A Marathon Training Approach for a PR

Long Runs with Sustained Running 

During the final 12 weeks of your marathon preparation, it is important to have 1-2 longer runs containing a significant block or blocks of running at or near your target marathon rhythm. You may achieve this muscle memory by entering a half marathon roughly four to five weeks prior to your marathon and run the race at your target marathon rhythm, but no faster. 

While this requires some real patience on behalf of the athlete, running target marathon rhythm within a controlled race setting will allow you to get a feel for your planned tempo with crowd support and fluids provided. With a three-plus mile warm-up and a similar cool-down, this is an excellent weekend for a 19-plus mile day. 

5k / 10k Based Interval Training

While healthy aerobic “time-on-feet” running will achieve results for the vast majority of marathoners, those looking for that next-level performance will benefit greatly from regular, shorter, quicker economy stimulus within 90-95 percent of maximum heart rate. Once every 10-12 days in the final 11-12 weeks of marathon preparation, toss in some 400-800-meter repetitions in the neighborhood of your 5K fitness. One of the most effective sessions is to finish an 8-12 mile run with the final 3-4 miles being a quicker interval session, essentially working quicker tempos while already fatigued from 4-8 miles of running.

Final 4 Critical Elements

1. Course-Specific Running

Be certain your training replicates the course on which you will be racing. Getting ready for the New York City Marathon? Be sure you are executing long runs with plenty of rolling hills. Prepping for Chicago? Longer efforts need to be planned on extended flat courses. Is Boston your goal? Make certain to practice long sections of downhill running to begin your longer efforts.

2. Practice Fueling

Fueling is an important part of enabling a great marathon performance. How and when you take in fluid and calories is important. Equally important is making sure to practice this fueling in your long and medium-long efforts. Just getting used to the intake of fluid and fuel while running is a unique skill. The ability to swallow and ingest calories without slowing terribly takes practice. Be certain to do so.  

3. Resting as Hard as you Train  

While training intently for your marathon is important, rest is equally important. As the late, great British coach Harry Wilson once said, “Resting is not the absence of training but an important part of it.” Every three days-or-so, the goal should be rest and recovery. 

In addition take one to two “three-day dips” within which you back off your volume considerably in the final 12-13 weeks of preparation. These rest periods will keep you executing on a high level throughout your training. Ironically, my experience (even with those on the highest levels in marathoning) has been that most runners train too intensely on their easiest of days. 

4. Taper Less

While this may seem counterintuitive, a large percentage of the marathon populous tapers too aggressively in the final two weeks. Cutting back both your volume and intensity too greatly in the final 14 days often leaves athletes a bit stale on race day. Two weeks out, cut 20 percent off your peak volume, followed by an additional 20-25 percent during the final week.

Additionally, be sure to do something of light intensity the week of the race. I recommend a three-mile effort 4-5 days before the race at your goal marathon pace. Also, be certain to implement a short run of 15-20 minutes the day before the marathon. These final touch-up tips will have you on the starting line ready to roll. 

In short, train aggressively and intelligently.

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