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THE BEST MARATHON TRAINING PROGRAMME FOR YOU
Brought to you by Runner’s World, the World’s Leading Running magazine

 

Marathon coaches measure success not by how many runners they get to the starting line, but by how many of them finish. With the help of 10 international super-coaches who have gotten more than half a million marathoners across the line, we’ve collected he best tips, strategies and training plans to prepare you for your first-or fastest-marathon.
By the Editors of Runner’s World magazine

More people are running marathons than ever before in South Africa. Since the start of the Nebank City Marathon Series in 2006, there is a marathon in all the major centres and interest is growing. This boom is happening around the world and has been followed by a surge in marathon-training plans, ranging from low-mileage beginner to super-tough elite schedules. Each has its virtues and drawbacks, but if you took the time to compare them all, you wouldn’t have enough time to actually train.

So we did the work for you. We assembled a panel of 10 leading coaches whose programmes are the most road-tested, yielding more than half a million successful marathon finishers over the years. Here we present their collective wisdom on the eight most important components of marathon training. And with their input, we offer two 16-week training schedules for varying abilities – plans you won’t find anywhere else. But first, let’s meet the Marathon Experts.

1.    Pat Connelly has coached 30 000 finishers of the L.A. marathon with a trai9ning programme that’s also used by the Las Vegas and Salt Lake City marathons. (secondwindrunning.com)

2.    Dan Finanger, national director of the Life Time Fitness Running Club, has helped 4 750 marathoners. (lifetimefitness.com)

3.    Patti and Warren Finke, co-directors of the Portland Marathon Training Clinic, certify running coaches for the Road Runners Club of America and have coached 12 000 marathoners. (teamoregon.com)

4.    Jeff Galloway, RW columnist and author of Marathon: You Can Do It, created the Galloway Marathon Training and AIDS Marathon programmes, which have assisted 350 000 marathoners since 1978. (jeffgalloway.com)

5.    Hal Higdon, author of Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, has helped 250 000 marathoners cross the finish line. (halhigdon.com)

6.    Greg McMillan is an exercise physiologist and online coach who has advised 500 marathoners. (mcmillanrunning.com)

7.    Susan Paul has coached 1 350 runners and is an exercise physiologist. (trackshack.com)

8.    Bill Pierce, an exercise science professor who co-founded the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training and has advised 5 000 runners. (furman.edu/first)

9.    April Powers, a coach since 1992, has had 20 000 Northern California runners follow her. (teamintraining.org)

10.  Steve Sisson is designer of the AT&T Austin Marathon Training Programme, head coach of Rogue Training Systems, and has advised 2 000 marathoners. (roguerunning.com)

1.    Mileage Build-up
Gradually increasing weekly mileage is the cornerstone of all marathon-training programmes. Most plans have you roughly doubling your mileage from 50km a week at the beginning to 110km at the high-mileage week – just before the taper. All but one of our panellists suggest that you achieve this build-up by gradually adding a little distance to nearly every run each week. Galloway, the exception, only ups the distance on Sundays, when long runs are scheduled. “I’ve found that runners who increase their mileage by lengthening midweek and weekend long runs have a higher rate of injury,” he says.

If you were to plot the mileage of most marathon-training schedules on the graph, it would show a straight, slowly rising line followed by a short, steep plunge during the taper. But reality is never that smooth. “Except peaks and valleys – period of improvement and stagnation,” says Connelly.

And if you miss a day or two of training, just go back o the schedule. “If you miss a whole week, backtrack the same amount of time that you skipped,” says the Finkes. “If you miss more than two weeks, adjust your goals or switch to a later marathon.

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “Make sue that some of your kays are terrain – and environment-specific to the marathon you’ve chosen,” says the Finkes. “Find out about the marathon’s hills, altitude and average temperature, then do a few of your training runs in similar conditions, even if that means driving to some hills.”

