Gearing Up For Your Next Marathon
Did you just finish a Spring marathon? The transition period between races is the perfect time to create a plan in order to prepare for your newest challenge. I will be running three marathons in May so I thought it would be a perfect time to discuss tips for gearing up for your next marathon as I’m planning, running, and learning.
Choosing A Race
The first step in planning your next race is to choose your goal marathon1. No matter how you finished in your most recent event, it can be tempting to sign up for another marathon right away. Ideally, give yourself 4 – 6 months between race dates. (Don’t do like me!)
One factor to take into consideration is how well you recover. Three months out from your goal race you should be able to have comfortably built up to 75% of peak mileage, as well as 70 – 80% of your peak long run distance. Otherwise, you risk standing on the starting line underprepared or injured.
Once you determine your next marathon, the next step is to set goals. This process is personal, and you should consider what you want to achieve in your next race. To aid in your goal setting ask yourself the following questions:
What Went Right This Training Cycle?
Few training cycles are ever “perfect”. Often, life gets in the way and key workouts or long runs are missed. If you hit your time goal in your most recent race and also had a great training cycle, focus on building upon that momentum and shooting for an even better time in your next marathon. Shaving anywhere from 1 – 5 minutes (or more) is possible with consistent training and few setbacks.
What Went Wrong This Training Cycle?
On the other hand, it is also important to reflect on things that could have been better during your training. Did you have periods of high stress or have to miss runs due to illness or injury? If you can identify major problems within your training, such as lack of recovery2 or inability to run consistent mileage, base your goals around devoting yourself to the necessary work.
While setting goal times can be more thrilling, fast times are the product of hard work and consistency, which should be the first priority.
What Scares Me?
A good goal should be slightly scary and intimidating. Why? When you are lacking motivation to get out the door to run, you should be able to think back to your goals and know that they will not be achieved if you do not put in the necessary training.
Developing a Training Plan
Once you have chosen your race and your goals, the next step is to determine how you will train.
Coach or No Coach?
Perhaps the most important consideration is determining whether or not you will use the services of a coach. There are many pros and cons to having a running coach. On the plus side, a mentor can help you identify training weaknesses, keep you from second guessing yourself, individualize your training, and provide advice and motivation when chasing big goals. On the other hand, coaches can be expensive, and finding the right coach to fit your unique needs is not always easy.
A second alternative is to follow a training plan such as a Hal Higdon, Hanson’s, or another well-regarded program. The plus side to this approach is that it is free, many people have had success with these training plans, and they allow for flexibility. On the other hand, this method lacks personalization and runners are left with nowhere to turn for feedback or advice. Additionally, if you have used a plan in the past it is important to identify ways in which you can increase the level of difficulty, which can be difficult.
Alternatively, you can choose to craft your own training regimen. Key training tips are discussed below.
One of the most important factors of marathon training is mileage. Above all, marathoners should be consistent. Yo-yo’ing back and forth between high and low mileage weeks can cause a runner to peak too soon in the training cycle or result in injury.
When choosing your peak mileage (i.e. the highest mileage week completed 2 – 4 weeks from your marathon), consider the amount of running that you can safely build towards. Increases in mileage should only be 3 – 6 miles per week, so plan accordingly. Ultimately, it is better to be a lower mileage runner than one who cannot safely sustain higher volume. Additionally, it can be beneficial to aim for 3 – 5 miles per week more than in previous training cycles.
The second most important aspect is the long run. While training philosophies vary widely, the prevailing theory is that in order to be efficient while running long distances, one should frequently practice running for long periods of time. Most marathon programs involve at least one 20-miler, or a run that is approximately 3 hours in duration. If you ran 20 miles once during your last training cycle, try to run two 20-milers before your next marathon. Remember, however, that long run mileage should not exceed 20 – 30% of your weekly mileage.
See how tired you should be after a long run >>
Following consistent mileage and long runs, marathon pace work is important. Tempos and long intervals are the cornerstone of many marathon training plans. Aim to run 3 – 4 marathon-paced tempos throughout your training cycle that are 6 – 10 miles in duration. These workouts should be tough, but manageable. If you are able to comfortably hold a conversation while running marathon pace, you are setting your goals too low.
Once per week, runners should incorporate training that is faster-than-race-pace because the more efficient a runner becomes at fast speeds3, the easier marathon pace becomes. Speed workouts include hill repeats and short track intervals.
Focus on One Change
An important factor to remember is that training is simply adaptation to stress. When you gear up for your next marathon, focus on making one change in your training. For instance, you might incorporate double days, increased mileage, or an extra speed session per week. If you are lacking in multiple of the above areas, do not try to make too many changes at once.
Finally, it is important to mimic the conditions you will experience on race day. If the marathon is hilly, practice running on hills as much as possible. If the race is going to be completed in a vastly different climate or environment, try to mimic those conditions during training.
Taking Care of the Little Things
Simply put, a runner who is unable to recover from his or her training will not function at full capacity. Plan to sleep 7 – 8 hours per night, plus an additional 10 minutes for every 10 miles of your weekly total. This study tells us more why sleep in important when it comes to recovery after running.
The food that you put into your body is what fuels your performance. If you are not consuming a nutrient dense diet that is rich in lean proteins, healthy fats, and wholesome carbohydrates then you will be unable to perform your best.
One of the most underrated aspects of training is the importance of proper hydration5. Even 1% dehydration (based on body weight) can hinder performance. A good rule of thumb is to use urine color as your guide. For instance, throughout the day you should strive for pale or clear urine.
The beauty of the marathon is that there is always room to improve one of the many variables that affect performance. This guide will help you gear up for your next marathon to the best of your ability!
1. Burdina, M., Hiller, R. S., & Metz, N. E. (2017). Goal attainability and performance: Evidence from Boston marathon qualifying standards. Journal of Economic Psychology, 58, 77-88. doi:10.1016/j.joep.2017.01.001 Link
2. Talbott, S. M. (2004). Post-Marathon Recovery Enhanced By A Dietary Supplement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 36(Supplement). doi:10.1097/00005768-200405001-00604 Link
3. Heitkamp, H., Scheib, K., & Schmid, K. (1991). Treadmill Performance, Anaerobic Threshold and Marathon Running Speed. Advances in Ergometry, 248-253. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-76442-4_33 Link
4. Glaubman, H., & Hartmann, E. (1978). Daytime State And Night-Time Sleep; A Sleep Study After A Marathon Group Experience. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 46(3), 711-715. doi:10.2466/pms.19184.108.40.2061 Link
5. Noakes, T. D. (2007). Hydration in the Marathon. Sports Medicine, 37(4), 463-466. doi:10.2165/00007256-200737040-00050 Link