How to Build Your Own Marathon Training Plan
|August 11, 2010||Posted by Lauren under Marathon Training, Running|
Edited to add: To view the actual marathon training plan I’m following, click on the link at the end of this post, or visit my Training page.
If you’re training for your first marathon, you’ve probably found many free expertly-designed training plans online. These plans take different approaches to the process, and the one you ultimately choose will depend on your running history, goals, and the amount of time you have available to train. Examples of some good options include Hal Higdon, Jeff Galloway, the FIRST plan (also known as the Run Less, Run Faster approach), or one of the many available through Runner’s World.
But once you have a marathon or two under your belt, you start to develop a good idea of your own personal training style. And suddenly, the one-size-fits-all training plans just don’t cut it anymore. At this point, it’s easy to become dissatisfied with the standard plans, and you start tweaking and changing things without even really thinking about it.
So have you ever thought about building your own customized training schedule instead? I realize that this may sound intimidating, but as long as you know the basic principles, creating one from scratch probably isn’t as tough as you think!
First, whether you are building your own or using a professionally designed schedule, here are 3 key things to keep in mind:
- Find a plan that meets you where you’re at! If you’re anything like me, you take on a challenge and want to dive in headfirst. Unfortunately, this approach to marathon training can lead to serious injuries. Because of this, it is important to find a plan that will take you from your current level of fitness and help you gradually build up to where you need to be in order to succeed in the marathon. This may mean that you train for a longer period than covered by the typical plan.
- Allow for flexibility. Preparing for a marathon is a huge commitment that spans many months. Despite all your best efforts, things can come up during this time that throw a wrench into your training plans: travel, sickness, injuries, bad weather, etc. As long as you give yourself some flexibility, these things are inconvenient, but not the end of the world.
- Don’t be afraid to tweak! Even if you’re following a popular training plan, you need to remember that these are standard programs developed based on what works best for most people – and not necessarily what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to tweak the plan a little bit to fit in with your level of fitness, time available to train, and other life-things that might come up.
10 Steps to Creating Your Own Marathon Training Plan
An oldie but goodie – this book guided my Dad through 8 marathons and countless other races; and he passed it along to me before I ran my first. Even though it’s now 20 years old, it has become my favorite running resource.
Why my sudden interest in marathon training plans, you ask? I am currently training for the Cape Cod Marathon on October 31st. It will be my first time running this race (though my 3rd Massachusetts marathon!) and I’m very excited. I’ve heard the course is fantastic and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my sights set on another BQ.
Due to the craziness that has defined my summer so far, I actually am training for a shorter period of time than usual. So it was really important for me to make my own plan that would help me get to where I need to be in just 14 weeks. Keeping the 3 basic principles in mind, here are the 10 Steps I took to build my plan:
- Make an outline. Before putting anything on paper, I map out the key things I want to include in my training plan*. I know that I want to do 2 – 3 20-mile runs, strength training, speed work, cross-training**, and average 40 – 50 miles per week. I also know that I want to ease up on speed work and strength training the week of my first 20 mile run as well as during the tapering phase. With all these things in mind, I can start working out the details.
- Figure out how long you have/need to train. Most marathon plans are around 18 weeks. Decide if you need more or less time than this and pick a marathon that is far enough away. Then count backwards to pick your training start date.
- Print out a blank calendar. Personally, I think better when I can write it all down on paper first. Sites like PDFCalendar.com allow you to print out a blank semi-customizable calendar. Since I started training at the end of July and do my long runs on Sundays, I made a set that went from July – Oct 31, with Monday being the first day of the week.
- Plan out your long-runs. The first thing I put down on paper are the long runs. These are the most important things to plan to make sure that I build up carefully and fit in all the runs that I need.
- Work backward. The very end of the training schedule is the easiest thing for me to plan. I know the date of my marathon, and I know that I want to run my last 20-miler two weeks from that date, followed by two weeks of tapering. From there, I work backwards a few additional weeks to make sure I’ll be ready when it comes time.
- Start at the beginning and fill in the gaps Once I’ve planned the last couple of weeks, I go back to the beginning and figure out what I want to do for my first long run. Then I build up from there, making sure not to increase too quickly. Sometimes I need to revise to make everything fit (which is where being flexible comes in!)
- Write down my total mileage goal for each week. As I said before, I know that I want to be comfortably running around 50 miles per week at the peak of my training. So after I fill in the long runs, I figure out what the total mileage for each week should be, keeping in mind 3 important things:
- Don’t increase too quickly – to reduce the risk of injury, your total mileage should only go up by about 10% each week.
- Don’t increase mileage every single week – allow yourself to plateau for a few weeks at a certain mileage before bumping it up.
- Build in a couple of “rest” weeks where you back off the mileage to give your body a break.
- Subtract! After the long runs and total mileage have been filled in, determining the other runs during the week is a matter of simple math. I figure out how many miles I need to do during the remaining days and divide them up, keeping in mind that certain days I will also be lifting or doing some sort of speed work.
- Write in my lifting/speed days. After everything is pretty well mapped out, I start to build in my lifting/speed schedule. I’m more flexible with these aspects of my training than anything else, which is why I put them in last.
- Revise and finalize! After everything is in place, I step back and look at the plan as a whole to make sure that it actually makes sense – and is doable! Sometimes I find weeks where I’ve accidentally packed too many things in or didn’t actually hit my mileage goals. This is why it helps me to have it on paper first – I need to hold the calendar in my hand and look through it.
I don’t actually type it up until I have everything looking the way I like. Then I hang it in a visible place, and hit the roads!
So there you have it. Not too bad, right? You can actually use these same steps to create a training plan for any distance. Just remember, the plan should never be set in stone. It’s great to have a guide to work from, but the most important thing in marathon training is listening to your body.
Click here to view the 14 week plan I created to train for the Cape Cod Marathon.
What about you — when you train for a race, do you prefer to use a standard schedule or do you like to create your own? And for those of you that do build your own training plans — any key things that I missed?
*I plan on writing a future post about why I think each of these components are important in marathon training.
**I don’t actually write my cross training days into the plan. But I try to incorporate 1 day of cross training per week (usually on a lifting day). In the spirit of flexibility, I leave this up to how I’m feeling.