2.    The Long Run
Many runners dread the long run more than they should. Our expert panellists generally call for just a few (three to five) runs above 26km, typically spaced a week or two apart in the middle weeks of the build-up. If you start your runs early in the morning to beat the summer heat, stay well fuelled with sports drinks and other fast-acting carbs, and run with a partner or training group.

Bu how long is long? Most of our panellists suggest peaking at 32km, although Galloway has some runners cover 40 to 45 kilometres. But you don’t have to run all those kays on a Galloway plan, as he recommends walk breaks.

“Walk breaks give you control over fatigue, and they reduce injury risk,” he says. They range from one minute after every two minutes of running for 7:30 min/km pace runners to 30 seconds after each four minutes of running for 5 min/km pace runners.

The rest of our panellists, however, endorse walk breaks only for slower runners. When you are running, your long-run pace should most often be comfortable and conversational – between marathon goal pace for slower runners and 90 seconds per kilometre slower than goal pace for faster runners.

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “Alternate slow-paced long runs with ‘fast-finish’ long runs – run the last few kilometres at marathon pace or slightly faster,” says McMillan. “Start with a 30-minute fast finish, then add 30 minutes each time, up to 90 minutes, three weeks before the race. This helps you hit marathon pace even when tired.”

3.    Speedwork
Training much faster than marathon goal pace is unnecessary if your only goal is to finish, but it sure helps if you want to meet a specific time goal. “Faster training is the best way to improve on the three physiological variables that lead to a faster marathon: VO2 max, lactate threshold and running economy,” says Powers. That’s why almost all of our panellists favour some faster training, at least for more experienced runners.

Most prescribe below-marathon-[ace sessions like tempo runs, track workouts, hill repetitions and fartlek (speed play), once or twice a week. Four experts suggest track intervals on Tuesdays and a less intense hard workout (a tempo run, hill repeats or fartlek) on Thursdays.

The biggest proponent of high-intensity sessions for marathoners is Pierce, who includes two each week on his schedule. “Intensity training is the single best way to improve aerobic capacity,” he says. But in general, attack without totalling 5-K at 10-K race pace or a little faster, plus a tempo run of four to 10-K between 10-K and marathon goal pace, is typical for most training plans. As the Finkes put it: “A little bit of speedwork goes a long way”.

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “A track session I call ‘The Burn’ fine-tunes your pace sense, which is critical to marathon performance,” says Sisson. “After a warm-up, run 200 metres at marathon goal pace, 200 metres at 10-K race pace, then alternate between those two paces every 200 metres until you can’t hit 10-K pace.”

4.    Motivation
Half the battle of marathon training isn’t the running itself, it’s finding the resolve to run – day after day. Our panellists agree that first you have to make the commitment, set a realistic goal, and decide on a training plan. Then you have to run a kilometre – just one at first. Committing yourself every day to running that first kilometre of each run, they say, will almost always ensure you’ll keep going.

All of our pro’s encourage training with others. “Running partners make the journey easier, more exciting, and more fun.” Says Finanger. “An iPod can only take you so far,” Powers adds. But even with support from regular training partners, you still need to be your own toughest boss. That means posting your training schedule where you’ll see it often, treating workouts as unbreakable appointments, and tracking your progress in a running log.

Finally, there’s the good old carrot-and-stick approach. “Tell yourself you can have something you want, as long as you complete your workout first,” say the Finkes. That may mean getting a massage, buying a new pair of shoes, going out to dinner, or just indulging in a bowl of ice cream.

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “Have everything beside your bed – running clothes, shoes and anything else you need for your training run – the night before morning runs,” says Paul. “Then all you have to do is roll out of bed, dress and go.”

5.    Cross-Training
For some of our panellists, “supplemental training” – aerobic cross-training activities like cycling and swimming, and gym work like lifting and core exercises – is an acceptable option only on non-running days, as long as the workouts are short (less than an hour) and low-intensity. The idea is to focus your energies on your running days, since those are the workouts that are ultimately going to get you across the marathon finish line.

