Jim2's Running Page

Structuring a Training Plan

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Thanks for your kind comments, David. Sorry I took so long to reply, but I wanted to think about what I wanted to say. However, by the time you reach the end of this, you might be sorry you asked for my opinion. ;-)

You sound a lot like me in my first running life 10-15 years ago. Ran 6 days/week. No two-a-days. Light weight training twice a week. No cross training. I did my best racing then. I shut it down in 1990 for 7 years. Now, I'm 10-15 years older (61), 20 pounds heavier, don't train as hard or consistently, and certainly don't race as well in my second running life. I base my comments about realizing one's racing potential on my prior running life. I certainly wouldn't recommend what I've been doing the past couple of years. :-)

Before talking about a specific structure for a training week, let me touch on a couple of other points. I don't want to insult your intelligence or knowledge as a runner, so please bear with me if a lot of this is very basic stuff.

Firstly, realizing one's ultimate marathon potential is a long term project, regardless of the age at which you start. You don't get there with one training cycle. It takes a series of several, each moving to a higher level. Try to jump too far, too fast and you know what is likely to happen. It doesn't apply only to beginners. Secondly, consistency over the long term is a key factor. You really have to train year round with strategically scheduled R&R breaks. OTOH, I don't think that most runners should marathon train year round. That can lead to break down or burn out.

I like to follow a repeating macro-cycle that consists of alternating marathon and 10k programs, with a 2-4 week R&R break separating them. I think the higher mileage of the marathon program and more intense speedwork of the 10k program complement each other. Each benefits from the strength of the other. My macro-cycle consists of spring 10k season and fall marathon seasons. I start a 12-week 10k training program in January; race mostly 8-10k's in Apr-June; take an R&R break in late June-early July; start a marathon training program 16 weeks before my target fall marathon; run a couple of marathons in Oct-Nov, plus a couple of other shorter races afterwards; and, finally, take another R&R break over the Christmas/New Year's holidays before repeating the cycle. In my first running life, I averaged about 20 races/year from 5k-marathon. Half were 10k's. Each year, I increased the level of mileage of both programs over the previous year and let improving race times drive my training paces. I used this macro-cycle for 6 years (1983-89) from age 45 to 51 and realized steady improvement in races from 5k thru marathon. My annual mileage increased 50% from 1400-2100 miles during this time. I've been loosely following the same pattern in my second running life that started 3 years ago, but I haven't been consistent with it, especially with the spring 10k portion. As a result, I've made little progress in the 3 years.

Now, let's talk about the marathon training program. I believe each one should build on the previous one....a little more intense....a little more mileage....a little more challenging speed work. The key words here are "a little more." We are all familiar with the old adage of the 10% rule. It's usually used when talking about increasing mileage on a daily or weekly basis, mostly for beginners and those coming back from an extended layoff. But, I believe it also applies to longer term increases, such as annual mileage or the mileage of a marathon training program, for experienced runners who run year round and want to progress while minimizing the risk of interruptions due to injury....that's an element of consistency.

In my first running life, I ran 6 days/week when 10k and marathon training, 4-5 days/week during the 10k/marathon racing "seasons" following the training efforts, and 3-4 days/week with no hard efforts during my R&R breaks. (I mostly run 5 days/week instead of 6 now simply because I've found that I need more rest at my age today and I now have a touch of arthritis in my hips.) I also ran 4-5 races from 8k to metric marathon while training and did weight training twice a week year round, except during the marathon taper and peak racing periods.

I believe a typical marathon training week for maximizing performance should consist of a long run; one or two speed workouts; a mid-week medium long run; and 2-3 short, easy runs for a total of 6 runs/week; with one off day. I do two speed workouts in 8-10 of the 16 weeks and one speed workout in the rest. A lot of folks like the off day after the long run. I prefer a day off before the long run so I will be as fresh as possible for the long run. I believe that optimizes the quality of the long run and comes closer to simulating the eventual race day. I do an easy 4-6 mile run the day after the long run. I've found that it re-freshens my legs for the subsequent hard day. My mid-week medium long runs are 60-65% the length of the previous week's long run.

So, the structure of a typical week in my first running life looked like this: Mon - speed work; Tues - easy run; Wed - medium long run; Thur - speed work; Fri - off; Sat - long run; Sun - easy run. I worked in the two weight training sessions as I could, but they were usually before Tuesday's easy run and after Saturday's long run, simply because that's when they best fit in time-wise around other of life's demands....like family. :-) I tried to plan races on weekends when I was scheduled to cutback on the long run. I didn't skip the Saturday long run before a Sunday race, but I didn't schedule a Monday speed workout the day after the race....that accounted for 4-5 weeks out of 16 with one speed workout.

For speed work, I believe that aerobic capacity (VO2Max) and AT runs are most beneficial for marathon training. 400-1200m intervals for VO2Max. Tempo runs and 1-2 mile cruise intervals for AT. I don't see a lot of benefit in marathon pace (MP) running, except for a couple of them late in the program to get accustomed to the pace before race day. MP is too slow for either VO2Max or AT training. I think a bunch of MP running consumes energy that is better used elsewhere in the program. I've attached a post I've used on the RW Forums a few times on the subject of speed work. It's pretty basic stuff. I use it mostly with beginners at speed work. Hope it doesn't insult an experienced runner like you. :-) It's in Word Perfect format. If you have a problem opening it, let me know and I'll copy it into another email.

I use several criteria in planning a 16-week marathon training program. First, I get a calendar and write down which week will be my peak mileage week (week 14, just before my 2-week taper) and how much mileage I want that week to be....usually 5-10% more than my previous program. That's also the week that will include my longest run, usually 24 miles. Then, working backwards, I enter all of my long runs for weeks 1-13. I use a pattern of increasing the long run every second week with a 30% cutback on the alternate weeks. Next, I identify the 4-5 races I plan to run during the program and write them in. Then, I write in speed work I plan to do. Next, I enter the mid-week medium long runs. Then, I fill in the easy runs. Next, I plan the taper weeks, both mileage taper and speed work. As a last step, I review the buildup of weekly mileage over weeks 1-14 to verify that it makes sense without big week-to-week increases and to make sure the cutback weeks don't drop more than 20-25% from the previous week. I fine tune the short, easy runs and the mid-week medium long run to correct any glaring problems. It shouldn't take much adjustment. Just a mile or so here and there.

When moving through the program, I think the key things to track to ensure that you are not overtraining are the quality of long runs, speed work and sleep patterns, as well as any signs of persistent aches. Difficulty sleeping, struggling with 2 consecutive long runs, or inability to satisfactorily complete 2 consecutive speed workouts could be a sign of overtraining. Then, I would skip an easy run or speed workout, even shorten a cut back week to less than 50% of the previous week if that what it takes. Of course, an ache in one spot that persists for more than a week or so should be investigated.

I hope some of this is what you were looking for....and that all my rambling isn't condescending or boring to you. But, when I get started on something like this, I have trouble figuring out where to cut it off. :-)