A reader of the blog post about "smart" mileage increases over time ("Your Ego Is Not Your Amigo"), was kind enough to send me a question last week:
"I have a question regarding your 10-percent 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."
Most well-laid-out marathon training plans have the longest (easy pace) run of the schedule in the 16-to-20 mile range, or no more than two and-a-half hours in duration. Naturally, runners will go longer than that on race day, but those longer runs occur two or three times during the latter weeks of the training schedule.
I've shamelessly borrowed from a couple of good marathon training plans over the past five or six years:
The first one/s I've recommended were developed by Keith and Kevin Hanson, who coach the Brooks-Hanson's Distance Project. Their beginner and advanced marathon plans are not a far cry from the ones they used to train (2008 Olympian) marathoners Brian Sell and (2011 Boston Marathon womens' runner-up) Desiree Davila. The Hanson's focus is on "something of substance" training; there is no focus on one single day's workout over another during the training week. Keith Hanson has explained the (relatively) low-mileage long run feels longer because of accumulated fatigue during the rest of the training week.
Links to the beginners' and advanced marathon plans can be found at the Hanson's Running web site (http://www.hansons-running.com).
Not everyone who participates in a marathon has a particular finishing time goal...but the majority of runners who do train for a marathon have an idea how they'd like to finish. Most of them, at least the ones willing to admit, would love to run well enough to qualify for Boston. The biggest problem comes when we talk about pace discipline: One of my marathoners wanted to run a 4:00 to qualify for Boston, and probably is strong enough to run a 3:40. In her first attempt at the marathon this last November, she passed me at mile 12 (I was running the half) and went through the half-marathon mark in 1:35-1:40. I didn't want to believe she'd have a bad day, but (being the pessimist I am) I knew it was coming. After finishing my half, I went to the half-mile to go point on the course. My watch ticked off 3:55...no Deena. 3:57...no Deena. 4:00...no Deena.
Finally, she rolled by, cramping legs and all, at 4:03. She finished her first marathon in 4:07, having fought leg cramps from mile 16 onward. I told her, after congratulating her on her age-group win, that we would focus on pacing strategy for Rock n' Roll/Mardi Gras, her next marathon.
The Marathon Nation (http://www.marathonnation.us) training plans, developed by coach Pat McCrann, are based off Jack Daniels' VDOT tables. Plans are boiled down to the essentials; there's no fluff in a MN plan, which is great for time-stressed runners.
Most importantly, McCrann has a very effective approach to race day pacing. He breaks the half or full marathon into approximately 25-percent chunks; the first 25 percent of the race is run about five seconds per mile slower than goal pace. The middle fifty percent increases in pace to a point where the runner averages about five seconds per mile ahead of goal pace, and the last 25 percent is where the runner makes the tactical decision of whether to maintain (should they feel all right, or not so good) or increase the pace (should they feel very good).
I used a blend of my own speedwork, the MN speedwork and the Hanson's distance focus when training Deena. When it came to race day, I sat down with her and broke down the pace she needed to run; a particular time at 10K, a particular time for the half-marathon, another goal split for 30K...after that it was up to her whether she wanted to push the pace or hang on. She ended up hitting the splits almost exactly as I asked, ran a 25-minute personal best and qualified for Boston.
I asked her how she felt on the first 10K, to which she said, "all these people were blowing by me like I was standing still." And the last 10K? "Gosh, Coach, I was passing people left and right."
The right training plan for a distance event will get you to the starting line healthy and ready to run. The right pacing plan for that distance will get you to the finish line...ideally healthy and ready for your next run.