Others require cross-training workouts – two or three a week for Galloway and Pierce. “Cross-training offers most of the advantages of running more kilometres without the pounding that can lead to fatigue and injury,” says Pierce. According to Pierce, doing 30 to 60 minutes of strenuous aerobic activities, such as swimming or biking, allows your running muscles to recharge while you still reap cardiovascular and muscular benefits, helping you become fitter even when you’re not running.

There is, however, wide agreement among our experts as to which cross-training activities are best for runners, with swimming, cycling, strength training, walking, yoga and aqua-running topping the list in roughly that order. “Swimming improves circulation and strengthens the upper body, with no stress on the legs,” says Paul. Cycling focuses on the legs, but emphasises different muscles than running and gets y9ou out on your favourite roads and trails.

As for gym workouts, mix low-impact cardio time on an elliptical or stair-climber with upper-body strength training (choose light weights with high reps to boost muscle endurance) and core exercises. “Core work improves stride efficiency, lessens fatigue and reduces injuries,” say the Finkes.

SUPERCOACH STRETEGY “Push-ups work the upper body, and crunches work the core,” says Finanger. “So try ‘flapjacks.’ Do 10 push-ups from your knees, flip over like flapjack, do 10 crunches, and then keep going back and forth without a break. Do flapjacks two or three times a week and building up from three to six sets.

6.    Fuelling Up
Proper nutrition and hydration during marathon training is most important the night before and the day of your long runs. All experts stress the importance of using your long training runs to develop an appropriate eating and drinking plan. “Figure out what combination of foods and liquids work for you,” says Higdon. “Then you can eat and drink the same thi8ngs during the marathon.”

This trial-and-error approach also applies to your pre-run fuelling, which should emphasise easily digestible foods that are high in carbohydrates and lower in fat and fibre.

Then there’s post-run eating. “Within 15 minutes after a long run, take in a carb-protein drink like a recovery sports shake,” says McMillan. “In the next half hour, eat a carb-protein food like an energy bar. And within two hours after the run, eat a meal. This routine will help you recover much faster”

Since you’ll most likely be doing your long runs on hot weekends, make sure you have fluids available to you along the way. Sports drinks contain carbs to keep you energised and electrolytes to help replenish the minerals lost through sweat. So either carry some with you or stash it somewhere along your course.

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “Taking energy gels with a sports drink can put too much sugar in the GI tracts at once, causing stomach cramps or diarrhoea,” says Paul. “Wash the gels down with plain water.”

7.    Tune-up Races

Tune-ups can be races or training runs at any distance shorter than the marathon that help you gauge your fitness before race day. While our panellists differ on the details of how many tune-ups you should run, they all agree that tune-ups are valuable.

“If possible, do your tune-ups at the same time of day as the marathon, run them on a similar course, wear the shoes and clothes you plan to race in, and eat and drink the same things,” says Connelly. “By leaving nothing untested, the only surprises in the marathon will be pleasant ones.”

You can do one or two tune-up races before your taper or treat a couple long runs as tune-ups. Tune-up options range from racing a 5-K in the place of a track workout to running a half marathon as a long-run substitute. There’s no need to taper for tune-up races, so just train through them according to your schedule.

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “Beginners shouldn’t do any all-out races before the marathon,” says Higdon, “but experienced marathoners can run  an all-out half marathon at least four weeks before the marathon in place of a long run. Race it, then convert the time to a marathon equivalent.”

8.    The Taper
Rest becomes the primary focus in the last two to four weeks before the marathon, after the last long run, when mileage drops to only a few kilometres a day in the last few days before the race. Why taper? “You need fresh legs to perform well, especially in a race as long as the marathon,” says Pierce. “There is strong scientific evidence for this. Tapering increases aerobic enzymes and muscle glycogen, and even produces changes in the brain that let you recruit more muscle mass. And of course, it lets you mentally recharge after all the training.”

