After completing my 6th LA Marathon this past weekend, and reflecting once again about the things that could have gone better, I figured it would be a good time to talk about what it takes to run and finish a marathon. I will be 100% honest, running a marathon is not easy, running and finishing a marathon without physically feeling terrible is tougher, however, not impossible.
Before I dive into training, let me just mention that if there is one thing I could say from my 14 years of running and competing, it’s that unless you love +30 mile runs, it will never truly get easier, especially for a marathon. There will be easy days, easy runs, easy work outs, but when it’s time to complete the runs that really count, you are going to have to find the champion inside and work past all the doubts, aches, blisters, and negative thoughts. Moreover, PLEASE never compare yourself to another fellow runner, you are not them and they are not you. "If you give two runners the same training program, they will get very different results, even if they are runners of similar abilities" - Coach Brad Hudson.
Coach Brad has worked and still works with the top distance runners in the word and states that the top 2 things to keep in mind as a coach (your own coach inmost cases) is that you have to understand how YOUR body adapts to different types of training and to learn the INDIVIDUAL reaction to the training. He calls it "setting your training calendar in pencil" because there will be days where you have to scratch out fast run or a distance run if your body is not feeling right, you never want to force yourself to run a crappy training run. If you can understand these two concepts, you have just saved yourself from some unnecessary future emotional inner turmoil.
Lets start with the most obvious fact about training itself, which is, that in order to run 26.2 miles well you have to train REALLY well . You need a PLAN.
1. Choose a race goal and pick a start date duration
When you are designing a training plan, remember that the starting point is the endpoint. Race day is the beginning and you kind of work you way back. For example my marathon was March 19, so planned back 18 weeks for training. Rule is and will always be that for longer races you do have to plan out longer training plans, for a marathon it is usually 18-24 weeks.
2. Decide on the appropriate volume and frequency
Decide on a race day goal, be fair and realistic.
Training frequency and volume really depends a lot on your previous running background and history. Some runners will do well with 40 miles weeks, others do much better with 60+ miles a week. However one thing is for sure, you should be running at least 4x-5x/ week , and the longest run even for beginners should get up to 20-22 miles.
3. Divide your plan into 4 phases: base training phase, fundamental training phase, peak phase, and tapering phase.
It is important to divide your training into these 3 phases.
The base training phase is a priority ( duration 6 weeks). If you can develop a solid base foundation then it will allow you to challenge your pace in the second phase without getting injured. By 6th week you should be running close to 10 miles.
The second phase, the fundamental training phase (duration 10 weeks), training gets a little more race specific, where now are begin to start running your desired race pace (1-2x week do your tempo runs, farklegs, speed days). By then end of the 10 weeks of phase to, you should be close to running 14-15 miles at race pace.
In the peak phase (duration 2 weeks), the goal is to get to peak potential, which means faster shorted runs. By shorter runs I mean, 10-12 miles max at race pace along with 10 miles moderate race pace, mixed with 8-10 miles easy runs.
Lastly, in the tapering phase ( duration 2-3 weeks) you resort back to easier long runs, very short race pace runs for 1-3 miles, with shake out runs until race day. Your longest run going from 17 miles- 12 miles.
4. Schedule RECOVERY and taper weeks!!!!!
Taper weeks take place last 3 weeks before race day. Remember that recovery is key to success, injury prevention, and improved performance. Give yourself one day off a week, and 1-2 days of cross training or strength training.
The goal obviously here with all this planning and progressively longer and harder runs all really comes down to, how good or crappy do you want to feel after 26.2 miles of running? You can control most of the things that happen race day, and sometimes things that you cannot control happen. I would enjoy the process as much as you can, completing 26.2 miles is such a great achievement. Be proud of the journey you embark, be proud of the work you put in, be proud of YOURSELF. NOTHING ANYONE ELSE SAYS OR COMMENTS about what you do, your work, your sport, your effort, your times, your outcomes matter.
Stay healthy, train smart, stay driven, you are all champions,
-Jessica Mena PT, DPT, CSCS