One of the most common questions people have about training for a marathon or similar long-distance event is: "What’s the longest run?" But just as you don’t focus on a single defining element of your job (How long is lunch?), or time with your family (How long is this date?), it’s really hard to boil down an effective training program into one sound byte.
It’s time you stopped thinking like a consumer of training programs, and instead focused on becoming a self-coached athlete. By this I mean become the producer of your best version of a plan. There simply is no single right way for everyone, but there is a best way for you. Some folks figure this out through trial and error, others are lucky guessers, and some never get it right.
To help you on your quest, I'll start by presenting the full season of training inside Marathon Nation. So much of what we do, from our race simulations to our emphasis on intensity workouts, is so counter to traditional long-distance running that it might not even be on your radar. By the end of this article, I hope you’ll at least consider a season where high-volume, long-distance runs are the exception—not the norm. Here’s how you can do it.
Start Macro / Think Big Picture
The most important thing you can do is to step back from the daily perspective of training. There’s a simple punishment/reward mentality that most endurance athletes develop, where a day without a workout (or even with a sub-par one) is treated negatively, whereas a day with a workout is viewed positively. This subconscious system undermines our ability to plan and execute a big picture plan because it places all of our attention on the extreme short-term.
To be 100 percent, you need to be thinking about running from the context of what your season looks like as a whole. It’s very easy to think about a particular workout or about choosing a particular workout regimen because it means the training will get done. That’s OK if your goals are to be active; if you want to be fast or see improvement (whatever those things mean for you), then you’ll need to have some context for what you are doing.
Inside Marathon Nation, we think of each season as having four distinct components: Recovery, Basic Training, Get Fast Training, and Race Preparation. Each of these sections serves a dual function by constituting an important part of your overall training and setting the stage for the next block.
Recovery – 10 Percent
Every good season starts with….not training. Really. There is nothing worse than beginning a year on tired legs, as you are effectively capping just how fast or far you’ll be able to run. Not now, of course, but in the future when it really counts. It’s kind of like starting a cross-country road trip with a great map but only half a tank of gas and no food. You’ll have to stop or risk a roadside emergency.
If you finished off last year with a big race like a marathon or half marathon, you could use anywhere from two to four full weeks off. At least 50 percent of this time should be dedicated to not running. Ideally, you won’t be very active at all at the start, but you can work in some cross-training activities as your recovery period gets longer. None of these sessions would have goals other than keeping you sane, and maybe helping you be social with other folks you don’t usually get to train with.
Just how much recovery you need is entirely up to you. I know an athlete is ready to begin a season when he/she is both physically and mentally chomping at the bit to get running again. Take the time to let that hunger develop, and you’ll be in a great place to run.