Of all our panellists, McMillan’s approach to the taper is the most different. “A long, significant taper takes your body out of its training routine and often causes runners to get stale,” he says. “I prefer to keep the engine revved with faster workouts whi8le resting the body with only a slight reduction in mileage.”

Retaining faster workouts is actually part of most of the panellists’ schedules. Seven panellists, in fact, schedule a light speed workout just five days before the marathon. “It wakes up your body and mind,” says Connelly, “and opens up the lungs and arteries.”

SUPERCOACH STRATEGY “Run one marathon-goal-pace kilometre at the beginning and end of your high-intensity workouts in the first two weeks of a three-week taper,” says Powers, “and one goal-pace kilometre at the beginning of a high-intensity workout the last week. This makes it easier to run race pace in the early miles of the marathon”

Training Terms
Dan Finanger’s Rookie Plan reflects the training principles endorsed by our expert panellists and was designed for first-time marathoners who seldom run or race beyond 10-K.

Rookie Plan Notes

•      On quality days, mix and match from the following menu of workouts – or be creative and make up your own. The effort level should be moderately hard – no sprinting – and go easier in the first three and last three weeks of the plan. Always sandwich workouts with a warm-up and cool-down.
•      Fartlek: Pick up the pace for segments of 30 seconds to four minutes, interspersed with easy-paced segments of similar duration. Go by time or run them between trees, street signs or other landmarks during your run.
•      Kenyan outbacks: these are like tempo runs – a few kilometres at a challenging pace – but with the second half much faster than the first. Example: Run an out-and-back route with the “out” in 20 minutes and the “back” in 17 minutes.
•      Track ladders: Do a track workout up and down the distance ladder. Early in the build-up the ladder range can be 200 to 800 metres; later on it can rise to 1600 metres. Example: Run 200, 400, 800 and 200. Include an equal amount of slow jogging to recover between each faster repeat.
•      Yasso 800s: In the early weeks of the schedule run six 800-metre repeats with 400-metre recovery jogs. Increase the number to 10 during peak training.
•      Hill repeats: focus on form, not speed. In the early weeks, run four to six times up a moderate hill of 100 to 200 metres at an easy effort. Walk or jog down. In the middle of the training plan, simply do some tempo and long runs on hilly routes. Late in the build-up, run three to eight hill repeats of 100 to 400 metres at a medium to hard effort.

