Five Key Components of a Great Marathon Training Plan

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In order to successfully run a marathon or half marathon you need a training plan.

There are hundreds all over the internet. Some are pretty lously.

So what makes a great training plan?

Let me give you the run down.

Don’t download any plan without the five components I’m about to reveal.

Five Key Components of a Great Marathon Training Plan

The Long Run: In order to run 26.2 miles you will have to build up your ability to run long. Like the foundation of a building, a solid running base is the only way to end up with a great product (crossing the finish line). The long run will help you build the physical and mental strength necessary to complete the marathon distance.

A good training plan will progressively build on the long run by 1-2 miles each week. It will also include “step down” weeks where you will back off the mileage building to give your body a break. If you’re training for your first marathon beware of plans that throw you into high mileage immediately.

Right Number of Days for Your Body: Know your running threshold and don’t push too far above it. It’s not often easy to figure out how much is too much. Running too much or too hard in a short period of time for your fitness level without proper recovery time will lead to overtraining. Trying to get a certain number of miles in per week is often the most common way overtraining occurs.

My body responds best to running 3-4 days per week when I’m training for a marathon. This level of running is probably about right if you’re a newer runner or training for your first marathon. As you get more experienced you may find that your body can handle higher mileage and more running days. The key is to listen to your body.

Cross-Training:The term cross training refers to a training routine that involves several different forms of exercise. Cross training can help you condition different muscle groups, vary the stress placed on specific muscles, and increase your fitness level. I’ve found that it’s also a very effective way to reduce the risk of injury. Even elite runners take the time to incorporate cross training into their schedules.

My favorite cross training activities are yoga, cycling, and weight training. These activities have made me a stronger more balanced runner. A final benefit of cross training is that it can reduce boredom. I’ve been doing some kick boxing lately to shake up my routine. Cross training should be fun.

Rest Days: Rest may be one of the most overlooked components of a good marathon training plan. You should not run every day. The simple fact is that you won’t get stronger or be adequately prepared for your race without rest days. Rest days help prevent overuse injuries, restore glycogen stores, prevent mental burnout, build strength, and reduce fatigue.

The Taper: During the last three weeks of a good marathon training plan the mileage starts going down until race day. Tapering refers to reducing your training load for a period of time leading up to your race. Research shows that a period of rest before racing actually increases the athlete’s level of fitness and can boost their performance by 3%. Tapering allows for replenishing physical reserves and encourages the repairing of muscle tissue to give that natural resilience back.

The usual period of tapering is from 10-21 days depending on the length of the race. A person running a 10k would do better with the shorter time period while the marathoner will want to take advantage of the full 21 days. The training plans at MTA use a 21 day tapering cycle.


Also Mentioned in This Episode

Food Inc. . . a movie that will make you think about what you eat in a whole new way. I watched this compelling movie recently after reading the book Fast Food Nation.


Happy Running!


5 Responses to Five Key Components of a Great Marathon Training Plan

  1. Trevor April 13, 2011 at 11:11 am #

    I’m thankful for step down weeks in my training. My next long run is only 5 miles and its a good thing because my calves feel a little sore.

    • Keith Knuckey April 14, 2011 at 10:54 am #

      Are you training exclusively in minimalist shoes (tends to work the calves more), exclusively in regular running shoes, or something in between?

      • Trevor April 15, 2011 at 9:27 am #

        I am running in minimalist shoes . . . and that probably explains it.

        I am going to try to mitigate the soreness through cross-training and using the foam roller. . .

        And not being a wimp.

  2. Sunday Drummer April 15, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    Angie mentioned the challenge of donning the Vibram 5 Fingers. I wear Injinji (toe) socks and would hate to try to put them on before escaping a burning building.

    Do you think the Vibram’s could be worn with Injinji socks or are the toe spaces too form fitting for a thin toe sock?

    • Angie April 15, 2011 at 6:46 pm #

      @Sunday Drummer~ My VFF’s are definitely not my quick “go to” shoes yet. Some people do like wearing the Injinji socks with their Vibrams. Just make sure you wear the socks when trying on the shoes to make sure you get the right fit. I don’t think I could get socks on with mine.

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