Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Picking The Right Marathon Training Plan

It's that time of year! Many runners around the country and world are contemplating running a fall marathon. Whether it's your first marathon or 20th, picking a marathon training plan can be a daunting task. Most plans are designed for 16-weeks of training leading up to race day. However, there are plans that are as short as 8 weeks and as long as 26 weeks. To pick the plan that's best for you, you need to determine your running experience level. Take a look at the running levels below and find the one that best describes your current running. Be honest with yourself. Over estimating your weekly mileage may cause you to select a training plan that's too ambitious for you.

Running Experience Level:
Novice-completely new to running
Beginner-current weekly mileage = 15 to 25 miles; men who want to finish in 4:00; women who want to finish in 4:20.
Intermediate-current weekly mileage = 25 to 50 miles; men who want to finish in 3:30 or less; women who want to finish in 3:50 or less
Advanced-current weekly mileage = 40 to 60 miles; men who want to finish in 3:00 or less; women who want to finish in 3:20 or less
Elite/Competitive-current weekly mileage = over 50 miles; men who want to finish under 2:30; women who want to finish under 2:50

Novice runners should not run a marathon. Don't be discouraged though. Start running, join a local running group, and get yourself to the Beginner level by banking at least a year's worth of regular running. You need to be running 3-4 times a week and have a weekly mileage base of about 15-25 miles before contemplating a marathon. Runners with a solid mileage base before beginning marathon training will experience a better training experience as well as decrease their chance of injury.

If you're a Beginner runner, make sure you choose a training plan that's designed for a first-time marathoner. These training plans are usually built around 16-24 weeks. They usually devote the beginning weeks to building a solid mileage base before kicking in the longer runs. Check out the following training plans for beginner runners from Running Planet, Runner's World, Hal Higdon, and Jeff Galloway.

Intermediate runners are pretty safe with a solid 16-week training plan. Plans for Intermediate runners usually incorporate varied workouts such as easy runs, tempo runs, speed work, and long runs. Intermediate runners, especially ones who have been running for several years, need to be careful not to be too ambitious in selecting a training plan. Just because you can run a fast 5K or 10K doesn't mean that will pan out for a marathon. I myself have been guilty of picking a more advanced training plan and then getting discouraged partway through the training. Better to start off with a more appropriate plan and then make modifications along the way to ramp up your training than to start out too ambitious and have to back off on your training plan. Check out the following training plans for intermediate runners from Cool Running, Sports-Fitness-Advisor, Runner's World, and Hal Higdon.

Advanced runners are logging a lot of weekly miles (40-60) and they're interested in a sub 3:00(men) or sub 3:20(women) marathon. Training plans for the advanced runner are similar to the intermediate plans but usually involve more runs at marathon race pace and incorporate more intense speed work, hill work, and/or tempo runs. These plans also usually contain more 20-mile long runs. Check out the following training plans for advanced runners from Hal Higdon, Runner's World, Cool Running, and Sports-Fitness-Advisor.

Elite competitive runners are a different breed. If you're an elite marathoner, you probably don't need my guidance in selecting a training plan. More than likely an elite marathoner would not be using a generic training plan, but instead one that has been specifically designed to meet his/her specific needs, body type, and training style.

No matter what your level of running experience, make sure you're in good health prior to taking on any training plan. If it's your first marathon, it's probably not a bad idea to let your doctor know of your plans and get his/her seal of approval before beginning your training.

Two other groups from which you need support are your family and friends. Training for a marathon is a big commitment and one not to be taken lightly. Getting in all those runs means time away from your friends and family. Having their support can help ensure a positive marathoning experience. If possible try to involve your friends and family in some aspects of your training so they don't feel excluded. This could be actually accompanying you on some of your runs or meeting you at different spots along your long-run route with water and sports gels. The more they understand what you're going through, the more they'll want to support you on this adventure.


Lesley Looper said...

Enjoyed this post since I've recently signed up for the OBX! It'll be my first marathon. Right now, I'm planning to join the Galloway training group in Raleigh again.

RunnerDude said...

Hey Lesley! That's awesome!! Three of my running buddies ran OBX last year and loved it. It's beautiful out there on the outter banks. Nice and flat too! I've heard great things about the Galloway training plans. Keep me posted on your training! I'll be rooting for ya!

Ms. V. said...

Fantastic post. I really needed to read abou the the food. Have my first 13.1 on Sunday!

RunnerDude said...

Hey Ms. V! Glad you got some useful info. You're gonna do great on Sunday!! Let us know how it goes!