Week

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thur

Fri

Sat

Sun

Total

1

XT 30 min

Easy 5-6km

Easy 3-5km

Easy 5-6km

Rest

Easy 6-8km

Easy 3-5km

22-30km

2

XT 30 min

Easy 5-8km

Easy 3-5km

Easy 5-8km

Rest

Easy 8-10km

Easy 3-5km

24-36km

3

XT 30 min

Quality* 6-8km

Easy 3-5km

Tempo 6-8km

Rest

Easy 10-11km

Easy 3-5km

28-37km

4

XT 45 min

Quality* 6-8km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 6-8km

Rest

Easy 11-12km

Easy 5-8km

33-44km

5

XT 45 min

Quality* 8-10km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 6-8km

Rest

Easy13-15km

Easy 3-5km

35-46km

6

XT 45 min

Quality* 8-10km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 8-10km

Rest

Easy16-18km

Easy 3-4km

40-50km

7

XT 60 min

Quality* 10-11km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 6-8km

Rest

Easy18-20km

Easy 5-8km

44-55km

8

XT 60 min

Quality* 10-11km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 10-11km

Rest

Easy20-22km

Easy 5-8km

50-60km

9

XT 60 min

Quality* 10-11km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 10-11km

Rest

Easy20-22km

Easy 5-8km

50-60km

10

XT 90 min

Quality* 11-13km

Easy 6-8km

Tempo 11-13km

Rest

Easy24-26km

Easy 3-5km

55-64km

11

XT 90 min

Quality* 10-11km

Easy 6-8km

Tempo 10-11km

Rest

Easy27-29km

Easy 3-5km

55-64km

12

XT 90 min

Quality* 11-13km

Easy 6-8km

Tempo 11-13km

Rest

Easy22-24km

Easy 5-8km

55-66km

13

XT 90 min

Quality* 11-13km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 10-11km

Rest

Easy32-32km

Easy3 5-km

61-69km

14

XT 60 min

Quality* 10-11km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 8-10km

Rest

Easy22-24km

Rest

45-53km

15

XT 45 min

Quality* 8-10km

Easy 5-8km

Tempo 6-8km

Rest

Easy16-18km

Rest

35-44km

16

XT 30 min

Easy 6km

Easy 5km

Easy 3km

Rest

Rest

Marathon

56km

The Veteran Plan

Susan Paul’s Veteran Plan integrates the collective wisdom of our marathon experts and is for runners who have done at least a half marathon and can easily run 21km.

Veteran Plan Notes

•      Pace: Start about 30 seconds per kilometre slower than marathon goal pace and gradually speed up to finish right on marathon goal pace.
•      Pace-Plus: 15 to 35 seconds slower per kilometre than marathon goal pace.
•      Hills: Do 6 to 8 repeats of a 200 to 400-metre hill at tempo-run effort. Jog down for recovery.
•      Quality#1: 5 x 1000 metres at 5km race pace with 2-minute recovery walk/jog.
•      Quality #2: 6 x 800 metres at 10km race pace with 90-second recovery.
•      Quality#3: Three sets: 1 x 1200 metres at 10km race pace (1-minute recovery), 1 x 400 at 5km race pace (3-minute recovery).
•      Quality #4: 4 x 1600 metres at 10km race pace with 3-minute recovery.
•      Quality # 5: 8 x 800 metres at 10km race pace with 90-second recovery.
•      Quality #6: 400 metres at 5km pace (30-second recover), 800 metres at 10km pace (90-second recover), 1200 metres at 10km pace (2-minute recover), 1600 metres at 10km pace (3-minute recover), 1200 metres at 10km pace (2-minute recover), 800 metres at 10km pace (90-second recover), 400 metres at 5km pace
•      Quality #7: 2 x 1600 metres at marathon goal pace with 3-minute recovery

Week

Mon

Tue

Wed

Thur

Fri

Sat

Sun

Total

1

XT 45 min

Quality #1

Easy 8km

Tempo 10km

Rest

Pace 22km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

50-52km

2

XT 45 min

Quality #2

Easy 8km

Tempo 12km or Hill

Rest

Pace 26km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

54-56km

3

XT 45 min

Quality #3

Easy 8km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace-Plus 29km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

65-67km

4

XT 45 min

Quality #4

Easy 10km

Tempo 10km

Rest

Pace-Plus 32km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

65-67km

5

XT 45 min

Quality #5

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km or hill

Rest

Pace 22km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

60-62km

6

XT 45 min

Quality #6

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace 29km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

66-68km

7

XT 45 min

Quality #3

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace-Plus 32km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

65-68km

8

XT 45 min

Quality #5

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km or hill

Rest

Pace 26km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

65-68km

9

XT 45 min

Quality #6

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace 29km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

66-68km

10

XT 45 min

Quality #4

Easy 10km

Pace 14km

Rest

Pace-Plus 35km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

72-75km

11

XT 45 min

Quality #5

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km or hill

Rest

Pace 26km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

61-66km

12

XT 45 min

Quality #6

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace 29km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

64-66km

13

XT 45 min

Quality #3

Easy 10km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace-Plus 32km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

67-70km

14

XT 45 min

Quality #5

Easy 8km

Tempo 14km

Rest

Pace 22km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

44-50km

15

XT 45 min

Quality #1

Easy8km

Tempo 10km

Rest

Pace 16km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

40-42km

16

XT 45 min

Quality #7

Rest

Pace 5km

Rest

Jog 3km

XT 45 min or Easy 8km

57km