout on tired legs. Complete a tempo workout the day after a medium-long run, but reduce the intensity of the tempo. This will still result in a valuable training stimulus without significantly increasing your injury risk.

More: Double Up Your Daily Runs

Avoid the temptation to make up missed workouts; these adjustments should be done proactively when you see a potential barrier arising (someone in the household is ill, or you have a busy day later in the week). But it is often these experiences that can lift the value of some otherwise mundane workouts.

Don't Overdo Your Step-Down or Taper Weeks

Every schedule should include an occasional (every three to four weeks) step-down week, where you reduce the mileage and intensity to allow your body to recover from hard training. However, these weeks are for recovery, not slacking. Don't give in to the temptation to spend the extra time sitting on the couch. Consciously evaluate how much of a reduction your body really needs, as different runners require different recovery periods depending on experience, age, strength, etc. Invest the extra time in low-intensity activities that can promote your training, like mobility or light strength work.

More: How to Include Recovery Runs in Your Training

Another area of training that deserves a second look is the taper, or the three weeks (give or take a week) of volume reduction ahead of your goal race. First, your taper should be reserved for the marathon itself, and you should avoid such a cutback ahead of your lower-priority tune-up races. Additionally, cutting your mileage too much during the taper may leave you feeling stale come race day. Many plans have traditionally cut 25 percent or so in the first week and 50 percent in the second, but the new thinking is more on the order of 10 to 20 percent and 30 to 40 percent, respectively.

More: 4 Marathon Tapering Mistakes to Avoid

Finally, you should maintain some intensity via shorter tempo workouts each week, including spending some time at marathon pace around three days ahead of the race. This will help you retain the sense of pacing that will serve you well come race day.

Marathon training is about more than mileage and pace. It's about taking the right steps to condition yourself mentally for the race, learning to be flexible, seizing opportunities to boost your training when they arise, and avoiding monotony to keep your motivation high through the season. Adopt the steps above; it can help get you to the starting line more ready than you have ever been to deliver a new personal best. It will also propel you towards greater success in future seasons.

More: 10 Golden Rules of Marathon Success

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