So, How Many Hats Do You Wear?

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Pensacola, Florida, United States
Husband. *Dog Dad.* Instructional Systems Specialist. Runner. (Swim-challenged) Triathlete (on hiatus). USATF LDR Surveyor. USAT (Elite Rules) CRO/2, NTO/1. RRCA Rep., FL (North). Observer Of The Human Condition.

Friday, May 27, 2011

15 Miles-A-Week To 26.2 In A Day: The Marathon Puzzle

This is part two of a response to a question I received in my personal e-mail from a reader:

"I have a question regarding your 10% increase every three weeks. How would this work if I were training for a marathon? Would I have to do a 20 mile run five times a week? I'm sure that can't be good for your legs. Do you have another training schedule that you recommend for marathons? Like your friend in the article I have also had IT band problems, which I believe was due to increasing my mileage too fast when training for my second marathon. Thanks for any help you can offer."

The previous post covered training plans I've recommended to my own athletes when they've considered running/racing a marathon. But the training plan only gets the athlete to the starting line, (ideally) healthy and ready to run a good 26.2 miles. A sensible pacing plan takes advantage of the smart training and lets the athlete perform up to their potential. Train hard/smart for 16-to-20 weeks, sacrifice family time, free time (morning, evening, weekends), and work time to get to the starting line, then go out the first five or six miles like a maniac? Never a good idea.

After I wrote the first post I sat down with an Excel spreadsheet to determine how long it would take to progress, given an approximate ten-percent increase in run duration/distance, from 20 minutes-a-day, six-to-seven days a week, to marathon training volume.

Before I start, let's come to a couple of understandings:

I've read of couch-to-marathon programs which -ideally - get the participant to the start line in 26 weeks. But I believe this shortchanges the runner on many fronts: They run the risk of overuse injury because of a very sudden increase in volume. They don't really learn to enjoy racing, racing etiquette, or what works and what doesn't on race day. And, there are so many different race distances and formats which are grossly many, it's either marathon or nothing.

In my humble opinion, it takes right on the verge of four years of consistent, (preferably) injury-free training to go from couch-to-marathon. Yes, that sounds elitist and discriminatory. I did my first marathon after only four months of "training;" I had a lot of fun, beat myself badly over the course of 26.2, and didn't run ANYTHING for ten years. It took another ten years for me to try another marathon, and STILL I did it wrong. I've been working the "marathon puzzle" ever since.

When it comes to the "marathon puzzle," every athlete is an experiment of one. I've drafted plans for both male and female runners, ranging in age from the mid-20s to the mid-40s, averaging four years of running experience. The athletes have been given free rein to adapt and adjust based on their own life constraints (treadmill adaptations for Canadian winters, for example...), and more often than not they've seen success...not so much because of my plan, but because of their hard work and consistency over time.

The only person who has ever failed on one of my plans is me (Chronic injuries and recovery issues have been my undoing - I'm not yet willing to admit I'm too brittle for the marathon.). Coaching, to me, is a zero-sum game: If I'm training well it's because I'm not paying attention to you. By "paying attention" I've helped four people finish iron-distance triathlons, four people to qualify for the Boston Marathon, and another four people to finish Boston. So I won't argue with the method/madness I've developed the past six years.

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