Legendary University of Oregon track coach Bill Dellinger once wrote that he pictured the marathon champion of the future as one who cross trained his or her way to victory. Dellinger believed elites would strip down their overall mileage from the general benchmark of 120-140 miles per week to around 80 to 90 miles per week of running, supplemented by non-impact aerobic work on a bike or in a pool.
One can figure that Dellinger may have, at least in part, formulated this opinion when he watched his star distance runner, Alberto Salazar, churn out a phenomenal 10K performance even though an injury had forced the great into a non-running, cross training preparation.
Dellinger's vision may never come to fruition. The general evidence still suggests that the best thing you can do toward becoming a sub-2:10 marathoner is to run truckloads of mileage.
However, let's assume that your goal isn't to win the race. What if the thing you'd most like to achieve is to train in a way that generates terrific fitness and health, and yet still prepares you to cover the 26.2 miles; that it's something you'd love to do for the sake of just doing it?
The answer is to follow the essence of Dellinger's theory: Be a runner but take the sharp edges off of marathon training by transplanting cross-training workouts in place of the less important run workouts of a traditional schedule. Not only does such an approach lessen the chance of the usual suspects when it comes to running injuries (such as runner's knee, plantar fasciitis, illiotibial band syndrome, etc, etc, etc), it also infuses the great aphrodisiac to long-term relationships to training: variety.
The following program is based on a classic marathon-training buildup. But, in the right places and the right times, we rip the lid off the jar and free you to sample some of the fun and effective ways to get in your daily workout.
This program is loosely designed and is best restricted to the runner with two or three successful marathons under his or her belt. In other words, you should have a working knowledge of how to approach a long race. Those interested in finishing their first marathon should seek out a more traditional marathon-training program suited to their starting point and individual needs. Anyone taking on any type of exercise program for the first time, or after a long layoff, should get their doctor's seal of approval before getting to work.
As you'll see, this program has plenty of flexibility built in. Depending on your current fitness level and the date of your dream marathon, plan to begin training 16 to 24 weeks out from race day. You should be in good enough shape that 90 minutes of running isn't a problem for you at the onset of this schedule. As you'll see, the key variable is the long run.
Start off with a long-run distance you can safely handle (eight miles, for example). Following the directions below, increasing your long run every two weeks. Gradually build the workout bit by bit until you're in 20-mile territory. You'll start off by adding two miles every two weeks to the long run, and when you hit 14 miles you'll add just a mile every two weeks. Structure your training plan around this variable, including a three-week pre-race taper.